Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta // © 2016 iStock
, is also a great destination for a family vacation.
One of Albuquerque’s most spectacular events — the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta — is also one of its most family-friendly. Each October, more than 500 colorful hot air balloons soar above the city, providing a wondrous sight for all. There’s a lot families can enjoy in the Duke City year-round, with plenty of places to get outside and walk on the wild side.
The Sandia Mountains preside over the city, providing locals with their favorite natural playground. Set in the foothills, the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area offers easy nature trails. The Sandia Peak Tramway, the longest aerial tramway in North America, whisks passengers from the juniper-and-sagebrush lowlands along a breathtaking 2.7-mile journey to the mountain crest. Here, families can take in panoramic views of 11,000 square miles of the Rio Grande Valley and explore the ponderosa pine forest.
Families also enjoy getting a closer look at the cottonwood bosque (forest) that lines the Rio Grande river at Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. In the Observation Room, kids can spy turtles and ducks below the waterline of a 3-acre pond, then frolic along riverside trails that depart from the visitor center. Plan ahead to join a ranger- or volunteer-led nature walk to learn more about native wildlife.
Hungry families often grab breakfast, lunch or dinner at Range Cafe or Flying Star Cafe, two casual-dining restaurants with expansive menus and affordable prices. Families can also dine next to toothy underwater creatures at Shark Reef Cafe, located within ABQ BioPark Aquarium. The aquarium also shares grounds with the Botanic Garden, home of the Bugarium, where arachnids, insects and other creepies crawl. And don’t miss a ride on the scenic train to BioPark Zoo. Here, successful breeding programs mean baby animals romp around every turn, from the toddler Asian elephant to twin chimpanzees.
Nearby, Albuquerque’s dedicated science and hands-on learning center, Explora, encourages children to learn by touching the exhibits. In fact, the kids’ experiments and play bring the displays to life. Plan on spending several hours at this center.
If you’re in Albuquerque between April and September, you’ll knock one out of the park with a trip to an Isotopes AAA minor league baseball game. (Fans of “The Simpsons” will recognize the team name from the television show.) Opt for seats in the grass so the kids can play freely and climb on rides when they aren’t watching the game.
Families on the lookout for places to cool off should consider a visit to Cliff’s Amusement Park, the city’s only amusement park and permanent locale for roller coasters and rides. It also features a water-play area for kids and toddlers during its summer season.
WHEN TO GO
Albuquerque enjoys a temperate climate year-round, with four seasons. The most popular times for families to visit are during the summer — be prepared to be indoors in the afternoon, when temperatures hover in the 90s and occasionally top 100 degrees — and during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when families should pack for snow.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Cascada: This family-friendly hotel is home to ABQ Surf N’ Slide, an indoor waterpark with epic slides and a wave simulator for surfing and body boarding.
Two of New Mexico’s interstate highways (I-25 and I-40) intersect in Albuquerque. The state’s largest airport is Albuquerque International Airport. Visitors to the city should plan on renting a car.