Albuquerque's Sandia Tramway — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
One of the most exhilarating ways to experience Albuquerque is with a flight on the Sandia Peak Tramway. Beginning at the base of the mountain in northeast Albuquerque, the passenger car passes over the Sandía Wilderness as it ferries up to 50 standing passengers to the top terminal at 10,378 feet above sea level, for an elevation gain of 4,000 feet from the base at 6,559 feet. During the 15 minute, 2.7-mile-long ride, passengers take in the many canyons of the Sandías, sometimes catching a view of bear, deer and bighorn sheep. From the top, the view of Albuquerque’s lights below are stunning, as are the distant mountain and New Mexico sunsets.
Albuquerque and sunset from top of the Sandia Peak Tramway. — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
The Tram opened in 1966 and was the brainchild of Sandia Peak Ski Company owner Robert Nordhaus, who saw similar trams throughout Europe and realized that Albuquerque’s terrain would be perfect for a tram. It was built by the Swiss company Bell Engineering, which considered the Sandia Tram their most difficult project because of its length and topography of the Sandias. The Tram makes 10,500 trips annually, and is the world's longest double-reversible jigback aerial tramway–a type of tram in which two cars pass one another on their way up and down the mountain.
Cars travel at about 12 miles an hour and take 15 minutes to complete a one-way trip. The stretch of cable between the second tower and the top is the third-longest tramway span in the world. Once at the top, visitors take in the grid of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande below, as well as 11,000 square miles of New Mexico landscape beyond. Diners can take the Tram to High Finance Restaurant at the top, which has arguably the best views of Albuquerque of any area restaurant. Angus hamburgers, salmon, green chile Chicken Alfredo, New York strip steak and other menu items are available, and the full bar also serves hot chocolate with generous whipped cream, perfect for kids, skiers and hikers looking to warm up. High Finance diners receive a discount on their tram tickets with reservations. At the Tram's base, Sandiagos' food and views don't disappoint either, with items such as fish tacos, carne adovada and other New Mexico-inspired dishes filling the menus. Make sure to sample one of their many margarita offerings, too. At the top of the tram, several trailheads are accessed and trails wind through the ponderosa pine forest that creates the green "rind" of the Sandia watermelon. (Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, and it is thought that the pink granite face with green forest up top resembles a slice of watermelon, especially at sunset.) The top of the Sandias is typically at least 20 degrees cooler than at the base, so hikers may even come across several species of orchids that grow in the cooler, wetter climate at the top. Because of the temperature difference, it is recommended to bring a jacket even in summer, especially at sunset. Hikers can make the 9-mile journey from the base to the top Tram terminal via the La Luz trail, then take the Tram back down (paying only for a one-way ticket). Skiers and snowboarders take the Tram in the winter to reach Sandia Ski Area, where from near the top terminal slopes run down the east side of the mountain to the base.
Sandia Ski Area base — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
The tram operates from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, and 9 a.m to 8 p.m. the rest of the year, except Tuesdays, when the Tram runs 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. During Balloon Fiesta, the Tram operates on the summer schedule. The Tram is closed for a week in November and April for maintenance; call 505-856-7325 or click here to make sure the Tram is operating during your visit, and for more information.