16 Things to Do in New Mexico
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
New Mexico, often referred to as the Land of Enchantment, offers a treasure trove of experiences that cater to art aficionados, history buffs, and adventure seekers alike. As you wander through the state, you can immerse yourself in a vibrant art scene, stand in awe at ancient archaeological sites, and maybe even find a spiritual awakening amidst its cultural vibrancy.
The call of adventure echoes from the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the mysterious depths of the Rio Grande Gorge. October brings the spectacle of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, transforming the sky into a kaleidoscope of color. Winter months in Taos are perfect for skiing enthusiasts, while explorers can marvel at the unique rock formations in places like the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
Santa Fe, the heart of New Mexico, thrives with a variety of activities tailored for visitors. At the center of it all is the Santa Fe Plaza, a vibrant national treasure nestled in the city’s core. Here, your senses are greeted with the lively buzz of sellers, the melodies of live performances, and the allure of open-air markets. This historic area serves as a gateway to an abundance of local dining choices and stores.
Just a short distance away lies Canyon Road, renowned for over 80 art galleries and studios, and where New Mexico’s finest artists display their work. Time your visit in September, and witness the city erupt with the festive spirit of the Santa Fe Fiesta, a time-honored event marked by music, dance, and craft stalls that showcase the region’s artistic legacy and cultural fusion.
In the heart of the Southwest, Taos stands as a hub of creativity and nature’s magnificence. The town offers a treasure trove of art, with establishments such as the Millicent Rogers Museum and Taos Art Museum at Fechin House. These cultural landmarks showcase a rich tapestry of art pieces. While exploring, take a moment to wander the historic Taos Plaza, a cross-section of the town’s vibrant spirit.
As you venture beyond the town’s artistic confines, the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway awaits, offering breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the uppermost reaches of Wheeler Peak. An adventurous drive or a thoughtful walk along the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge presents you with a grand vista, one of the most awe-inspiring in the U.S.
Bandelier National Monument
Spanning over 33,000 acres, Bandelier National Monument serves as a repository of New Mexico’s extensive history. This area was once home to the Ancestral Pueblo societies, safeguarding numerous archaeological sites. Among these are the remains of cliff dwellings, communal buildings, and petroglyphs etched into the volcanic tuff.
When you explore more than 70 miles of well-maintained hiking paths, you have the opportunity to engage directly with the monument’s history. The Main Loop Trail gives you access to the remnants of domestic life of the Ancestral Pueblo people, where you can ascend into hand-hewn cavates via established wooden ladders. Trails meander through scenic routes to waterfalls and the breathtaking vistas atop the mesas.
Ghost Ranch Educational Haven
Located in the midst of northern New Mexico’s vast desert expanse, the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch is more than a landscape of aesthetic wonder. This area is also a treasure trove of geological and paleontological significance, offering a window into prehistoric life with its unique fossil records. Among its natural wonders, it houses the world’s only intact Coelophysis—a lithe carnivorous dinosaur—fossil found to date. For education and research, the ranch provides access to museums and a well-stocked library.
Your experience at Ghost Ranch can be both restorative and adventurous. Take a peaceful kayak trip on Abiquiu Lake, which is easily accessible from the ranch, or indulge in a calming massage. For a dose of adventure, traverse the terrain on guided hikes, dig into the past at fossil quarries, or enjoy an equestrian excursion as the sun dips below the horizon.
Pecos National Historical Park
At less than 30 miles to the southeast of Santa Fe in New Mexico’s northern reaches, Pecos National Historical Park serves as a custodian to the echoes of ancient communities tracing back to 11,500 B.C. This space was traversed by a diverse cross-section of individuals: hunters, merchants, settlers, military personnel, and cattlemen.
To deepen your exploration, consider joining a complimentary ranger-led walk. These outings enhance the experience as you traverse the grounds where numerous stories unfolded. Despite free entry, it’s noteworthy that the park does not facilitate camping. Prepare for a day visit to fully immerse in the silent tales that the landscape holds.
In the heart of New Mexico, 65 miles from the state capital, Albuquerque encompasses a tapestry of cultural and natural attractions. Your adventures might lead you to ascend the Sandia Mountains, offering trails for a robust hike, or you could opt for the Sandia Peak Tramway, a 2.7-mile journey that presents sweeping vistas from its pinnacle.
A prime time to witness Albuquerque’s skies burst with color is during the International Balloon Fiesta each October. This event is famed as a photographer’s dream, featuring over 500 hot air balloons. You’ll experience everything from the thrill of balloon rides to the enchantment of evening balloon glows, where the night sky is illuminated with the fiery glow of balloons tethered to the earth.
Petroglyph National Monument
Your exploration of Petroglyph National Monument brings you close to an ancient gallery etched into volcanic rocks by Ancestral Pueblo peoples and the Spanish settlers between 400 and 700 years ago. This protected site cradles roughly 25,000 petroglyphs, with the predominant share attributed to the Pueblo ancestors. These intricate carvings remain shrouded in mystery but are central to the spiritual and cultural tapestry of New Mexico.
This monument showcases petroglyphs across three primary areas, each with trails differing in length and challenge. Boca Negra Canyon, the park’s most accessible area, is equipped with amenities like restrooms and a drinking fountain, making it a favored spot among visitors. If you venture into Rinconada Canyon or Piedras Marcadas Canyon, facilities may be scarce, but the natural beauty is just as striking.
Santa Rosa Blue Hole
In the midst of New Mexico’s desert expanse lies an aquatic treasure, the Santa Rosa Blue Hole, a diver’s oasis far from typical ocean shores. If you’re seeking respite from the heat or thirst for adventure, this spot offers a refreshing dip in its pristine waters, which remain a constant 62 degrees Fahrenheit. The Blue Hole’s vibrant, clear waters invite you to explore beneath the surface where the basin replenishes at a remarkable rate of 3,000 gallons per minute.
For enthusiasts eager to plunge into the depths, remember to secure a scuba permit. A short distance from the aquatic marvel, a family-friendly space presents a modest fishing pond and a lively inflatable course. Should you wish to visit, the Blue Hole’s address is 1085 Blue Hole Road, Santa Rosa, NM 88435—a must-visit destination for an unforgettable diving experience.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park guards a subterranean network of over 100 caves beneath the surface of the Chihuahuan Desert. The caves came into existence when sulfuric acid eroded away the Capitan limestone, creating a sophisticated maze of underground pathways and stunning geological structures.
At the surface, Carlsbad Caverns offers a variety of trails set amongst the backdrop of the Guadalupe Mountains and the desert landscape. For a quick exploration, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail spans a mere half-mile. If you’re in for a long-distance adventure, the Guadalupe Ridge Trail stretches for an impressive 100 miles.
In 1947, the small town of Roswell, New Mexico, made headlines with an event that many argue is evidence of extraterrestrial activity. A mysterious object crashed on a nearby ranch, and the Air Force’s prompt explanation of a downed weather balloon failed to stifle public curiosity and theories about the incident.
Aside from its association with otherworldly visitors, Roswell offers a rich cultural and recreational tapestry. Marvel at the curated collections of the Roswell Museum and indulge in outdoor pursuits at Bottomless Lakes State Park. Here, the natural sinkholes, tinted in shades of blue and green, create an illusion of endless depths.
White Sands National Park
Spanning over 73,000 acres within the Tularosa Basin, White Sands National Park is renowned for its vast gypsum dune field, the largest of its kind on the planet. These dunes, composed of glimmering gypsum sand, create an almost otherworldly landscape in the Chihuahuan Desert. The area, previously designated as a national monument, attracts visitors with its remarkable panoramas that are visible even from outer space.
Your journey through the park typically starts at the Visitor Center and extends into the desert’s core via the 8-mile Dunes Drive. Along this route, the opportunity to bike, hike, and join ranger-led excursions offers a closer look at the park’s unique environment. Whether you partake in a sunset amble or a nocturnal trek under the full moon, these programs reveal the dunes’ beauty from varying perspectives.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Located about 45 miles north of Silver City, the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument presents a unique glimpse into the lives of the Mogollon people. These ancestral inhabitants constructed their homes within the cliffs during the late 13th century and thrived in this settlement well into the 14th century.
At the heart of the site, the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center stands as a trove of historical treasures, offering insights through an array of Mogollon artifacts, a compelling park film, and educational exhibits about the Chiricahua Apache.
In New Mexico, rejuvenation awaits you in the form of natural thermal springs, with options ranging from remote, rustic pools to opulent spa settings. At spaces like Black Rock or the clothing-optional Spence Hot Springs, you can submerge yourself in the tranquility of wilderness-bound thermal waters celebrated for their restorative qualities.
For a touch of indulgence, consider the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa or Jemez Hot Springs, where pampering and relaxation are taken to a higher level. These destinations offer not just the warmth of geothermally heated waters but also the comforts of a luxury resort.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site with placement on the National Register of Historic Places. From A.D. 850 to 1250, this area was a vital hub for the sophisticated Chacoan culture. The park protects around 4,000 archaeological sites from prehistoric and historic times, prominently featuring Chacoan great houses. These multi-storied stone constructions are some of the most elaborate and well-maintained ancient structures in North America.
As you journey through the park, you have the opportunity to explore these ancient dwellings on your own by following the 9-mile Canyon Loop Drive. This route provides access to six principal archaeological sites: Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Casa Rinconada. Pueblo Bonito stands out as the most renowned site, once serving as the central point of Chacoan civilization.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Embark on an extraordinary journey through New Mexico’s picturesque landscapes on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. This unique line straddles the states of Colorado and New Mexico, boasting the distinction of being the highest and longest steam railway in America. As the train navigates the intricate path along the border, you’ll be treated to a visual feast featuring the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, lush meadows, gently sloping hills, and dense aspen forests.
The full journey begins in Chama, New Mexico, and concludes in Antonito, Colorado, covering a span of 64 miles. If a round trip is on your agenda, consider securing two single-direction tickets, keeping in mind that the adventure spans more than a single day and overnight accommodation will be necessary.
Four Corners Monument
At the unique junction where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet, the Four Corners Monument awaits your visit. This singular point is distinguished by a modest marker composed of granite and brass, encircled by flags that honor both the states and tribal nations of the area. As a visitor, this is where you can simultaneously set foot in all four states—an exclusive opportunity in the U.S.
The visit to this landmark is available at an entry fee of $5, with the stipulation that only credit card transactions are honored. Be aware of the somewhat isolated nature of the monument; amenities are sparse. Ensure your vehicle’s gas tank is full and that you are equipped with adequate sustenance and hydration for the duration of your visit.