Spring and summer start inspiring me to travel more every year. New Mexico is one of the best road trip states in the country! With hundreds of miles of gorgeous desert views and a large portion of the original Route 66 running straight through the heart of the state. It was difficult to only choose a few places to share but here are my favorite road trip destinations of NM.
White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park is probably the most famous travel destination in the state of New Mexico. Home to the notorious Trinity Nuclear Testing Site that originally tested the very first nuclear bombs. White Sands is in the heart of the Tularosa Basin and spans 275 square miles of gypsum sand, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world. While a very large portion of White Sands is carefully preserved to conserve the precious plants and wildlife that thrive there, there are also plenty of recreation spots. Camp, hike, bike, or even go sledding over the glittering dunes of Southern New Mexico for one of the most unique experiences you will ever have.
Roswell UFO Museum
Another thing that NM has always been known for is the Roswell UFO Crash of 1947! A strange unidentified object fell from the sky and when debris was found by a local rancher it piqued the interest of thousands of Americans. Ever since Roswell has made sure to continue the belief of aliens with the International UFO Museum. The museum is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for kids making this trip a bang for your buck! Experience the story of what happened in 1947, see preserved materials from the original crash site, and learn about other unexplained UFO phenomena. Don’t miss out on Roswell and its quirky, alien-themed charm!
Elephant Butte Lake State Park
If you enjoy exploring outdoors then Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just the place for you! Elephant Butte offers miles of water, almost 200 miles of shoreline, and tons of fun activities. Camp, hike, kayak, jet ski, or boat your way across the largest lake in the Land of Enchantment. There is something for everyone in Elephant Butte!
Do you love to eat pie? Then Pie Town has to be on your bucket list! Pie Town was aptly named for its famous pie shop that originally opened in the 1920’s. The town is also the location of the annual “Pie Festival” that happens on the second Saturday of every September. The festival includes a pie-baking contest, games, races, music, food, arts and crafts, and of course pie! Make sure to stop at the Pie-o-neer Pie Shop for a slice of Green Chile Apple Pie, a true NM delicacy.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
New Mexico was home to our native people for hundreds of thousands of years and the cliffs above the Gila River have always been a place to call “home”. The Gila Cliff Dwellings were made by the Mogollon Culture in the late 1200s. They built rooms, crafted pottery, and raised whole families all in the side of the Gila cliffs for approximately twenty years. Today they leave us an amazing glimpse into the past of New Mexico and its people. Take a short one-mile hike along the Cliff Dweller Trail which gives you access to the historical caves from 9 am to 4 pm.
Catwalk National Recreation Trail
Looking for a different kind of hiking adventure? The Catwalk Recreation Area was named for the original plank-board walkway that was placed atop the steel pipe that once brought water to the old ore mill. Its history began with the discovery of gold and silver in the Mogollon Mountains above Whitewater Canyon. In 1893, the town of Whitewater grew around the mill, but the mill only lasted about 10 years. So in the mid-1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the Catwalk, which sadly washed away during a huge flooding event after the 2012 Whitewater-Baldy Fire. The bridge system is now fully rebuilt and is open for exploring! The trail is very accessible and easily hiked by all ages, plus it gives you an intriguing glimpse into the history and geology of NM.
Continental Divide Trail
Adventure through one of the largest conservation efforts in US History and is part of one of the most significant trail systems in the world. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is “a living museum of the American West, a place to reconnect with nature, and a unifying force bringing people of all walks of life together,” according to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. The trail, which stretches for 820 miles through NM, offers a wide variety of experiences ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the Chihuahuan Desert. See beautiful red rock formations, wide-open vistas, and blue sky as far as the eye can see. You can hike sections of the trails for 2 miles or even 200 miles, it’s all up to you!
Santa Fe Plaza
It’s time to sit back and relax! The Plaza is known as the “heart of Santa Fe” and is a National Historic Landmark. Still to this day it is still the central gathering place in Santa Fe and is also the oldest part of the city. Find the Palace of Governors, a four-centuries old adobe structure (built-in 1610) that served as the seat of government for the state for centuries. The Palace is now home to the New Mexico History Museum, a great place to truly immerse yourself in the traditions and history of the Land of Enchantment. The Plaza streets are completely walkable, with quaint winding streets that hold local boutiques, restaurants, bookstores, and art galleries hidden on every corner. Feel how the past remains alive on the traditional Spanish-Colonial Plaza and stay in some of the most historic (and haunted) hotels in the US.
Bandelier National Monument
Go back in time! Bandelier National Monument contains over 33,000 impressive acres of canyon and mesa country. Petroglyphs and dwellings were carved into the soft rock of the cliffs over 11,000 years ago by the Ancestral Pueblo People that lived there thousands of years ago. Hike through short and easy trails that are great for the entire family, or take on a bigger challenge! Camping, boating, picnicking, and even cross-country skiing are all activities available in the park. Plus the Monument is only about a 30 minute drive from Santa Fe!
Billy the Kid Scenic Byway
The legends of the Wild West come alive on Billy the Kid Scenic Byway! The Byway takes you from the heart of the tiny Old West town Lincoln, NM to the beautiful ski-town of Ruidoso, and then to Ft. Stanton which offers a rich history of the legendary West. Lincoln is one of the best-preserved Old West towns in the US and was once called home by none other than Billy the Kid himself. The town was mostly made famous due to one of the most violent periods of NM History but also due to the discovery of the real Smokey the Bear in Lincoln National Forest. Explore the Lincoln Historic Site and where the infamous breakout story of Billy the Kid happened, then head over to the Tunstall General Store which features displays of original 19th-century merchandise in the original cases and shelving.
Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness
Explore the Badlands of New Mexico! The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness contains a gorgeous rolling landscape of badlands and offers some of the most unusual scenery found in the Four Corners Region. Over time the natural elements have carved a magical world of strange rock formations that are made of a combination of sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt. The cone-shaped sandstone pillars are called “hoodoos”, weathered rock in the form of pinnacles, spires, cap rocks, and other unusual forms. The name also has a beautiful meaning behind it as well. Translated from Navajo, Bisti means “a large area of shale hills.” and De-Na-Zin (Deh-nah-zin) comes from the Navajo words for “cranes.” Both areas have two very short hikes that are perfect for even little kids!
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Although this very popular hiking spot is still currently closed due to the pandemic, this amazing adventure area should be open again very soon! The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a spectacular “outdoor laboratory”, which offers those who go there an opportunity to observe, study, and experience the geologic processes that shape the natural landscapes of New Mexico. The monument is located on the Pajarito Plateau and includes a national recreation trail that ranges from 5,570 feet to 6,760 feet above sea level. The cone-shaped tent rock formations are the products of ancient volcano eruptions that occurred over 6 million years ago that left pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick.
Old Town ABQ
Just like the Santa Fe Plaza, Historic Old Town ABQ has always been the heart of the Duke City ever since it was built in 1706. Nowadays, Old Town is Albuquerque’s cultural center with multiple museums, over 100 shops, galleries, and delicious local restaurants. This is only just a shortlist of the amazing things that New Mexico has to offer. The Land of Enchantment is full of adventure and exploration for every single type of person!