Carlito Springs

Last Saturday we decided to take our first hike in New Mexico. Up until now, we have been preoccupied with city type events and exploring. We were missing the rural hiking, so Mama Nomad picked a short, 2 mile hike, near the Sandia Mountains, called Carlito Springs. What started as a hike turned into a learning experience that only made the day better.

To get to Carlito Springs, travel east, from Albuquerque, on Interstate 40 to Exit 175, then travel south towards Tijeras. Turn right onto N.M. 337/Historic Route 66 and travel west for about half mile. Turn right on Carlito Springs Road and travel underneath the I-40 bridge. Turn right at the stop sign and then turn on the first dirt road on the left. Follow the signs to Carlito Springs. At the end, you will see a small parking area. Make sure you notice that the traffic is one way, so continue to the end to enter. You can find a map here.

When you begin the trail, you will have the choice to go left or right. The trail is a loop, so you will come back out where you started. If you want to get to the springs quickly, take the path to the left. It is steeper but, within 1/2 a mile, you will be there. The trail to the right has some more narrow pathways and will take you 1.5 miles to get to the springs, but it is more gradual.

We did not know any of the above and decided to just head to the left. Most of the trail was shaded or mostly shaded heading up to the spring. We noticed walls of rock and terraces along the way. We thought it to be odd as we do not commonly see that along trails. We dismissed it as something the government did, for aesthetic beauty, when they built the trails.

It did not take us long to traverse the 1/2 mile and arrive at the spring. The spring is captured in what looks like a pump house and the water is flowed into an earthen trough. This leads down to a pool, then under the trail to a set of three more pools. One pool feeds water to the next until it exits and makes its way down to the Tijeras River.

While at the last pool, Mama Nomad struck up a conversation with some hikers and they told her that this whole area used to be an area where people lived and grew their own food. They elaborated that the pools actually held fish that they farmed for eating. Now the terraces on the way up, the buildings up by the spring and the various beautified areas made sense.


Going to jump ahead here to some post hike research then jump back into finishing the hike. Mama Nomad looked up the history of Carlito Springs and its journey from homestead to resort to public park. The following is a short time line.

  • Discovered by a Civil War Veteran named Horace G. Whitcomb, while looking for gold and a homestead in 1882.
  • The Keleher Brothers took it over and began to bring visitors from Albuquerque up in 6 horse stagecoaches for day trips.
  • Carl Magee bought the property in 1930 for his wife, who had tuberculosis. They named it Carlito after their son who died in a plane crash while training to go to war.

A longer, much more in-depth story about the land and its history can be found at the East Mountain Directory. Okay, back to the hike.

After checking out the pools and the surrounding buildings and landscaping, we headed on our way. We passed a few more buildings, including what seemed to be a cellar built into the mountainside with years and tallies on it. We figured it was people who came to visit during those years and they scratched it on the wall. And we saw another building with a suitcase looking box in it. It had a paper that said “if you take something, leave something.” We left a note in the notepad and headed on.

After this point, there were no more markings, buildings or signs of any development. The next mile and a half was filled with narrow paths along a high desert mountain that lead into lower lands with bigger evergreens and shaded trails. We noticed that the ground changed from tan to red to brown. And, in addition, we noticed cactus growing directly out of rock. We remarked that if the plant is strong enough to live in the desert, it must be hardy enough to grow in rock.

All in all we spent a few hours in the Carlito Springs area. It was calm, easy to hike and fascinating to first theorize about what the history was then to later confirm whether our suspicions were true or not. Great day for a hike and a wonderful hike. If you are heading into Albuquerque from the east, going through Albuquerque heading east or you are staying/living in Albuquerque and you want a nice and uncrowded 2 mile hike, check out Carlito Springs. Save Travels.

About Chase

The patriarch of the family and Daddy Nomad. Chase loves spending time with his family, traveling, outdoor activities, good movies and TV shows, business and creative projects. He is an entrepreneurial businessman and investor who specializes in international business strategy and tactics.
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  1. After learning about Carlito Springs from your post, and then reading the East Mountain Directory history, we decided to hike to the springs. Today was a beautiful day with the temperature in the mid-70s, a wonderful day for the hike. We took the right-hand trail and enjoyed the beauty of the budding cacti, oaks, junipers, and various wild flowers. The pools at the spring are a rare find in the Sandia Mountains. Thanks for introducing us to Carlito Springs via your post! Charly, Cathy, & Serina

    • Charly – I am happy that our post led you to Carlito Springs and that the hike was an enjoyable one. We appreciate you sharing your experience with us. And, yes, those springs are a rare and a beautiful find indeed.

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