FATMAP difficulty grade
The Whitewash Loop is one of the most epic trail running loops in the greater Albuquerque area.
It takes just a short detour from Interstate 40 to reach the trailhead.
Grab your running vest and poles and run this challenging 13-mile loop that includes the summit of South Sandia Peak at 9,700'. As mapped, you will park at the Menaul Trailhead.
Both Embudo or Copper trailheads are great alternatives.
If you are in a larger vehicle or towing a trailer, Copper Trailhead will be the best bet.
Neither water nor restrooms are available at the trailhead. Though mountain biking is popular in the Sandia Foothills Open Space, the majority of this loop lies within a wilderness area, where bicycles are prohibited.
Consequently, during the cooler weather, these trailheads can become extremely busy, but this loop quickly takes you into the backcountry where only seasoned trail runners should venture.
Expect complete autonomy on the trail, and do not underestimate how much water you will drink. Beginning at the Menaul Trailhead, take either Trail 401 or 365 to the beginning of the Whitewash Trail.
This four-mile-long trail is minimally marked and can be difficult to follow as it climbs over 2,500' in just a short stretch. Roughly one mile in, an unmarked trail to the right serves as a connector back into the foothills.
If you find yourself beyond your abilities, this is the last option to turn back. Though most of the trail is steep for the first two miles, it eventually levels out, giving you an opportunity to catch your breath.
The path will also become much more distinguishable the higher you get.
Tight and twisty, the trail leads to one more steep climb as it nears Oso Pass. Whitewash Trail ends at an intersection with Embudito Trail and Three Gun Spring Trail—also known as Oso Pass.
Though you could turn back here, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to continue to the summit of South Sandia Peak.
To skip the summit, take the hard right onto Three Gun Spring Trail instead. Continuing straight, the Embudito Trail climbs quickly onto a narrow bench cut that gives way to exhilarating views of the valley below.
As the trail becomes more rugged and narrow, you'll round a corner and find yourself at an intersection with a spur trail to the summit of South Sandia Peak at 9,700'.
Several side trails lead to various overlooks and a large clearing that would serve as an excellent overnight camping spot.
Take some time enjoying the vantage point and panoramic views from the summit before returning back to Oso Pass.
Once you return to Oso Pass, a slight left will lead onto Three Gun Spring Trail, where you'll be welcomed with unique rock pinnacles and several boulder fields.
Though mostly downhill, a few punchy climbs will remind you that you're still at 8,000'.
Countless photo opportunities line this area, many of which lie on large, prominent boulders with views of the surrounding mountains. After turning onto Embudo Trail, the path leads through a boulder-filled wash, and at several points, three points of contact will be necessary.
A horse bypass runs around this stretch should you wish to avoid it.
After merging back together, take one of the many side trails, typically Trail 401, back to the trailhead. **Important Notes:** Though you are never more than 5 miles from a trailhead, this is very remote backcountry, and there is no reliable source of water along the way.
Snow and ice are also common at higher elevations during the winter months.
The trailhead kiosk also warns of the wildlife in the region, specifically bears and cougars.