Trying to plan the perfect New Mexico road trip? We’re here to help make the process a little less stressful!
New Mexico has so much to offer, especially when driving through the state, so you’re sure to be in for the time of your life with this trip.
New Mexico is full of adventure: from historical sites, national monuments, the opportunity to star gaze, eat great food, and even witness a rare sighting of alien life, your trip is bound to be exciting.
We are listing some of the must sees on the New Mexico Itinerary. Make sure to stop at and explore these sites that you interest and keep your personal timeline in mind!
With that being said, get the car ready to go with some travel snacks and a playlist of podcasts! You’re in for a wild exploration!
The Perfect New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary
Getting to New Mexico
When beginning your New Mexico Road Trip, it is probably best to fly into Albuquerque International Sunport.
This is the primary international airport in New Mexico and has a variety of different carriers for you to fly in on. From Southwest to United, to Delta, Alaska and American, ABQ is a large and fully functional airport for you to fly into.
With countless origin cities to fly from and back home to, the options for this airport can help you easily plan your New Mexico Itinerary! But do be aware– this airport is big and has a lot of traffic, so don’t get too overwhelmed when you step foot off the plane!
Getting Around New Mexico
At ABQ, car rental and customer service counter’s are readily available for you! Warning: this center is outside of the airport, but the airport provides free shuttle transportation to the center every 5 minutes.
Once at the Car Rental Center, you can rent from Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and more. With all of these options, make sure to do your research for your best deal!
We also recommend ensuring that you are in a car that is spacious and has good gas milage for your New Mexico road trip! You want to be comfortable throughout your adventures in the Land of Enchantment!
But in all seriousness, check that gas milage— you don’t want to end up stranded on a desert road 🙂
Stop 1: Start Your New Mexico Road Trip in Albuquerque
Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city, sitting in the high desert. With a modern downtown vibe mixed historical sites as a Spanish colony from 1706, this place is a must see on your New Mexico itinerary (especially considering you are flying into ABQ!).
Old Town gives off that historic vibe, as it dates back to the city’s Spanish colony days. It is a strong contrast to modern downtown, but it has some of the best New Mexican dining and artisan shopping in the area!
When in Old Town, make sure to check out some of the best restaurants here, like Monroe’s, which is famous for their skillets and margaritas.
And when done eating, make sure to swing by local shops like the Old Town Emporium and the Genuine Southwest Art and Gifts! You can get your best travel trinkets here.
If you’re looking for outdoor things to add to your New Mexico itinerary, you can also check out the Petroglyph National Monument which is an archeological site with prehistoric art.
Or you can go to the riverside ABQ BioPark-Zoo to see some animals and enjoy a train ride. Better yet, you can even take the Sandia Peak Tramway which offers a 2.7 mile aerial tram ride with sweeping views of the Sandia Mountains.
Where to Stay in Albuquerque:
Stop 2: Swing by the Chaco Canyon for Some Great Natural and Cultural Based History
Your next stop on your New Mexico road trip is Chaco Canyon! This national historical park has a variety of sites, stops and views. Make sure to check out the extensive mountain ranges in the south and west when you first step foot here!
Also make sure you are visiting Pueblo Bonito, the archaeological site of a Chacoan city in the canyon. This is the largest and best-known great house in the National Park!
The ruins of Chetro Ketl are also amazing to add to your New Mexico itinerary as its architecture is stunning and well preserved, despite years of dessert weather having attempted to wear it down.
Another cool set of ruins to visit while in the canon is the Fajada Butte! The ruins in this area are some of the largest in the United States, and thankfully, they aren’t typically very crowded or popular amongst tourists.
You can take guided tours, hike, bike and camp at Fajada Butte. We highly recommend at least staying through the evening to make sure can lay on the desolate dirt roads and look up to stargaze at night!
Where to stay near Chaco Canyon
Stop 3: Nature Lovers Must Go and Visit the Bandelier National Monument
The Banderlier National Monument has multiple sites that you can visit on your New Mexico Road Trip. For those of you interested in enjoying sprawling, outdoor areas, we recommend checking out the Santa Fe National Forest.
Or, you can look at the expansive meadow views that feature wildlife and streams at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Wherever you decide to stop on your New Mexico itinerary, these nature preserves and forests offer trails that you can bike, hike, and explore.
The Tyuonyi Overlook is a canyon that features historical ruins, and the Alcove House is a popular historical site that many people hike to in order to observe the ruins and past culture of the state.
Do make sure to check out Tsankawi as well: this section of the National Monument is well known for it’s 1.5 mile walk along a mesa and its features of caveats, petroglyphs and more.
From hiking Tsankawi, you can also enjoy boating in Bandelier or take other trails that are well known, such as the Frey Trail or the Falls trail or Main Loop Trail: just make sure to pack good hiking shoes!
Where to Stay Near Banderlier national Monument
Stop 4: Swinging by Santa Fe Will Add So Much Fun to Your New Mexico Road Trip
As New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe is a must see during your New Mexico road trip! This city is full of art, history, culture and adventure and is the perfect stop on your Southwest USA Road trip!
Start off by checking out the Santa Fe Plaza Inc., which is the public square in the city that hosts a variety of events such as weekend markets, concerts, parades and more!
This city has the traditional vibe of a Spanish colony with it’s crooked and twisted streets, and you can learn more about the history of Santa Fe by checking out the Places of the Governors, which is an exhibit that showcases this wonderful city as it has grown over the past years.
You may also want to check out Loretto Chapel for authentic gothic architecture, as this chapel is beautiful and worth stopping by! You should also visit the Georgia O’Keefee Museum, which has over 3,000 works if you are interested in spending some time indoors while marveling at art.
Interested in more? Also check out the New Mexico History Museum, or the Museum of International Folk Art! This city is not only full of authentic culture, but the shops, restaurants, exhibits and museums stay true to the history of such a wonderful place as well.
Where to Stay In Santa Fe
Stop 5: Add Madrid to Your New Mexico Itinerary
Although this census-designated place is a part of Santa Fe, it’s population is small and isn’t typically crowded, but Madrid offers so much for you to do during your New Mexico Road Trip!
Madrid is filled with local shops that sell exotic textiles, and turquoise jewelry. Once a historic coal mining and ghost town, this quaint village now has over 40 shops, and you must check out the Java Junction Coffee Shop and Kitchen Goods for some great caffeine!
You’re also going to want to visit the Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark for any creative town get together, such as the Gypsy Fest or evening concerts. And the nearby Indigo Gallery shows the town’s fine arts such a sculpture, painting and jewelry.
There is also the Turquoise Trail Sculpture and Garden Studio as well as the Turquoise Mines that you can go explore. The peaceful atmosphere here really encapsulates this small, unique town!
Where to Stay near Madrid (a city called Bernalillo):
Stop 6: Would You Really Be on a New Mexico Road Trip If You Didn’t Stop at the International UFO Museum and Research Center?
The International UFO Museum and Research Center may be one of the most touristy things to add to your New Mexico Itinerary, but isn’t that all the more reason to stop there?
This museum is dedicated to the famous Roswell Crash of 1947, a crash where a nearby trench was littered with debris and metal, which sparked theories about a possible landing of a UFO on Earth.
This museum is set up like a wax museum, with tall figurines of extraterrestrials surrounding you as you learn more about the Roswell Crash, extraterrestrial theories, and more.
There isn’t much to do around the museum itself, but make sure to check out that gift shop to buy your favorite alien knick-knacks like key chains, pens, and t-shifts so you can brag about visiting the home of UFOs!
Where to Stay Near Roswall:
Stop 7: The Very Large Array is a Unique Stop for Astronomy Fans
The Very Large Array (VLA) is another one of those stops for your New Mexico road trip that doesn’t have many stops/places to visit in it, but you should stop there nevertheless.
The VLA is a giant field home to 25-meter radio telescopes that help create one of the world’s largest radio astronomy observatories.
Historically, this location has helped make leaps and bounds in astrology, but you must see the impressive size of this array and, if given the chance, climb the observation deck for sweeping views.
In the control center, you can get a full view of the array. And if you decide to splurge on a tour, you can check out the behind the scenes secrets, and you may even be able to snag a night sky observation deck tour!
Where to Stay Near the VLA (the city of Socorro)
Stop 8: Who Wouldn’t Want to Stop at a Place Known as Pie Town
One of the best places to stop during your New Mexico road trip is: Pie Town! Now who wouldn’t want to visit Pie Town for some yummy pastries?
This small town has a population under 200, so don’t expect it to be crowded or really busy, but do make sure to keep an eye out for the Pie-O-Neer restaurant that has a sign that says: STOP!
Also make sure to check out The Gatherin’ Place. These restaurants are well known for their pies and offer a variety of options: from homemade and classic apple, to specialty pies of the day, you’ll want to try a slice of each!
On your way out of Pie Town, stop at the Pie Town Cafe as well for some drinks, and more pie of course! And if you’re worried about missing this small town, don’t worry, the Pie Town Cafe has a sign that reminds you, “Turn back for pie!”
This sign may even tempt you to take some to go!
Where to Stay Near Pie Town (Grants, New Mexico)
Stop 9: Explore the Gila National Forest During Your New Mexico Road Trip
The Gila National Forest consists of 3.3 million acres of forested hills and moving mountains. Pie town is just nearby the forest, so it may be helpful to eat some pastries before taking on the hikes and trials of this forest during your New Mexico road trip!
When visiting the Gila, make sure to check out the Gila Cliff Dwellings, which is a national monument that has cave-like-houses that can be reached by hiking.
You can also hop on or hop off the Continental Divide Trail— this strenuous hiking route is famous for stretch across 5 states, including New Mexico, so don’t follow it for too long or you’ll end up somewhere else!!
Escudilla Mountain is also well known for its trails that vary in difficulty, and a tower that has a great peak for viewing the sweeping trees and ranges of the forest. You may even get to see some wildlife from up there!
Lastly make sure to check out Luna Lake, where you can camp, fish, swim, and boat– whatever your heart desires!
Where to Stay Near Gila National Forest
Stop 10: Get Spooked at the Mogollon Ghost Town!
This isolated town was nearly abandoned in the 70’s due to the closure of mines. Since it’s closure, the remains are creepy and haunting– it truly seems like a ghost town as nature has seemingly overtaken old wooden buildings and retired mining sites!
Although sparsely inhabited, there are some things to explore at the Mogollon Ghost Town during your New Mexico road trip:
In town, you can find an art gallery, a small mining museum, an antique store, and a small cafe.
But the best thing to check out here is the Graveyard Gulch! A hike to the local graveyard will take you past an old schoolhouse, through hills, past old mines, and mine shacks, and finally lead you to the graveyard itself.
With its old-time headstones, grave markers, and epitaphs, this graveyard really reinforces the Mogollon Ghost Town name but also lets you hike and explore the history of what was this town’s downfall.
Where to Stay Near Mogollon Ghost Town (In Silver City)
Stop 11: Add Truth or Consequences to your New Mexico Itinerary for some Relaxation!
Truth or Consequences is a strange name for a city, but this city sits in Sierra County and is a must stop and see on your New Mexico road trip because of its natural beauty and chance for relaxation.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park features a large lake with endless water activities: swimming, boating, water skiing– you name it and you can spend hours (or even days!) exploring this lake!
The Elephant Butte Reservoir is also a great park to relax at and is the only place in New Mexico that you will see temporary Coast Gaud bases and pelicans!
Truth or Consequences is also well known for their hot springs: we recommend spending some time at the Riverbend Hot Springs or even the Blackstone Hot Springs where you can relax, chat with locals, and just soak up some sun in warm waters!
And after enjoying a long soak, you can check out the Geronimo Springs Museums for local history exhibits about these springs in this unique town!
Where to Stay in Truth and Consequences:
Stop 12: White Sands National Monument
The White Sands National Monument is well known for its dramatic landscape of sand dunes. With lots of trails through these dunes, many people come to explore this area during their New Mexico road trip.
We recommend taking a long hike on the Dunes Life Nature trail: here you can visit the sweeping views of the dunes, get immersed in the area, and witness natural wildlife (if you’re lucky!) and some native plants.
The Interdune Boardwalk is also a cool hiking area, one that is a bit easier to navigate and walk in the sands! There are also interpretative exhibits located throughout this hike, which is great for families who are visiting.
Or you can even check out the Alkali Flat Trailhead— just make sure you pack lots of water and good walking shoes.
And if you’re interested make sure to ask questions about camping within the dunes overnight! Enjoy the sunset and surfing down the dunes if you get the chance!
Where to Stay Near The White Sands National Monument
Stop 13: Visit the Carlsbad Caverns National Park For Unique Exploring Experiences of Limestone Caves
In the Chihuahuan Desert, the Carlsbad Caverns have a famous natural entrance (literally known as the Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance), which is where you should start exploring these amazing caves!
This entrance features a steep trail but enters into a large network of limestone caves that were formed by fossilized reefs millions of years ago. Make sure to look at the Slaughter Canyon Cave in particular: its sights are hauntingly beautiful.
There are plenty of self-guided tours through the Natural Entrance routes, or you can book ranger-led tours. You can also check out The Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center, a venue that features exhibits, information, and gifts.
If you’re fed up with the caves, there is also the Living Desert Zoo and Garden’s State Park you can check out, and during the night, you can stop by the Fiesta Drive-In Movie Theatre! These two locations are perfect if you are traveling with little ones or family members!
Either way, make sure to spend time exploring the caves, and some famous trails like the Guadalupe Peak Trail, to really bask in the national park during your New Mexico Road Trip!
Where to Stay Near the Carlsbad Caves National Park:
Stop 14: Swing by Santa Rosa For Some Water Activities to Break up the Desert Heat!
Santa Rosa is a popular stop during a New Mexico road trip for those who love water: this city in Guadalupe Country is known for its lakes, cave diving experiences, and opportunities for scuba divers!
In particular, many people love checking out the Blue Hole. This clear-watered-oasis is vast and swimming in it is unforgettable. It sicks within the Santa Rosa Rock Formation.
The translucent blue waters and depth make it a popular spot amongst scuba divers and freedivers– and if you’re interested, there is a dive shop on site that can train you in scuba!
Park Lake is also a popular stop in Santa Rosa. Known for it’s “WIBIT”, here you can participate in multiple water activities such as water slides, pedal boats, paddleboards and more!
Lastly, while in Santa Rosa you can check out the Route 66 Auto Museum, which features exhibitions on classic cars, custom cars, street rods, and memorabilia! It also seems appropriate to swing by here since you will be driving the iconic Route 66 a lot!
Where to Stay in Santa Rosa:
Stop 15: Finish Your New Mexico Road Trip at Taos Pueblo
There is so much to do in Taos, as this is a living Native American community, so make sure to add a bunch of mini stops to your New Mexico itinerary for this town!
From museums to churches, to walking tours and guided tours, a cemetery, plazas, national monuments and the Rio Grande bridge, you will never be bored here!
Some of the museums you must check out are the Harwood Museum of Art, the Kit Carson Home and Museum, and the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House. These exhibits are turn of the century, offer lots of artworks to explore, and are so cool!
Also make sure to check out the 24 Iglesias (churches) of Taos while on your way to Kit Carson Park and Cemetery, or just enjoy the Historic Taos Plaza, where locals gather for summer concerts, shops, and galleries! It’s a great place to mingle and talk with locals.
The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument offers recreational opportunities of hiking, biking, rafting and more, so you can always spend some time here, and while here, do make sure to check out the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is the second-highest bridge on the US Highway system– it offers great views of this area!
Where to stay in Taos Pueblo:
New Mexico is such a historically rich, unique, and fun state. We really hope you enjoy this New Mexico road trip itinerary and your time spent exploring these spots!
No matter if you are looking for family-friendly things to do, outdoor adventures, cultural cites or more, New Mexico has something for everyone.
This state will surprise you: so be prepared for the best New Mexico road trip and all the adventures that come with it!