5 Recommended Stops for Your New Mexico Road Trip
One of the biggest reasons to take a road trip is the ability to watch the scenery as you travel from place to place. Unlike a plane or even a train, driving allows you to truly take in the sights around you and appreciate the beauty of the landscape.
There are many states that offer beautiful roadside landscapes, but New Mexico is definitely one of the best. New Mexico offers views of the desert and the mountains, which means you can plan your road trip around a diverse set of activities. Between the epic rock formations of the Organ Mountains and the spooky ghost towns, find a scenic byway that will amaze and delight you.
Additionally, New Mexico is rich in culture that you will not get to experience in many other parts of the country. If you are interested in a road trip because of the food, sights, art galleries, or new experiences, there will be something for you in New Mexico called the “Land of Enchantment.”
Before You Start Your Road Trip
When you are ready to start planning your road trip, there are a few things you should do at home to make sure your experience is as smooth and painless as possible.
The great thing about road trips, as opposed to traveling by plane, is the lack of baggage restrictions. You can bring as much luggage as you want, as long as it fits in your car.
New Mexico has a warm climate, especially in the summer, so bring breathable clothes. You will also want lightweight pants and long sleeves to protect your skin from the sun, bugs, and injury while on hikes.
This road trip itinerary also has a variety of activities so be sure to pack outfits for hiking, sitting in the car, and going out to dinner in a city.
Although the scenery will be beautiful, the experience will be enhanced by learning about the area you are driving through. Autio helps you make the most of your time on the road with bite-sized stories to help you get to know the world around you.
Autio is a location-based audio platform that shares stories about the people, places, and history of the land they are traveling through. This will allow you to learn about the landscape you are driving through during your road trip or day trip, making every space you pass through even more exciting.
Autio connects generations by bringing the landscape to life through sharing stories that surprise, inform, and delight the listener.
If you’d like to learn about the history and related stories about Southwestern highways, cities, small towns, and species you are driving through, sign up to gain access to thousands of bite-sized, location-based audio clips with your account.
Here is a sample New Mexico road trip itinerary:
The first stop on our road trip is Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico and a vibrant hub of nature, culture, and gastronomy. Located near the Mexican border, Las Cruces is a great place to begin working your way up the Land of Enchantment.
To start your day with some excitement, book a ride with Corralitos Trail Rides. These rides are located in the Corralitos Ranch, which stretches out over the New Mexico Desert.
Ride a horse and be guided through the beautiful hills, and look out over the New Mexico scenery while learning about historical landmarks you pass. The ride takes about two hours to complete.
For the rest of the afternoon, visit a New Mexican museum! There is a wide range of museums in Las Cruces, including the Museum of Nature & Science, New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, and the Zuhl Museum.
Love museums? Try the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe or the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell.
Check out the schedule at the Rio Grande Theatre. This theater has been staging shows in Las Cruces for 70 years. They have stage ballets, orchestras, choirs, and many other shows. If there is no show during your visit, you can always schedule a theater tour and learn about its beautiful, unique architecture and rich history.
White Sands National Park
Only an hour away from Las Cruces is our next road trip stop. White Sands National Park will give you plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy while taking in the beautiful New Mexico landscape.
These white sand dunes are not common throughout the country. Stop at the Visitor Center to get a brief history of the area and the White Sands National Monument and some suggestions as to what activities are available. The largest gypsum dune field is here!
One of the best ways to experience the dunes is to simply walk along with them. For the beginner hiker, try the Playa Trail and Dune Life Nature Trail. The Playa Trail is half a mile long, while the Dune Trail is a mile long. These trails are fairly flat and may seem short, but walking on the sand will feel like a true bucket list item, unlike any other hiking experience you have had.
For the moderate hiker, try the Backcountry Camping Trail. The trail is two miles long, and you will be required to hike steep dunes.
For the advanced hiker, check out the Alkali Flat Trail. This trail will require you to hike up and down dunes for the entirety of your hike. It is 5 miles long, and it should not be taken during extreme heat because the trail offers no shade.
The dunes look snowy from far away, and they even act similarly to snow. In fact, the park offers sledding on the dunes for the entire family. You can buy a sled at the gift shop and pick the dune you want to sled down. For safety reasons, you don’t want to choose a dune with a steep slope.
If you want to ride alongside the dunes, you can do it with a bike! Biking is permitted on any road open to vehicles, but you will have to share the road with cars while you are biking.
Also, the biking route is 16 miles roundtrip and may feel a little different since there will be a layer of sand on the road. Be sure to come prepared with water and sunscreen!
About three and a half hours away from White Sands National Park is the largest city in New Mexico: Albuquerque!
A great way to get acquainted with the city is by taking a tour with Routes Bicycle Tours. They offer bicycle tours throughout the city that will expose you to the beautiful scenery and even include tastings in local restaurants along the way. Local experts lead these tours, so it’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in the city and learn more about it.
Afterward, take in the natural wonders of Albuquerque on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. This tramway is located in the Sandia Foothills and will take you up the side of the Sandia Mountains.
Once you are at the top, there are hiking trails available, but you can hop on a tram that will take you back down if you would like. The trip takes 30 minutes round trip and will give an impressive first look at the New Mexico scenery.
Check out the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History if you still have some time. This museum celebrates local history and art from around the world.
To end your night, head over to the Casa Rondeña Winery. This winery offers an impressive selection of local and imported wine, as well as a center for the arts. Check the calendar while you are visiting because they often host art shows and festivals. Enjoy a variety of wines paired with chocolate, cheese boards, or spreads.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, is famous for hot air balloons and the hot springs (located in a town called Truth or Consequences).
Bandelier National Monument
The next stop, about two hours from Albuquerque, is the Bandelier National Monument. This part of the road trip will be focused on hiking, so be sure to come prepared with water, sunscreen, hiking shoes, and the proper clothes.
Bandelier National Monument is a National Monument that has preserved and showcases the homes of Puebloans from 1150 to 1600 AD. The easiest hike to take is the Main Pueblo loop trail, which is a 1.4-mile loop that starts at the visitor center, making it extremely easy to find.
If you are looking for something longer or more adventurous, there are other trail options.
The Falls Trail also starts near the visitor center, and if you have trouble finding it, you can always ask the workers for help. The trail takes you 1.5 miles down a 400-foot descent to the Upper Falls.
Here, you will see a beautiful waterfall resting in the mountain. This trail includes steep drop-offs and requires you to walk over plank bridges. Turn around and walk back to finish this 3-mile round trip hike.
This section of the monument is found about twelve miles from the start of the other hikes. Once you find the marked location, you will take a 1.5-mile path along ancient ruins.
Walk along a mesa while exploring Native American pottery sheds and historic pueblo ruins until you read an unexcavated Tsankawi Pueblo. This route requires you to climb up ladders, so it should be avoided if it is snowy or there are thunderstorms outside.
Continue on the path while looking for hidden petroglyphs, and you will return to the start of the trail.
Cerro Grande Route
The Cerro Grande Route will take you up to the highest peak in the entire park, Cerro Grande Peak. It is a 4.6-mile round trip hike that has a 1200 ft elevation gain. Because the route starts and ends at high elevations, you may encounter snow and ice. Additionally, try not to go if a thunderstorm is a possibility.
This route will take you through grassy and forested terrains and is a wonderful way to see wildflowers and wild birds. It also offers spectacular views of the entire park.
The next stop on the trip is Taos, which is about an hour and a half from Bandelier National Monument.
First, head over to Taos Pueblo. When visiting Taos Pueblo, you will actually be visiting the homes of locals. These pueblos have been housing people for more than 1000 years, and it is registered as a National Historic Landmark. This is a wonderful way to experience the rich history of New Mexico.
While you continue your best road trip, check out Taos Plaza & the Taos Historic District. This is the heart of the city, and it has shops, eateries, and historic Taos buildings. You can sit, and people watch with some food. Check their schedule to see if you can catch a concert.
Then, book a trip with Los Rios River Runners. This business offers rafting trips down the Rio Grande River! They will also help set up accommodations if you want to camp along the river for a night or two.
If you are looking for some adventure, you can choose white water rafting, but if you are looking for something calmer like a float trip or a short tour. Love the Rio Grande? Check out the Riverbend Hot Springs and the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park.
For dinner, head over to The Burger Stand at Taos Ale House. This is a hot spot for locals, and it offers a great selection of craft beers, grass-fed beef burgers, and a range of options for vegetarians. They also frequently have live music, so check their schedule before going.
You can make your New Mexico road trip as long as you’d like, just pick as many consecutive cities as you want and hit the road! Don’t be afraid to explore quintessential USA nostalgia with Route 66, running through nearby Arizona and California.
As you cruise along the scenic drive, be sure to tune into Autio to get more information about New Mexico, the history of who has lived there, and facts about the areas you are driving through. It will make your New Mexico experience even better and will give you the opportunity to leave the road trip with plenty of experiences in the area, as well as knowledge of the history.
Museum of Nature & Science | Las Cruces, NM
Home | New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum
Zuhl Museum: Home of the Zuhl Collection | Las Cruces, NM 88003