New Mexico is known as the “Land of Enchantment,” and for a good reason. While often overlooked for nearby neighbors like Colorado and Arizona, New Mexico is a travel destination growing quickly in popularity.
The state has surreal desert landscapes and breathtaking mountains. Rich in history and art, New Mexico has something for everyone.
In this ultimate guide to the best things to do in New Mexico, we’re outlining some of the state’s most impressive highlights. From kitschy roadside attractions to stunning canyons and caves, New Mexico with astound you with its beauty and unique attractions.
This post contains affiliate links which will reward me monetarily or otherwise when you use them to make qualifying purchases, at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, please read our disclosure policy.
White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park is a massive field of rolling dunes between Alamogordo and Las Cruces. Did I mention the sand is white? With mountains looming on the horizon, it looks like snow.
The glistening dunes stretch out as far as you can see – like a vast beach without an ocean. White Sands is the place to be if you are looking for a relaxing beach day or a place to play in the sand. White Sands offers hiking trails suitable to people of all experience levels.
Here are two great options to consider:
- Interdune Boardwalk – a leisurely 0.4-mile stroll.
- Alkali Flat Trail – an intense 5.0-mile hike where you will trudge up and down steep dunes the entire way.
Sand sledding is one of the most popular activities in the park. With a plastic saucer and some wax, you will squeal with delight as you sled down the dunes. White Sands National Park is an excellent experience whether you want to relax, have fun or get an intense workout. Regardless of your goal, the scenery is always stunning.
Canyon Road Santa Fe
Between the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road packs in more than a hundred galleries, boutiques, and restaurants in a half-mile area. You can explore the history of local art in Santa Fe’s Historic District.
Adobe architecture is on full display in this area. Despite the buildings being similar, the art is quite diverse. You’ll find nearly any artistic style or form you can imagine. If you’re an art collector or an art lover, Canyon Road is calling your name.
Art may be the main attraction, but there is plenty of opportunity for shopping and fine dining. Be sure to bring your appetite along with your creativity. This area is open daily but often has special events. See why Canyon Road has been dubbed “a magical half-mile.”
Would you like to explore a hidden world? Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an underground world of beautiful cave formations. The temperature here remains at 56 degrees Fahrenheit. You can either hike down the 1.25-mile Natural Entrance Trail or take an elevator. The path is steep and has many switchbacks.
At 750 feet below the surface, you will reach The Big Room. You will walk 1.25 miles along the Big Room Trail to see it. Thankfully, this trail is level.
The surreal cave formations started forming over 500,000 years ago. There are stalagmites, stalactites, columns, and more. The odd contradictions are what make this world so unique. Some formations appear so delicate that a single touch could shatter them. Others are enormous, sturdy structures.
You can watch the bat flight program each evening from late May through October. Thousands of bats fly out of the cave entrance for the night to hunt for food. It is quite the spectacle.
Looking for a backpacking adventure in the wilderness? At 100 miles, the Guadalupe Ridge Trail takes you through the Chihuahuan Desert and the Guadalupe Mountains. The trail leads to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, Texas, so you experience two national parks on your journey.
Do you believe in aliens and UFOs? Roswell, New Mexico, has restaurants, shops, museums, fun centers, and more where you can immerse yourself in alien-themed surroundings. There are plenty of photo opportunities in and around the town.
Stop at the Roswell Visitors Center to plan your activities. They offer a free photo with aliens as a keepsake for your travels. Whether you are a believer, or you’re just looking for something whimsical, Roswell is a fun experience for adults and kids.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a truly unique New Mexico experience. They hold this annual hot air balloon celebration in early October in New Mexico’s largest city. People come from all over to watch Albuquerque’s vast, blue sky fill up with graceful, floating balloons. What a breathtaking sight!
Balloon Fiesta Park spans over 360 acres. It includes a launch field exceeding 80 acres. The extensive concessions area offers plenty of local cuisine, including breakfast burritos, green chile cheeseburgers, souvenirs, and handmade arts and crafts.
Bandelier National Monument
Looking for a taste of history? Near Los Alamos, the Bandelier National Monument pays homage to Ancestral Pueblo people that lived in the area over 10,000 years ago.
There are many hiking trails in the area, but the Pueblo Loop Trail is the most popular. The 1.4-mile hike offers a tour of the preserved cliff dwellings. You can climb ladders into cavates or small human-carved nooks along the way. It’s a fun and educational activity for the whole family.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is in northwestern New Mexico between Albuquerque and Farmington. It houses the remnants of what was once the center of an ancient world.
The area contains pueblos and large structures with architectural and engineering significance. That was a hub for commerce, culture, and organization in a thriving Ancestral Puebloan civilization.
You can take a self-guided tour by car. Canyon Loop Drive is 9 miles and has six viewing sites. If you prefer to explore on foot, there are four backcountry hiking trails where you can find more remote locations with petroglyphs and spectacular views.
New Mexico Museum of Art
The New Mexico Museum of Art is located in Santa Fe. Built in 1917, it is the oldest art museum in the state. It holds more than 20,000 works of American and European art. You will find paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and conceptual works. It hosts a variety of permanent and rotating exhibits, so you’re sure to find something that interests you when planning your visit.
Do you like roadside attractions? PistachioLand features an enormous pistachio statue that claims to be home to the world’s largest pistachio.
There’s a lot more inside though. Although touristy, it is an entertaining stop with lots to do. They have a pistachio tree farm, a winery, snacks, and many souvenirs. Don’t worry if you’re not that into nuts – many of the snacks do not contain pistachios. You can’t miss this place. They have billboards all across the state!
Are you reaching for new heights? Wheeler Peak is the New Mexico adventure for you. At 13,161 feet above sea level, Wheeler Peak proudly stakes its claim as the highest mountain in New Mexico. The mountain is part of the Sangre de Cristo range near Taos Ski Valley.
You will hike Williams Lake Trail to Wheeler Peak Summit Trail to reach the top. This hike is 6.3 miles with an elevation gain of 2,961 feet. The difficulty level ranks between intermediate and expert. Some sections of the trail are steep, narrow, and uneven.
Wheeler Peak will give you a challenge, breathtaking views, and the possibility of seeing bighorn sheep. Bring your hiking boots!
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is North America’s longest and highest steam railroad. You can board the train in Chama, New Mexico, and enjoy a day trip through the gorgeous Rocky Mountain West.
The train takes you through scenic forests, plains, mountains, and canyons. You will steam through two tunnels, over a 137-foot trestle, and across state borders 11 times between New Mexico and Colorado.
Wildlife sightings are common on this “National Historic Landmark that moves.” With so much history and beautiful scenery, this train ride is fun for the whole family.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Georgia O’Keeffe is considered one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. The museum honors her legacy as an artist and a human being.
As an American modernist, she was known for paintings of New Mexico landscapes, New York skyscrapers, and radical depictions of flowers. The museum highlights her contributions to modern art.
Collections include her paintings, pencil and charcoal drawings, pastels, and watercolors. You can also see photographs and other items documenting her life.
Wineries in New Mexico
Are you an oenophile? (In other words, do you love wine?) Though most may not associate New Mexico with great wine, winemaking dates back nearly 400 years in the state.
Today, New Mexico has over forty wineries throughout the state. The Land of Enchantment houses three regions designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA):
- Mesilla Valley AVA: near Las Cruces.
- Mimbres Valley AVA: near Deming and Silver City.
- Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA: between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Although northern New Mexico does not have an official AVA, there is a distinct growing area near Taos. Wherever your New Mexico travels take you, great wine is not far away.
Plan Your New Mexico Trip
Surrounding states may often overshadow New Mexico, but don’t make the mistake of passing it by. The Land of Enchantment has lots of scenery and fun things to do. No matter what interests you, New Mexico has something special for you.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
About the Author
Scott and Julie are the writers behind Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, they took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. They hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.