NEW MEXICO OUTDOOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Explore an underground cave, summit a snowcapped mountain, paddle through rushing waters, and discover the incredible experiences awaiting around every turn in New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment lives up to it’s name. In this southwestern state, outdoor adventures blend perfectly with fascinating history, unusual architecture, spicy food, and regional traditions. The 300 days of sunshine and countless opportunities for adventure beckon outdoor enthusiasts year round. Find outdoor recreation and natural beauty from the tops of mountains to the depths of the earth. Mother Nature did it right when it came to creating New Mexico.
THE BEST TIMES TO VISIT NEW MEXICO
Planning your trip to New Mexico will vary depending what it is you want to do. The end of the summer through fall is the most ideal time to visit. The summer heat has passed, and many big events happen during this time frame. If you are looking for a snowy adventure, heading to New Mexico from December to March will give you the best opportunity for snow-related excursions. Southern New Mexico is best in the Spring when the cactus flowers bloom and the weather is mild. Whatever time of year you choose to visit, chances are the weather will be on your side.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN NEW MEXICO
Skiing – While New Mexico doesn’t get as much ski tourism as its neighbors, there is a fair share of quality skiing in this state. With eight alpine ski areas to choose from, you’ll find something for every level of skier. Ski Apache is the southernmost ski area in the USA, and has the only gondola in the state. Expert skiers should head to Taos Ski Valley for challenging terrain. Red River is great for beginners, and Angel Fire is where you should go if night skiing is your thing.
Biking – New Mexico has you covered when it comes to all kinds of biking. For mountain biking, the high country is where you will find epic routes. The ‘Windsor Trail’ in Santa Fe National Forest is eleven miles of downhill. And nearby Angel Fire Bike Park has a trail for every level of biker. If road biking is more your thing, you’ll want to head to Albuquerque for a huge network of smooth and scenic bike paths.
Hiking – The best way to experience the geographical diversity of New Mexico is by foot. From high desert hikes to hot spring hunting (plus a range in elevation from about 3,000 feet to 13,000 feet) no matter what time of year, there is always one part of the state ideal for a hike. For high desert trekking, the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque have good hiking year round. The Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range is home to the highest peak in the state and is best explored in the summer months. The Jemez Mountains are a unique volcanic mountain range with a variety of trails good year round.
Snowshoeing – New Mexico is not only desert and tumbleweed. The mountains in the northern part of the state have snow packed trails and backcountry routes perfect for snowshoeing. Hit the trails at Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Area in Red River for moonlight hikes, yurt rentals and 18 kilometers of trails. Summit New Mexico’s highest mountain at Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area in Carson National Forest. Pass bighorn sheep and elk on the 1300 acres of trails.
Horseback Riding – Make like Billy the Kid and roam the rugged New Mexico terrain from the back of a horse. Choose a single trail ride, or have a full ranch experience. Cedar Crest Country Cottage & Stables offers trail rides past waterfalls and springs in the Sandia Mountains. Double E Ranch provides you with a real ranch life experience. From roundups to cowboy clinics and rides through the Gila Wilderness.
Rafting – From gentle rapids to thrilling white water, the rivers of New Mexico are waiting. Taos Box, on the Rio Grande, is the most famous (and best option for thrill seekers). While the Rio Chama is good for a scenic overnight rafting trip.
Rock Climbing – The ample selection of rock climbing options throughout the whole state means it’s a playground for rock climbers. White Rock Canyon has 40 different routes to choose from with over 60 feet of vertical climbing. And the Santa Fe National Forest and the Organ Mountains are other top choices for rock climbing in New Mexico.
Fishing – A destination for year round fishing, anglers converge on the lakes, rivers and tributaries of New Mexico year round. The San Juan River in the northwest part of the state has one of the largest trout populations in the country. Elephant Butte Lake in the southwest corner is great for blue catfish and bass. And the Red River is where you want to go for fly-fishing.
Hot Springs – With all the climbing and trekking and biking, taking a moment to relax is a good thing. What better way to do that then soak in a gorgeous hot spring hidden deep in the forest. You can find developed resorts to hidden pools throughout the state. San Antonio Hot Springs is an undeveloped natural spring that requires a 5-mile hike to get to. Jemez Hot Springs has a few to choose and access ranges from easy to hard.
Hot Air Balloon Rides – One of the most iconic places in the USA to take to the air is New Mexico. Hot air ballooning is so popular here; it’s considered the unofficial state sport. Albuquerque is your top spot for ballooning followed by Taos. A visit to the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival in October is worth a trip.
GETTING TO NEW MEXICO
The only major airport in New Mexico is in Albuquerque. Luckily it’s right in the middle of the state making it a pretty convenient location to radiate from. Southwest and United offer the biggest selection of nonstop flights to Albuquerque from around the US. Flying into El Paso, Texas may be a better option if you’re headed to the southern part of the state.
There is one main Amtrak line (Southwest Chief)which runs from Chicago to LA making a stop in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Lamy and Gallup.
There are a few public transportation options in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, but using a car to get around will make your travels much easier. If you don’t have your own, you’ll find most major car rental services at Albuquerque airport and in the major cities.
NATIONAL PARKS & MONUMENTS IN NEW MEXICO
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to the largest (and most impressive) cave system on earth. It is an underground paradise with mind blowing expansive cave chambers that would take days to explore. It’s possible to camp in the backcountry of the park, but Guadalupe State Park (over the border into Texas) is the closest developed site.
Valles Caldera National Preserve is one of the newest National Parks in the US – and it’s a good one! It is a 13-mile wide hole in the middle of the Jemez Mountains caused by a supervolcano. It’s known for rolling mountain valleys perfect for hiking, herds of elk, and excellent fishing.
White Sands National Monument is one of the largest gypsum dune fields in the world with gleaming white dunes reaching heights of 60 feet. Buy a sled on your way into the park so you can sled down the dunes after you hike up! There are specific spots for hiking and camping in the park.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park is at the center of former prosperous desert communities. Ruins of pueblo houses built between 900 and 1100 dot Chaco Canyon, making it a historically interesting place to explore. Hike the Alto Meso Trail for sweet views of Pueblo Bonito, the largest house in the park.
Bandelier National Monument preserves 33,000 acres of gorgeous canyon and ancient history. It’s tucked into Frijoles Canyon in Los Alamos, and has over 70 miles of hiking trails. Take the Main Loop Trail to discover many caveats (handmade caves) and Ancestral Pueblo sites.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument stands in one of the wildest parts of the state. This uninhabited area, along the Gila River, is a protected site of ancient cave dwellings. Ancient inhabitants used natural caves to build connected cliff dwellings. You can camp here or in the nearby national forest and spend your time hiking and finding hidden hot springs.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, named for its white cliffs, is a great place for a day trip from Santa Fe. It’s filled with beautiful rock formations, slot canyons, and the Rio Grande River.
El Malpais National Monument translates to ‘the bad country’, which makes sense for it’s unique and barren terrain. Knife-like black lava flows, tubes, sinkholes and craters are waiting to be explored. It gets very hot in the summer, so visit here during the other seasons.
OTHER MUST-SEE NEW MEXICO DESTINATIONS
Ghost Ranch is famous for its dramatic scenery: Red and yellow cliffs, acres of towering rock walls, and epic sunsets.
Cerillos Hills State Park offers high desert hiking and some of the oldest turquoise mines in North America. The well-marked trails have signs telling the stories of the mines, so you’ll get some history with your exploration.
The Blue Hole is a crystal clear natural pool in the northeastern part of the state. It’s 80 feet deep, and a refreshing 60 degrees year round. If you never associated New Mexico with scuba diving, this natural spring will change your mind.
Navajo Nation is the largest Indian Reservation in the country and stretches from Northwest New Mexico into Arizona and Utah.
At Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge tens of thousands of birds gather each autumn in the 57,000-acre park. Go on a picnic or for a hike in the area and marvel at the cranes, geese, and ducks that make this place home in the winter.
TOP NEW MEXICO TOWNS TO EXPLORE
Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city, and a fantastic place to base yourself for all kinds of outdoor fun. The Sandia Mountains, to the east, are a playground for hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers. The Rio Grande, to the west, offers opportunities for white water rafting and kayaking. And in every direction are biking routes and urban parks.
Roswell may be known for its out-of-this-world extraterrestrial scene, but it’s more than the excitement of aliens bringing people in. Check out the state park, museums, wineries, and historic downtown district. If you visit in July, you’ll get to experience the UFO Festival.
Silver City was a former silver mining town that is now a culinary and art hotspot. The downtown is worth walking around, as old Victorian buildings are now galleries, shops, and restaurants. It’s a good base for outdoor explorations of City of Rocks State Park and the Gila National Forest.
Santa Rosa, located on the Pecos River, is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a relaxed, all-American city. It’s famous for the Blue Hole, but also for other natural swimming pools, fishing, boating and camping. You may recognize the famous bridge over the Pecos River, made famous by John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
Taos sits on a mesa at the base of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In a state known for its enchanting quality, Taos seems to top the list of most magical. The culinary scene, artsy vibe, and outdoor activities all combine to make one sweet spot. Spend your days horseback riding and hiking in the mountains, rafting on the Rio Grande, and exploring the historic downtown area.