The Best Road Trips in America: The Best of New Mexico

  • The Best Road Trips in America: The Best of New Mexico

    A tour through New Mexico is one of our favorite road trips in the country, and this 10-day loop starting and ending in Albuquerque will hit many of the state’s top attractions.

    Sean Pavone/iStock Editorial

  • Road Trip Itinerary: The Best of New Mexico

    You’ll be amazed by the diverse natural wonders in New Mexico, from underground caves to volcano-formed calderas, from odd rock formations to mineral-rich, natural hot springs. “Surf” down glistening white sand dunes.

    History and culture are also rich here, as you visit important sites like the Gila Cliff Dwellings and the Bandelier National Monument. This road trip offers a variety of experiences, from fine foodie dining to quirky diners, and it pays special attention to New Mexico’s art offerings. Immerse yourself in Georgia O’Keeffe’s artwork, gallery hop in Santa Fe and find inspiration around every corner.

    At a Glance:

    Starting Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Ending Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Miles Traveled: 1800

    Suggested Duration: 10 nights

    States Visited: New Mexico

    Jesse Wong

  • Stop 1: Albuquerque to Roswell, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Albuquerque, NM to Roswell, NM

    Total Travel Time: 4 hours

    Total Miles: 252 miles

    Recommended Route: This isn’t the quickest route from ABQ to Roswell, but it permits a stop in Blue Hole, which is well worth the diversion. You’ll take Interstate 40 east to the mid-drive stop, then work your way to U.S. 285, which will shoot you to Roswell.

    Along the Way:

    Town: The Blue Hole of Santa Rosa is a natural wonder that seems to appear like a mirage in the New Mexico desert. This crystal-clear blue natural swimming pool is shockingly deep, boasting mysterious underground caves.

    Eat & Drink: Get a taste of the historic Route 66 at the Silver Moon Cafe, an old-school joint founded in the ’50s that feels like a step back in time.

    Nature: If New Mexico’s dry conditions have you craving more water in Santa Rosa, head to the Santa Rosa Lake State Park. Here, you can go swimming, water skiing and boating; camp overnight if you want to extend the trip.

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: Roswell, New Mexico, boasts its own zoo, a museum of contemporary art and another art museum that centers on Southwestern work, but really, this city is famous for a supposed UFO crash here in the ’40s. Learn more about it and tickle your supernatural curiosity at the International UFO Museum and Research Center and the UFO Spacewalk museum.

    Eat & Drink: Farley’s Pub, a local chain, is adorned with sci-fi decor (such as posters and a wall of supernatural “heads”) and serves casual wood-fired pizza, burgers and ribs. The real draw here is the novelty more than the culinary expertise.

    Stay: Skip the chains and stay in a stunning, local B&B. The Clary Sage Bed and Breakfast, in a 1914 California Mission-style mansion, is an elegant escape, while still being walking distance to downtown and dozens of restaurants.

    Breakfast: Beyond breakfast at the Clary Sage, the Cowboy Cafe plays into the town’s extraterrestrial reputation with the Alien Omelette: ham, cheese and green chili, smothered in “Roswell Sauce” and topped with a sunny-side up egg.

    Cheri Alguire/Shutterstock

  • Stop 2: Roswell to Ruidoso, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Roswell, NM to Ruidoso, NM

    Total Travel Time: 3 hours 45 minutes

    Total Miles: 200 miles

    Recommended Route: While you can get from point A to point B (a straight shot east) in just over an hour, turn the journey into half the fun with a trip to the White Sands National Park (to the west) before you depart from Roswell.

    Along the Way:

    Town: White Sands is named for its jaw-dropping (you guessed it) white sand dunes, comprised of shimmering, rare white gypsum — the world’s biggest gypsum dunefield. Hike through the dunes, go sand sledding on special saucers or take photos of this majestic site in an eight-mile scenic drive.

    Eat & Drink: There are no restaurants in the national park, but nearby Alamogordo is home to authentic and filling Mexican food at CJ’s Si Senor Restaurant. It doesn’t get much better than a mid-day marg after surfing the sand dunes.

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: Ruidoso, New Mexico, is an outdoor-lover’s paradise, with the nearby Ski Apache resort and Lincoln National Forest, packed with trails and waterfalls. History comes to life here, too, with 19th-century buildings and an old church.

    Eat & Drink: Casa Blanca Restaurant and Bar is known for its mouthwatering fried green chili strips and red chile enchiladas. This local gem has roots back in the ’50s, when it started out of a private residence.

    Stay: Immerse yourself in the mountain life by staying in a cabin; the area has many to choose from. The luxurious Ruidoso Mountain View Cabins stand out for their views and location in the heart of the city, while still maintaining peace and privacy.

    Breakfast: For giant portions in an intimate spot with a patio overlooking the river, locals love Tina’s Cafe. We’re talking a cinnamon roll with bacon crumbles and maple icing, breakfast tacos stuffed with eggs and a green chile chicken puff pastry with green chile cream sauce.


  • Stop 3: Ruidoso to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Ruidoso, NM to Carlsbad Caverns, NM

    Total Travel Time: 3 hours

    Total Miles: 170 miles

    Recommended Route: The quickest route to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, will actually bring you back through Roswell, rather than winding through the Lincoln National Forest. If you crave different scenery and have the time, the forest route will tack on two hours and dip you into the edge of Texas.

    Along the Way:

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: The Carlsbad Caverns National Park will awe you with more than 119 caves lined with stalactites; when the sun goes down, you can see thousands of bats fly back into the caves. This is part of one of the best-preserved, exposed fossil reefs in the world, dating back to the Permian age.

    Eat & Drink: The Yellow Brix Restaurant in Carlsbad serves fresh food all day (from sandwiches to salmon, prime rib and margarita chicken) in a historic yellow-brick house built in the ’20s.

    Stay: You can’t stay in the park, so most visitors make Carlsbad (20 miles away) their home base. Stay in Fiddler’s Inn, a country-style, family-run guesthouse in a century-old home (complete with a lovely garden and hot tub).

    Breakfast: Breakfast is included in your stay at the Fiddler’s Inn.


  • Stop 4: Carlsbad Caverns to Las Cruces, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Carlsbad Caverns, NM to Las Cruces, NM

    Total Travel Time: 3 hours

    Total Miles: 190 miles

    Recommended Route: Get up early and take the straightforward route to Las Cruces, New Mexico, on U.S. 62 toward El Paso, close to the border of Mexico.

    Along the Way:

    Detour: El Paso is a quick, 10-minute detour; this unique city is the intersection of two different countries (U.S. and Mexico) and three states (Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua). Visit the Mission Ysleta church, established in 1681 by Spanish refugees.

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: Las Cruces has jaw-dropping scenery, a rich culture, history and outdoor adventure. Don’t miss the Branigan Cultural Center, with a fascinating history display and rotating exhibits, housed in a 1935 Pueblo Revival building.

    Eat & Drink: Enjoy craft beer with a view over the Mesilla Valley at the Pecan Grill and Brewery in Las Cruces. For dinner, try steak, chicken or a burger grilled over pecan wood; in New Mexico style, always smother in green chile.

    Stay: The Aguirre Spring Campground, perched high in the Organ Mountains, is the place to crash in Las Cruces. Campers get views of the Tularosa Basin and White Sands National Monument.

    Breakfast: Start the day with coconut French toast, pound cake French toast, cinnamon apple pecan croissant French toast, a cinnamon roll pancake or another unique dish on the patio at The Shed of Las Cruces. This from-scratch menu always surprises.

    Richter MachThunder/Shutterstock

  • Stop 5: Las Cruces to Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Las Cruces, NM to Gila Cliff Dwellings, NM

    Total Travel Time: 3 hours

    Total Miles: 155 miles

    Recommended Route: This leg is mostly highway and past several small towns as you head into the national forest. There are several routes to Gila, but the quickest starts with Interstate 10.

    Along the Way:

    Photo Op: Stop in Mimbres, New Mexico, near mile marker 4, to visit a world-famous archaeological site. Explore 1,000-year-old ruins of the Mimbres people at the Mimbres Culture Heritage Site , as well as 19-century buildings.

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, in the Gila National Forest, are mysterious, ancient Mogollon caves high above the canyon floor dating back to the late 1200s and early 1300s. See artifacts, hike around the monument and learn about the Mogollon, wilderness and region in the museum.

    Eat & Drink: Enjoy farm-to-table fare on the patio at Revel in nearby Silver City, New Mexico. The casual restaurant is right downtown and serves from-scratch comfort food with locally sourced ingredients, like a braised pork belly sandwich with red chile peanut sauce or the Gila River Ranch lamb ragu.

    Stay: You can find a handful of lodging near the national forest, but a fun choice is to stay at the rustic Gila Hot Springs and Campground in Silver City. Relax in the natural hot springs, surrounded by the Gila Wilderness, just four miles from the national monument.

    Breakfast: Diane’s Restaurant, a small bakery run by an award-winning chef, features more than 20 different types of bread, European pastries and more.


  • Stop 6: Gila Cliff Dwellings to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Gila Cliff Dwellings, NM to Truth or Consequences, NM

    Total Travel Time: 4 hours 40 minutes

    Total Miles: 225 miles

    Recommended Route: It’s just under three hours to drive from the Gila Cliff Dwellings to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. But while you’re near Truth or Consequences, it’s worth it to head north to the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is about 45 minutes away, but the bird-watching you’ll find there is unmatched.

    Along the Way:

    Town: Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is famous for the dramatic migration of sandhill cranes in the fall. These 30,000 acres between the Chupadera and San Pascual mountains are an important stop for all kinds of other birds year-round, too.

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: Truth or Consequences is home to naturally occurring, mineral-filled hot springs pools, filled from an ancient rift in the Rio Grande. These thermal springs are some of the most mineral-rich in the country and are touted for their health benefits (not to mention a soothing break on a long road trip).

    Eat & Drink: Accentuate your healthy stop with fresh Asian-fusion food at Latitude 33. In addition to various salads (look for the Thai BBQ salad), the menu spans curry, spring rolls and vegan burgers.

    Stay: The Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa stands out for offering a full-service spa built above geothermal springs; a private indoor and outdoor hot springs; locally crafted, organic skin care in each room; and optional adventurous experiences, like a hot air balloon ride or day trips.

    Breakfast: The lodge’s hot breakfast is included in your stay.


  • Stop 7: Truth or Consequences to Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Truth or Consequences, NM to Santa Fe, NM

    Total Travel Time: 3 hours

    Total Miles: 210 miles

    Recommended Route: The route from Truth or Consequences to Santa Fe, New Mexico, couldn’t be simpler: Just cruise up Interstate 25. Rather than making stops along the way, get to the destination early so you have plenty of time for this incredible city.

    Along the Way:

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: Santa Fe is an art and culture paradise. Stroll through the historic downtown and central plaza and take time to pop into the many art galleries, museums (don’t miss the New Mexico Museum of Art) and creative shops lining crooked streets and between historical landmarks.

    Eat & Drink: Santa Fe’s foodie scene is as great as its art offerings, but a classic is The Shed in an ancient adobe building downtown and a local fave since the 1950s. You must try the locally grown red chile on enchiladas with a (strong) marg.

    Stay: The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is ideally located right on the Plaza (assuming you want to be in the heart of the action). This high-end, boutique hotel features incredible artwork throughout and top-notch service.

    Breakfast: Start the day with breakfast rellenos on the patio at the Tune-Up Cafe and brunch on the weekends.

    krblokhin/iStock Editorial

  • Stop 8: Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Santa Fe, NM to Bandelier National Monument, NM

    Total Travel Time: 4 hours

    Total Miles: 160 miles

    Recommended Route: It’s less than an hour to drive (about 40 miles) from Santa Fe to the Bandelier National Monument, so make it an adventure. First visit Tent Rocks (west of Santa Fe; your main highway for this will be I-25), and then explore Valles Caldera in the national preserve, before heading back to the monument.

    Along the Way:

    Town: The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a unique series of cone-shaped rock formations (that you could say resemble tents, hence the name) formed by volcanic eruptions 6 to 7 million years ago.

    Detour: The Valles Caldera is another natural wonder caused by a volcanic eruption. This one’s a 13-mile wide circular depression in the Jemez Mountains.

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: At the Bandelier National Monument, see the preserved homes of Ancestral Puebloans. A hike along the main loop should take about an hour and a half, and you can add on additional trails for a deeper immersion in the history and scenery.

    Eat & Drink: Fill up with a farm-to-table dish, like a bacon-wrapped filet or artisan salad, at a local favorite, the Blue Window Bistro in nearby Los Alamos. Don’t let its unpretentious location in a shopping center fool you; Blue Window has been successful for more than 40 years for a reason.

    Stay: While there’s no lodging in the national monument, the North Road Inn in Los Alamos is about 15 miles away. This small and simple bed-and-breakfast has been locally run for nearly two decades.

    Breakfast: A made-to-order breakfast made with local produce comes with your stay at the inn.

    Anton Foltin/Shutterstock

  • Stop 9: Bandelier National Monument to Taos, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Bandelier National Monument, NM to Taos, NM

    Total Travel Time: 2 hours

    Total Miles: 100 miles

    Recommended Route: The drive between Los Alamos and Taos, New Mexico, is less than an hour and a half, so stop by Abiquiu, New Mexico, along the way.

    Along the Way:

    Town: Abiquiu is where you can tour the former home and studio of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Then visit the Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center, where you can take additional O’Keeffe tours across the landscape she painted when she visited here.

    Shops: Find all things O’Keeffe (and more) at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Store.

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: Taos provides a slow and scenic escape bursting with art, outdoor activities and nature (and skiing in the winter). While here, pay tribute to the Taos Pueblo, the biggest group of multistory pueblo dwellings in the country.

    Eat & Drink: Enjoy a charming meal at Love Apple, a farm-to-table restaurant housed in a former chapel. Tables are limited, but if you can land one, order the sweet-corn tamales with red-chile mole.

    Stay: This B&B is a bit out of the action, but you’ll appreciate the peaceful atmosphere at the Adobe and Pines Inn. The details here add up: Native American artifacts, mountain views, a historic adobe building, kiva fireplaces and stunning gardens.

    Breakfast: The Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery serves tasty huevos rancheros and freshly baked cinnamon rolls with a spectacular view.


  • Stop 10: Taos to Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Stop Locations: Taos, NM to Albuquerque, NM

    Total Travel Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

    Total Miles: 130 miles

    Recommended Route: This fast highway drive will bring you back onto busy I-25 and past Santa Fe.

    Along the Way:

    Upon Arrival:

    Do: Albuquerque is adventure-packed, from the Rio Grande to vibrant art galleries. One surprise is the Turquoise Museum, where you can see some of the world’s rarest pieces of turquoise and learn all about the stone—in a mysterious Gothic castle that seems so out of place in this Southwestern city.

    Eat & Drink: The Standard Diner is an old gas station on Route 66 converted into a modern diner. Comfort food is king here, from the bacon-wrapped meatloaf to the cabinet of pies.

    Stay: A newer gem in Albuquerque is the chic and luxurious Hotel Chaco right in Old Town, with a rooftop restaurant and bar, outdoor pool and spacious rooms. It’s located across from the new, hip Sawmill District, New Mexico’s first food hall.

    Breakfast: The Grove Cafe and Market is all about supporting local farmers and products. Try avocado toast outside on the enclosed patio in this colorful, popular restaurant.

    csfotoimages/iStock Editorial

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