Biking · Great Scenic Locations

Biking in Albuquerque 1: The River Trail

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The River Trail in Albuquerque, heading north.

Probably the best bike trail in the Albuquerque area is the River Trail which runs for about 20 miles in what the locals call the Bosque along the Rio Grande River.  The Bosque is a band of cottonwoods, elms, willows, Russian Olive, native grasses and lots of other native southwest vegetation that follows the Rio Grand River through Albuquerque.  The Bosque is maybe a 1/4 to 1/2 a mile wide and is a wonderfully wild, untouched open-space that runs all the way though the city from North to south for many miles.  All the way through New Mexico actually.  It is pronounced bos-kay or bos-key.

The River Trail runs along the east edge of the bosque with no road crossings or motorized traffic at all.  You can start the ride in Corrales and ride all the way to the farm land south of Albuquerque in what is called the South Valley.

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The River Trail near Central Ave.  The Central Ave underpass can be seen in this picture.

There are lots of other paved bike trails all over Albuquerque, maybe 100 miles of paved trail in all, maybe even a 150 miles of bike trail.  This makes Albuquerque a surprisingly good place to bike.  You can bike Albuquerque almost end to end in both the north-south direction and the east-west direction, all on paved trails except for a few minor connections mostly on lightly traveled city streets.

And the River Trail is the best of all those trails.  I suppose it’s the best because it runs  along the river in a natural environment almost  all the way and all the road crossings are underpasses or overpasses and because it’s just a great place to get away for the city for awhile.  The city of Albuquerque prints a great map of all the Albuquerque bike trails which you can get for free at any Albuquerque bike shop or online.

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Picture shot from The River Trail in the South Valley.   The Sandia Mountains in the background   rise 5000 feet above the east side of Albuquerque.  They are a lot bigger than they appear in this picture.

I live in Placitas which is about ten miles north of Albuquerque, at the northern end of the Sandias.  It’s possible to bike all the way from my house to the beginning of River trail which is about 20 miles away, but  I don’t do it as I don’t like riding the busy highway   from my house to the Rio Grande valley.  On the highway the shoulders are tiny and the traffic is heavy and fast.

So I generally drive to the Abuquerque Balloon Park and begin biking there.   You can access the entire Albuquerque bike trail system from the Balloon Park.  This is pretty much the northern end of the trail system.

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Here I am at the Balloon Park getting ready to ride.  There is lots of parking here.  Pick up the bike trail behind the balloon museum in the rear of this picture.

The bike trail begins behind the balloon museum in the background of the picture above.  This isn’t actually the river trail at this point.  The bike trail heading south from the Balloon Park is the East Diversion Canal Trail which, if you stay on it, leads all the way to UNM on central Avenue in Albuquerque.

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The East Diversion Canal Trail just west of the Balloon Park.  The blue topped building in the background is where you turn right onto The Paseo Trail to the Rio Grande River and the River Trail.

Anyway, jump on the trail behind the balloon museum and ride a mile of so south until you pass under Paseo del Norte Blvd and then head west on the trail alongside Passeo.  This trail is called the Paseo del Norte trail and it takes you all the way to the River Trail.  There are two spots here where you have to cross busy roads, Edith and Rio Grande Blvd.  These are easy crossings, but traffic can be a little heavy.  Just after crossing Rio Grande, the Paseo Trail branches.  The left hand turn takes you down to The River Trail.

Going straight ahead on the Paseo Trail at this point is a route which leads all the way up to the Unser Blvd trail in Rio Rancho.  The Unser Bike Trail ultimately goes all the way to Rio Bravo in the South Valley.  I’ll write a post about this route in the future.

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On the Paseo Trail looking east. The old white bike is a ghost bike that marks the spot where a biker was killed on this trail ten years ago or so.   A car flew off of Paseo Blvd which you can see off to the left.  the car flew through the air and landed upside down on a biker on the trail.  A good reminder that biking is always dangerous, even on a good, “safe” bike trail off the road.

So, you are now on the river trail.  At this point you could head either north or south on the River Trail.  Heading North,  you soon come to Alameda Blvd in about a mile, where there is a great trail-head parking area.  This is an alternative place to start a ride on the River Trail.  Keep biking past the parking lot on the tail and cross the Rio Grande River on the old bridge where no cars are allowed and go to Corrales.  This is perhaps another mile.

The trail runs along the right side of  Alemeda until it ends in a small shopping center in Corrales.  One of my favorite biking restaurants, the Flying Star, is in this shopping center.  It is great for breakfast or lunch.

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In April and May the irrigation ditches along the River Trail are filled with wild iris.

OK, back up a little bit.  Just after crossing the river, before you reach the Flying Star restaurant,  you will see a dirt parking lot on the right.  This is a great spot to find the old, original Corrales bosque trail that runs seven miles south to the far-far north end of Corrales.

The Corrales Bosque Trail is a handmade trail, made by 30 years of bikers riding through the bosque.  The result is a quaint and wonderful trail that winds thru the cottonwoods for seven miles along the Rio Grande.  It’s a little hard to follow as there are several branches of the trail, but just go with it and all the branches will very soon flow together and this multi-branching is  really no problem at all.  There are horse riders here also and they break the trail down at the southern end into sandy patches that come and go depending on what the rains are doing.  The drier it is, the sandier the trail is.  But don’t fret, it’s all worth it.  The north end of this trails ends in a very picturesque parking lot along the river, where you can catch a dirt road that connects with the very north end of Corrales road, the paved road that runs through Corrales.  The bosque trail is very windy and slow so it takes a lot longer to ride that short seven miles than you think.

OK, so go way back to the point where the Paseo trail crosses the River Trail.  Riding the river trail south from here leads to lots  of good stuff.  This southern branch of the trail is much, much longer then the northern branch I just described.

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The River Trail in the fall, not too far south from the point where it crosses the Paseo Trail.  The Rio Grande River is not too far out into the Bosque which you see on the right.

If you want to ride a very primitive single track, dirt tail, there is one that runs between the river and the paved biked trail you see above.  Immediately after turning off the Paseo trail onto the River trail there is a dirt road off to the right.  Ride this south and in a bit the road turns right and a single track goes straight ahead.  This single track dirt trail goes about 2/3 of the way to Montano Blvd, where it curves back to re-join the paved trail.  It doesn’t go all the way to Montano because the Bosque is full of big steel X’s called flood jacks that make further progress in the Bosque impossible.

Riding south on the paved River Trail you get to the Montano Blvd underpass about three miles beyond the Paseo Trail crossing.  There are several possibilities here.  You can turn left immediately south of the underpass.  Go over the little bridge and then straight ahead on the dirt road.  Turn right in about 1/4 miles to a paved neighborhood road.  If you follow this road left or east, you shortly come to Rio Grande Blvd.  Another Flying Star Restaurant is a couple of blocks south.  This is another favorite biking destination for me.  There is a good shoulder on Rio Grande and also a good gravel path along-side the road.  There is lots of traffic on Rio Grande though, so watch it.

Back to the river trail.  Ride past the Montano underpass about 100 yards and there is a right exit that u-turns back to Montano.  Go almost all the way back to Montano and then turn left on a wide, prominent dirt trail that exits to the left, west.  This is the northern end of what locals call the Mayor’s trail.  This is the trail that Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has been building for the last several years in the bosque.  The trail is not paved, it is dirt, but it has been hardened to almost the density of asphalt.  It is about four feel wide and excellent biking.  This is a world class trail that really shows off the Albuquerque bosque.  It is some the most beautiful biking I have ever seen.  It is not as fast as the paved trail but it is very beautiful.  I highly recommend it.  The Trail runs all the way from Montano Blvd to Central Ave.  I suspect that someday it will be extended much further.

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The Mayor’s Trail that winds thru the bosque all the way from Montano  Blvd to Central Ave.

The Mayors trail ends at Central Ave, but you can ride the old bosque single track trail down in the cottonwoods for quite a bit further, all the way to Rio Bravo if you want.  This old trail is narrower, sometimes a bit sandy, and much more primitive.  But it also feels a lot more authentic if you are into cruising through very tight willow alleyways and over roots and rocks.  It’s not bad though and it’s a lot of fun.

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The old Bosque trail.  You can get on the old trail just north of central.  Cross under the bridge near the east side, second archway.  Or you can get on it just south of the Central Ave Bridge via various small side trails.  This trail is much narrower at times; sometimes a foot or so wide.

 

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The old Bosque Trail a half mile of so south of Central.  This trail dwindles to a much small trail in places.  South of Bridge Ave it is mostly a foot or so wide.

You don’t have to ride either the Mayors Trail or the old trail down in the bosque.  The paved River Trail goes all the way south along the east edge of the bosque past the Tingly Ponds, past Bridge Ave, and past Rio Bravo where the River Trail makes a big five mile loop in the farm country of the South Valley.   When you loop back to Rio Bravo you climb out of the valley and ride along some memorable car junk yards also.  But it’s all part of the South Valley experience.

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South Valley Alfalfa fields along the River Trail.  These are full of Sand Hill Cranes in the late fall.  The cranes are on their way to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Area, which is another 75 miles or so south.  (The bike trail does not extend anywhere near that far south unfortunately.   But, I’m hoping that maybe someday it will. )
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More alfalfa fields on the southern end of the River Trail.

Another nice spot on the River Trail is the Nature Center.  This is about a mile south of Montano Blvd.  If you turn left over the small wooden bridge you can ride to the Nature Center Visitor Center.  If you go right toward the river instead, there is a nice set of walking trails along the Rio Grande.  These trails are not open to bikes, but a piece of the Mayor’s trail does go thru the edge of the Nature Center area.  There are signs pointing to all of this.

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A piece of the Mayor’s trail in the Nature Center.

All of the Albuquerque trails, including the River Trail, can be biked all year long.  It gets a mite blustery in mid winter at times, but these days are the exception.  Watch out for the ice under the bridges though, this can be really, really treacherous.  One of the real advantages of Albuquerque, in spite of the ice under the bridges, is the great year-around weather here.

There are lots of side trails and quiet streets that branch off the River Trail and go all the way to the Sandia mountains on the eastern side of Albuquerque.  I’ll get to those routes in a future post.

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The dedicated bike bridge that crosses the Rio Grande alongside I-40.  This leads from the River Trail to Rio Rancho and the Unser Blvd trail which crosses the whole western side of Albuquerque.  I’ll get to this loop in a future post.

 

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Another nice piece of the River Trail, heading north from Central Ave.  That stuff in the foreground is Russian Olive, a bane to allergy sufferers in the spring.

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