Autumn beauty throughout Albuquerque is boundless, and the fall season in the high desert is truly something to behold. There are many prime spots in and near the city to take in the fall colors. This year, colorful fall leaves in our area will likely peak between Sept. 28 and Oct. 6.
From the Rio Grande to the Manzano Mountains, you don’t want to miss central New Mexico’s impressive fall foliage. We’ve rounded up the best spots for leaf peeping in and around Albuquerque.
Fall Colors in Albuquerque
Before we describe the best fall foliage in the area, we would be remiss if we did not mention Albuquerque’s own kind of fall colors that extend far beyond the oranges, reds and yellows in the trees. With a rainbow of vibrant, colorful hot air balloons dotting our bright blue skies, and the deep reds and greens of our beloved chile in its prime harvesting and roasting season, autumn in Albuquerque is full of color.
Fall is what locals refer to lovingly as the “magical season,” with near-perfect temperatures, the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, in the world, the smell of chile roasting filling the air and, of course, the beauty of fall foliage.
Fourth of July Canyon
To experience fall colors in all their glory, Fourth of July Canyon in the Manzano Mountains is the perfect spot. About an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque, the area features a variety of camping and hiking opportunities, including quick, one-mile hikes as well as longer day-long hiking trails.
Fourth of July Canyon stands out as a prime leaf-peeping spot, as the foliage differs from the rest of the trees in the area. According to TripSavvy, “the area has the largest and densest stand of bigtooth maples found in the area. They blaze red and the scrub oaks turn yellow, making for a spectacular display.”
Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway and Observation Deck
The top of the Sandia Mountains is one of the absolute best locations to view vibrant fall colors. Whether you take a ride on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, where you’ll get an unbeatable view of the changing leaves below, or drive up the Sandia Crest Byway, where you’ll also take in a breathtaking view along the way, the Sandia Peak Observation Deck is a stellar spot to stop and take in the colorful scenery. You’ll see the mountain’s aspen groves turning fiery reds and yellows below, along with a far-spanning view of the entire city.
Image Source: SandiaPeak.com
North Crest Trail
If you want to continue to take in the sights from the top of the Sandia Mountains, take the North Crest Trail to find lookout points towering over massive aspen groves featuring awe-inspiring colors for miles. Access the North Crest Trailhead from the Sandia Crest parking lot, heading north. The trail follows the ridgeline from the top of the mountain, and its distance can vary greatly depending on connecting trails a hiker chooses to take. The trek to the aspen outlook though, is not far at all.
Paseo del Bosque Trail
The Paseo del Bosque Trail encompasses 16 miles of paved, multi-use pathway along the Rio Grande, passing through the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. The trail, uninterrupted by roadways and enveloped in cottonwood trees, is one of the best spots around the city for optimal fall leaf peeping. Take a walk, go for a jog, or ride your bike along the paved pathway, or cut into the many miles of intertwined dirt trails offering river access and mixed terrain to get an unbeatable view of yellow and orange leaves, the mountains to the east, and the luscious greenery of the Rio Grande Valley.
The ABQ BioPark Botanic Gardens
One of the most beautiful displays of fall colors in Albuquerque is at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden. The BioPark is impressive all year long, but in the fall, the park truly comes to life with fiery reds, bright oranges and vibrant yellows mixed in with spectacular shades of green. The whole park is something special to take in, but the Japanese Garden within the Botanic Garden should be at the top of your leaf-peeping list.
Image Source: Facebook
Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway
Just an hour outside of Albuquerque, on the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway, the aspen groves become a sea of gold and crimson in late September. The hillsides between Hyde Memorial State Park and Ski Santa Fe put on a spectacular fall show, putting the scenic drive high on anyone’s New Mexico leaf-peeping list.
Cumbres Toltec Scenic Railroad
If you’re craving even more leaf-peeping fun after you’ve had your fill of Albuquerque’s beautiful fall colors, plan a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. The scenic ride through northern New Mexico's mountain landscapes offers some of the best fall colors in the state, as it crosses the borders of Colorado and New Mexico 11 times on its 64-mile path over the Cumbres Pass.