If you’re looking for a deep dive into historical, cultural and ecological diversity, New Mexico might be as enchanting as its license plates suggest.
From the northern tip of the Chihuahuan Desert to 9000 miles above sea level at the Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico has diverse climates – and all the sites and activities to go with it.
Forge new connections on your next adventure with the latest advice from our weekly newsletter. Over the 400 or so years it has existed as a non-Indigenous settlement, the state’s capital has gone through many transformations © Getty Images / Mint Images
1. Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a colorful tapestry of living history and progressive vision, home to one of oldest churches and houses in the United States, just to give an example of how deep its roots go.
Over the 400 or so years it has existed as a non-Indigenous settlement, the state’s capital – called Oghá P’o’oge in the Tewa language – has gone through many transformations. The layers of each period can be seen throughout the historic Plaza, from Spanish colonial and pueblo architecture to galleries and museums filled with traditional and contemporary art to a counterculture vibe leftover from the 1960s.
Santa Fe is also home to everyone’s favorite interactive art adventure, Meow Wolf, and some of the most eclectic and celebrated cuisine in the state.
Hike through otherworldly vistas at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico © Getty Images / iStockphoto
2. White Sands National Park
This national park in southern New Mexico preserves 275 sq miles of ice-white gypsum dunefields. Hike through the otherworldly vistas, or buy a sled at the gift shop and take a run at the loop portion of Dunes Drive.
Book a reservation and permit for camping as well. It’s worth the extra legwork to spend a night under the stars and even experience a full moon. As one of the darkest places in the US, you’ll feel transported to another planet during the day and night. Be sure to pack your camera!
You can take a tour of one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the world at Taos Pueblo © Getty Images / iStockphoto
Take a drive from Santa Fe to Taos for even more art and culture. Stroll the historic plaza, which is lined by galleries and museums aplenty, or head out to Taos Ski Valley for skiing in winter and hiking in the summer.
The Rio Grande Gorge is a breathtaking site and makes for a nice photo op on your way to the Mesa for a tour of the EarthShips community – a collection of unique, sci-fi-looking dwellings that are 100% self sustaining and off the grid. You can also take a tour of one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the world at Taos Pueblo, though be sure to read up on proper etiquette and cultural expectations when visiting this sacred place.
The state’s “big city,” Albuquerque is known around the world as the site of the annual International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in October. Albuquerque’s location between the Rio Grande and the Sandia Mountains creates an ideal climate for hot-air ballooning, and visitors can enjoy this magical experience all year long.
A late-afternoon trip up the Sandia Peak Tramway is the perfect way to take in a world-famous sunset. Plan to have dinner and a drink at the top of the peak, but remember to plan for the extra-high elevation and drink plenty of water.
For unique shopping, check out Old Town, Los Ranchos and the Nob Hill areas for lots of locally owned businesses and quality vintage and mid-century modern stores.
5. Rio Grande
The section of the Rio Grande between Taos and Española is an excellent place for a little white-water rafting – you’ll find many companies along the river offering the experience. But if you’re not interested in a wild ride, head south. Between Albuquerque and Socorro the river gets lazy and becomes the perfect place to float or kayak. You’ll also find several wineries along the river that are open to the public.
A great day-trip destination between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Madrid is an old mining town turned funky art village. Book a horseback ride at Broken Saddle Ranch, just north of Madrid, or spend some time driving along the scenic Turquoise Trail, which runs from Cedar Crest to Cerrillos. Just plan to be off the grid – there’s still no cell service in Madrid.
Once the home of painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Ghost Ranch has 21,000 acres of wild space © JannHuizenga / Getty Images
7. Ghost Ranch
Located in Abiquiu, which is a beautiful red-rock-filled wonder of its own, Ghost Ranch was the home of painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Here you’ll find workshops, retreats, hiking rails, museums and 21,000 acres of wild space, including landscapes that change with the daylight, making it clear why so many artists have made northern New Mexico their home.
8. Truth or Consequences
Yes, that’s actually the city’s name! If you’re a fan of hot springs, Truth or Consequences – aka T or C – has some of the best in the state. While you can find hot springs in various other places, the spas in T or C are the least crowded and most budget-friendly, so you can truly relax and let the minerals work their magic.
9. Sky City
Another of the 19 pueblos found throughout New Mexico – and another of the longest-inhabited communities in the world – Acoma is called Sky City because of its location atop a sheer-walled, 367ft sandstone bluff. It offers museums, a cultural center and guided tours. As with visiting any Indigenous nation, be sure to dress and act respectfully and follow local protocol.
Located at Cochiti Pueblo, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument features incredible cone-shaped rock formations created by volcanic eruptions © Getty Images / iStockphoto
10. Tent Rocks
There are simply too many amazing national parks in New Mexico to list them all, but in addition to White Sands, be sure to make time for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Located at Cochiti Pueblo, between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, this park features incredible cone-shaped rock formations created by volcanic eruptions, which occurred six to seven million years ago and left pumice, ash and tuff deposits more than 1000 feet thick.