I’ve extensively traveled through New Mexico and in this guide, I share the absolute best places to visit in New Mexico!
Read on to learn about the most popular New Mexico attractions, including Santa Fe, Roswell, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I also cover lesser-known spots, like where to find hot springs, sample New Mexico wines, and see otherworldly landscapes.
Table of Contents
- 25 Best Places to Visit in New Mexico
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- White Sands National Park
- Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
- Santa Fe
- Bandelier National Monument
- Pecos National Historical Park
- Sandia Peak Tramway
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Taos Pueblo
- Wheeler Peak
- Taos Ski Valley
- Jemez Springs
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park
- Aztec Ruins National Monument
- Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
- Bisti Badlands
- Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness
- Ship Rock
- Four Corners Monument
- Very Large Array
- Billy the Kid Museum
- FAQs About Where to Travel in New Mexico
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25 Best Places to Visit in New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
A southern New Mexico attraction famed for its expansive cave network and Chihuahuan Desert scenery.
Set in southeastern New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of two national parks in New Mexico and a must-see attraction. Underground lie more than 119 caves, full of incredible formations, sinkholes, and springs. Explore on your own via the Big Room Trail or the Natural Entrance Trail, both 1.25 miles in length. Or book tickets to a ranger-led tour to see lesser-traveled routes.
If tickets are sold out, note that reservations are not required for the free Bat Flight Program. These ranger talks and fascinating occurrences happen every evening from Memorial Day to October. Above ground, you’ll also find stunning hiking trails that wind through the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. Pop into the visitor center for trail recommendations.
White Sands National Park
A dazzling park full of vibrant landscapes, visible from hiking trails, on horseback, and while cruising down Dunes Drive.
White Sands National Park is also set in the vast Chihuahuan Desert, but the landscape here is unlike any other. Spanning over 73,000 acres, the park claims the title of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The surrounding San Andres and the Sacramento Mountains are composed of this mineral. To see gypsum’s crystal state, called selenite, hike to Lake Lucero.
Hiking is a popular activity at this park, as is sledding down the pure-white sand dunes. Horseback rides, camping, and scenic excursions down Dunes Drive are other fun things to do.
👉 Don’t Miss: Check out McKenna’s guide to the best national parks in New Mexico!
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
A historic train ride that crisscrosses the Colorado and New Mexico border, weaving through mountains and desert.
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad departs from two stations. One is located in Chama, New Mexico and the other is found in Antonito, Colorado. Trains depart from both stations daily from June through October.
Both half and full-day tours are available, though I highly recommend the full-day excursion. This allows you to take in the entirety of the picturesque route and includes a delicious lunch stop. Snacks and complimentary beverages are also available on board.
When booking, select from parlor, deluxe, and coach car seats. The open-air gondola car is accessible to all visitors and in my opinion, it provides the best photo opportunities.
A colorful city that celebrates Southwest culture in its art galleries, museums, shops, and restaurants.
Explore the art and culture enclave of Sante Fe, one of the best places to visit in New Mexico. Having Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American influences, this city is both diverse and unique. Wander the dozens of galleries on Canyon Road, and visit several iconic art museums. These include the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the original Meow Wolf.
You’ll also want to shop the boutiques, full of Southwest apparel, jewelry, and art of every form. When hunger strikes, you won’t struggle to find delicious cuisines. Order burritos smothered in spicy red and green chile (Christmas style). Sample blue corn tortillas, chewy fry bread, margaritas, and more New Mexican staples.
Many Santa Fe restaurants are also housed in historic and charming adobe structures. You’ll want to take in the architecture when you’re here, too. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and Loretto Chapel are two noteworthy structures.
Bandelier National Monument
A unique protected area with opportunities to see ancient cliff dwellings and more historic sites up close.
Bandelier National Monument is a wonderful day trip from Santa Fe. Located in Los Alamos, roughly an hour northwest, this park will delight history and outdoor lovers alike. Here lie petroglyphs, artifacts, and hundreds of cliff dwellings dating back as late as 1150 A.D.
Paleoindians first inhabited this area, known as the Pajarito Plateau. Archaic Hunter-Gatherers followed, and then the Ancestral Pueblo People. This group created the settlement that visitors see at Bandelier National Monument today.
In total, the park protects the ancestral and traditional lands of 23+ tribal nations. Be respectful of the rules while appreciating this hands-on historic site. You can admire the cliff dwellings and other structures up close by climbing ladders and hiking throughout the park. The Main Pueblo Loop Trail provides a great overview of the area nearest the visitor center.
Pecos National Historical Park
A park near Santa Fe that demonstrates various eras of history, from Ancestral Pueblo sites to a 20th-century dude ranch.
Pecos National Historical Park lies 30 minutes southeast of Santa Fe. The park demonstrates centuries of history in the Upper Pecos Valley. Ancestral Pueblo sites, including Pecos Pueblo, were developed between 600 and 1600 A.D.
During the Early Colonial period, the Spanish built missions in these pueblos, and later, settlers came through the area on the Santa Fe Trail. The Civil War and Industrial Revolution further influenced the area, which became a park in 1965.
Today, visitors can hike to see these various eras. Take the Ancestral Sites Trail to Pecos Pueblo and the Spanish mission. The Glorieta Battlefield Trail winds through a Civil War site, and the South Pasture Loop Trail bears the remains of a ranch settlement.
A city with impressive museums, family activities, and a hot air balloon festival that draws thousands every October.
As the largest city in New Mexico, Albuquerque is full of exciting attractions. One of these is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, an engaging Albuquerque museum and event space. Here, you can sample dishes at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen and see Native American dances each weekend.
For more local insights, check out the Albuquerque Museum and the Turquoise Museum. There’s also the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. If visiting Albuquerque as a family, don’t miss the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum. The ABQ BioPark Zoo and ABQ BioPark Aquarium are other kid-friendly activities.
When planning your trip to Albuquerque, highly consider visiting in October. This is when the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta occurs, and it’s truly one of the best things to do in New Mexico. Whether taking in views from the sky or below, the vivid colors and various shapes are a sight to behold.
Sandia Peak Tramway
A record-breaking tramway that leads to outdoor recreation and fine dining with a view.
The Sandia Peak Tramway is located northeast of Albuquerque at the base of the Sandia Mountains. Spanning 2.7 miles, this aerial tram is the longest in North America and the third-longest in the world!
In 15 minutes, the tram takes visitors to the 10,378-foot Sandia Crest. You can disembark here and enjoy the area’s hiking trails and ski runs. After a day of exploring, dine at TEN 3, a mountaintop restaurant offering some of the best views in Albuquerque.
⛷️ Heads Up: Due to lack of snow, Sandia Peak Ski Area will not open for the 2022-23 season. Fingers crossed for next year!
Petroglyph National Monument
An Albuquerque park that protects centuries-old petroglyphs and far more ancient cinder cones.
Petroglyph National Monument is just 15 minutes outside of Albuquerque, but the city feels miles and centuries away. The park is home to one of the continent’s largest petroglyph sites. Archaeologists have identified thousands of prehistoric Native American drawings here. You can see many of them on hiking trails.
Head to Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and Piedras Marcadas Canyon to view these etches in volcanic rock. When visiting, consider trails at the Volcanoes Day Use Area, too. While this area doesn’t feature petroglyphs, the cinder cones are fascinating sites.
An eclectic town that captures the “Soul of the Southwest” in its cultural attractions and outdoor activities.
Of all the places to visit in New Mexico, Taos is my personal favorite. The “Soul of the Southwest” is rich in culture, evident in its historic structures, restaurants, and art galleries.
Though, galleries aren’t the only places you’ll find artists’ wares. Visit the stalls in Taos Plaza and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge lot to score great deals on turquoise jewelry, horsehair pottery, and more.
Outdoor recreation is abundant in Taos, too. Take a whitewater rafting tour on the Rio Grande. Hike to breathtaking views in the high desert or down steep canyons to natural hot springs. Come winter, skiing and snowboarding are other ways to take in the scenery.
Get planning with our guide to the best things to do in Taos.
A historic settlement that has been inhabited by the Red Willow people for centuries.
Taos Pueblo is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark. It’s been inhabited by a Tiwa-speaking tribe of Pueblo people for several centuries. Experts estimate that today’s structures were built between 1000 and 1450 A.D. Learn about the Taos Pueblo Indigenous culture as you wander through the ancient village.
Set in the main plaza, the San Geronimo Church is one unmistakable building. Many of the adobe homes have been converted into galleries and shops. Walk through these turquoise doorways to admire stone carvings, handmade drums, and a variety of art. When you need a snack, swing by Shundine’s Frybread Stand for savory local flavors.
A noteworthy summit near Taos, claiming the title as the highest point in New Mexico.
Trek to the top of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. This 13,167-foot mountain can be summited from several trails. However, the most popular route is the 8.5-mile Williams Lake Trail. This strenuous trek gains 2,972 feet in elevation and rewards hikers with jaw-dropping views.
If you’re not up for the challenge, note that the surrounding Wheeler Peak Wilderness has many other trails to choose from. Although from a distance, several offer glimpses of Wheeler Peak.
Taos Ski Valley
A popular New Mexico ski resort and village loved for its steep terrain, slopeside lodging, and après ski fun.
Another way to see Wheeler Peak? Ride up the lifts at Taos Ski Valley, arguably the most famous ski resort in New Mexico. With gladed runs and steep slopes, the majority of the terrain is reserved for experts. But with 110 groomed trails, beginner and intermediate skiers will find plenty to explore, too.
In the village, enjoy après ski drinks and delicious eats. If ski-in, ski-out lodging is your style, The Blake at Taos Ski Valley is sure to impress.
A hidden gem known for its award-winning wineries, located on the “River Road to Taos”.
Set 30 minutes southwest of Taos, Dixon is a small hidden gem known for its wineries. Enjoy the sunny patio and mountain views at Vivác Winery. Its gourmet chocolates are nearly as popular as its wine selection!
Visit La Chiripada Winery next, loved for its ambiance and Special Reserve Riesling. Though, the Vino de Oro is my personal favorite. There’s also Black Mesa Winery and Cidery, along with several others along the “River Road to Taos.”
A small town north of Albuquerque, known for its hot spring resort and primitive pools.
Jemez Springs is another lesser-known destination, but undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in New Mexico. This small town is located roughly an hour north of Albuquerque and features several of the New Mexico’s best hot springs.
Jemez Hot Springs is the most popular, complete with on-site lodging. There are also hike-to pools, including McCauley Spring, San Antonio Hot Springs, and Spence Hot Springs.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
A UNESCO World Heritage site celebrated for its preservation of ancestral Pueblo culture.
Found on Navajo land, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is far from any major city. But between 850 and 1250 A.D., the Chaco Canyon sites made up one of the area’s greatest metropolises.
At this park, visitors can explore the ancient ruins up close, crouching through passages and peering into windows. Hikes lead to other archaeological structures, as well as natural formations like Fajada Butte.
Preservation and 1,000+ uncovered artifacts granted the park status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This title also applies to the nearby Aztec Ruins National Monument and other smaller Chaco Canyon locations.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
A Chaco Canyon site that features great houses, ceremonial kivas, and a heritage garden with traditional crops.
Roughly 90 minutes north of Chaco Culture lies the related Aztec Ruins National Monument. It’s understood that these two ancestral Pueblo-built communities flourished in harmony. Around 1100 A.D., Aztec Ruins may have even dominated Chaco Culture as the main hub for trade, commerce, and ceremony.
Learn more about the site’s history at the visitor center, which includes a small museum. Visitors can also take a self-guided tour along the Aztec West Trail, and explore the Heritage Garden. Here, park staff and volunteers grow traditional crops like corn, squash, amaranth, and sunflowers.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
A remote site in southwest New Mexico that was developed by the Southern Ancestral Pueblo nearly a millennia ago.
For centuries, the caves above the Gila River in southwest New Mexico were used as shelter by ancient nomads. For a brief period around 1200 – 1300 A.D., the agricultural Mogollon culture, or Southern Ancestral Pueblo, resided here.
They developed the area that visitors to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument see today. Take a day hike or guided tour to see these incredible structures up close. Park rangers and the visitors center are also great resources to better understand the area’s history.
A small town famed for the 1947 UFO incident, drawing tourists to conspiratorial and kitschy alien attractions.
Like most places to visit in New Mexico, Roswell is arguably a cultural attraction. But its culture stands out, as it’s largely centered around the paranormal — specifically, aliens.
Conspiracies began in 1947 when a UFO allegedly crashed just outside of Roswell. Sightings have continued through the decades, drawing fanatics to the small town. Today, Roswell has alien-themed shops, an annual UFO Festival, and the beloved International UFO Museum.
The International UFO Museum and Research Center discusses various sightings of extraterrestrial life. It overviews everything from cover-ups to kitschy pop culture. Stop by the gift shop for all sorts of alien and space-themed souvenirs.
☀️ Want to get outside? When in Roswell, don’t miss Bottomless Lake State Park. It provides opportunities for boating, swimming, hiking and some of the best camping in New Mexico!
A wilderness area that’s difficult to access, but rewards visitors with unusual, breathtaking sights.
If you’re into the paranormal, how about exploring an alien-esque wilderness? The Bisti Badlands is one of the most unique places to visit in New Mexico. Here, a variety of otherworldly rock formations, called hoodoos, reach impressive heights.
The Bisti Badlands is also known as the De-Na-Zin Wilderness and is found on Navajo land. Note that this remote area is difficult to reach, given its surrounding dirt roads with few signs. Travel smart and visit respectfully, as these structures are delicate and rarely seen but by a few!
An area near and similar to the Bisti Badlands, full of otherworldly formations and unique geology.
The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness lies north of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. It’s in San Juan County, southeast of the Bisti Badlands. Like the Bisti Badlands, it’s difficult to access and requires some navigational skills. But those that make the journey are treated to astounding views.
Hike to see the impressive hoodoo structures, and admire the area’s unique geology. Consider visiting at sunrise or sunset to get the best photos of this hidden gem.
A massive formation that soars nearly 2,000 feet into the sky, having spiritual significance to the Navajo Nation.
Ship Rock is one of the coolest places to visit in New Mexico. Not to be confused with Shiprock, a town west of Farmington, this natural attraction is an absolute stunner.
It’s the result of a volcanic eruption that’s estimated to have occurred 30 million years ago. The massive structure soars nearly 2,000 feet into the sky, unmistakable even from a distance. Visitors can drive along Red Rock Highway, also known as Indian Service Route 13, to get close to Ship Rock.
However, due to its spiritual significance and location on Navajo land, hiking and climbing here are not permitted. Take in the beauty from afar and continue on your New Mexico road trip!
Four Corners Monument
A Navajo Nation monument that allows visitors to stand in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado all at once.
Stand in four states at once when visiting Four Corners Monument! This historical landmark highlights the location where the borders of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet. For this reason, it’s also one of the best places to visit in Colorado!
This Navajo Nation monument features a visitor center, a couple of nearby hiking trails, and two fry bread stands. It’s a great spot to have a snack, stretch your legs, and snap a fun photo!
Very Large Array
A unique observatory that boasts the world’s most powerful radio telescope.
Two hours southwest of Albuquerque lies the Very Large Array, a unique astronomical radio observatory. Its 27 radio antennas are each 82 feet in diameter and have been set in a “Y” shape. By combining each antenna’s data, observers can capture an incredible resolution. In fact, the Very Large Array is the world’s most powerful radio telescope!
Explore the visitor center and take a self-guided walking tour to learn more about the site. If you’re into science and astronomy, this is definitely one of the best places to visit in New Mexico!
Billy the Kid Museum
A historic museum that features an impressive collection of artifacts from the Wild West outlaw’s life.
The Billy the Kid Museum is located in Fort Sumner, a small central New Mexican town near the Texas border. In 1881, it was here that the famous Wild West outlaw was shot and killed.
The museum is a family-owned and operated establishment, run by passionate, knowledgeable locals. Unique artifacts include Billy the Kid’s rifle, his chaps and spurs, and pieces of the home where he died. Stop in for a fascinating and engaging history lesson.
FAQs About Where to Travel in New Mexico
What cities are worth visiting in New Mexico?
What is the best month to visit New Mexico?
The best month to visit New Mexico is October, in my opinion. November is also ideal, as is March through April. During these shoulder seasons, you’ll see fewer crowds and lower prices on hotels and transportation. The weather is also moderate and suitable for most outdoor experiences.
Thanks for reading my guide to the best places to visit in New Mexico! Safe travels and enjoy experiencing all that this Southwest state has to offer.
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