6-Day New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary for Outdoor Lovers

Explore the “Land of Enchantment” with this New Mexico road trip itinerary, including White Sands National Monument, Santa Fe and more.

New Mexico desert at sunset

New Mexico, also known as the “Land of Enchantment”, is an underrated state for travel. The state has so much to offer, including gorgeous natural sights, rich Pueblo heritage, a vibrant arts scene, incredible food, and adventure.

The top highlights of the state — White Sands, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque — are a bit far apart, but the journey and the fascinating stops along the way are worth making it a road trip.

This itinerary is about ten hours of driving time total and the locations are divided into stints no more than two hours apart.

I made all of these stops in six days, but I recommend that you enjoy the state at a slower pace if you can!

Since I was limited on time, I moved through the trip quickly and spent a lot of time in the car driving from place to place. I also recommend flying into El Paso and out of Albuquerque to save yourself the hassle and time of needing to double back.

You’ll have to take your own travel preferences into consideration when deciding where to spend an overnight. At minimum, I recommend an overnight stay in Almorgado after visiting White Sands National Park and two nights in Santa Fe.

P.S. Don’t expect traffic on this road trip! Much of the journey happens on quieter roads. So pack up your road trip essentials, get comfortable, and let’s go on a New Mexico road trip!

New Mexico Road Trip Map

Here is an overview of the route for this New Mexico Road Trip.

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Day-by-Day New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

Below you’ll find a 6-day itinerary for a New Mexico road trip with the perfect mix of unique towns, outdoor actvities and beautiful landscapes. At the end I share some additional stops if you’d like to extend your trip.

Day 1: El Paso, Texas – Las Cruces – White Sands National Park

  • Distance: 105 miles
  • Drive time: 2 hours

This New Mexico road trip itinerary begins in Texas, actually. El Paso International Airport is the closest airport to southern New Mexico, which means it’s the closest major airport to White Sands National Park. Rent a car from the airport terminal, and head north to start your adventure!

Before embarking on my journey, I stopped briefly to experience the El Paso Scenic Drive and Overlook. This overlook provided magnificent sights from atop the city. You can even see the United States-Mexico border. If you’re short on time, you can skip this stop.

El Paso Scenic Overlook from the top of the stairs
El Paso Scenic Overlook

Depending on the time of day you arrive, you may decide to spend your first night in El Paso or Las Cruces, about an hour from the airport. Since I arrived in the morning, I left El Paso and continued my journey after Las Cruces.

Tip: Before you depart on your New Mexico road trip, fill up your gas tank (and fill up often!). You’ll often be driving along long stretches of roads with no services.

Las Cruces

  • Travel distance: 1 hour (52 miles) from El Paso

La Cruces will be your first stop on this New Mexico road trip itinerary, and is a great place to stretch your legs, grab a bite, and recharge before your second leg of the drive.

In Las Cruces, there’s tons of restaurant options. Andele’s is a lively, Mexican cantina that serves Mexican Hot Dogs. For a vegan-friendly spot, hit up Habaneros Fresh Mex.

If you’re looking to sneak a quick hike in right off the bat, drive 25 minutes east of La Cruces to the Organ Mountains. Here you’ll find a variety of trails anywhere from two to seven miles long.

I recommend the Dripping Springs Trail (3 miles) for a taste of the area. This gravel trail is rated as moderate, starting at the Visitors Center and leading to a small seasonal waterfall.

If you do decide to hike in the Organ Mountains, it might be worth finding a hotel in La Cruces for the night so you aren’t rushed when you get to White Sands National Monument. Alternatively, if you are short on time, I’d suggest passing through Las Cruces quickly so you can spend more time at White Sands.

Organ Pipe Mountains at sunset
Organ Mountains in New Mexico

White Sands National Park

  • Travel distance: 1 hour (53 miles) from Las Cruces

Once you’re done in La Cruces, continue onto White Sands National Monument, which will undoubtedly be a highlight of your New Mexico road trip. As of August 2023, entry is $25 per private vehicle.

Purchasing an America the Beautiful Annual Pass($80) will save some money if you visit 3 or more federal sites in the upcoming year. Bandelier Monument, mentioned later in this itinerary, is also part of the pass program.

White Sands is especially gorgeous at sunrise and sunset. Stop by the Visitor’s Center for an orientation film, exhibits, and a restroom break. Then, continue on to see more of the park. Depending on the time of year, mid-day in this area can be very hot, so be sure to have plenty of water and sun protection.

I opted to walk the Interdune Boardwalk, an easy .4 mile, 20-minute walk. This boardwalk is fully accessible for wheelchairs and strollers and offers a shaded area about mid-way through.

White Sands National Monument interdune boardwalk trail
The Interdune boardwalk is an easy accessible trail that is a good introduction to White Sands National Monument

White Sands offers many more trails for exploration that allow you to experience the sand stretching as far as the eye can see. The Alkali Flat or the White Sands Backcountry Trail are good options for getting off the beaten path.

White Sands is an amazing place to watch the sunset. To make the most of your time, I highly recommend hiking up to the top of a towering dune in time for golden hour. On a clear day, you can expect vibrant, colorful sunsets that light up the sky in the prettiest of pastels. Bring a headlamp and stay for the blue hour after the sun goes down for the full range of colors.

White Sands National Monument from the top of the dunes at sunset
Make sure to catch the sunset in White Sands National Monument for the full experience

Where to Stay Near White Sands National Park

Once the sun sets, continue into the town of Alamogordo, only fifteen minutes away. If you’re at White Sands for sunset, prepare to drive in complete darkness (except for the other cars also headed to town).

In Alamogordo, you’ll find lower-budget accommodations from top chains, as well as bed-and-breakfast-style hotels, motels, and Airbnbs.

I stayed at the Classic Desert Aire Hotel, a three-star accommodation offering the most delicious homemade breakfast that was included in the room rate.

Day 2: Roswell – Route 66

  • Distance: 253 miles
  • Drive time: 4 hours


  • Travel distance: 2 hours (119 miles) from Alamogordo

In the morning, continue your drive toward Roswell, a kitschy town known for all things aliens, after a rumored UFO crash in 1947. The entire town is decked out in all-green alien figures on banners, signs, and merchandise. Even the McDonald’s is shaped like a UFO.

The International UFO Museum and Research Center is a fascinating stop on this New Mexico road trip itinerary. The museum was founded to inform the public about what has become known as the “Roswell Incident.” It showcases a collection of written content around the alleged alien sightings, as well as replicas of aliens. With admission at only $7, don’t miss it.

Before you depart Roswell, be sure to fill up on gas for the next stretch of highway.

Three alien statues inside the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM
International UFO Museum and Research Center | Photo: Eleanor A.

Route 66 (Santa Rosa)

  • Travel distance: 2 hours (134 miles) from Roswell

After your stint in Roswell, drive north to meet the famous Route 66. The Route 66 Auto Museum and the Blue Hole are the main attractions in Santa Rosa.

The auto museum showcases over 30 vintage vehicles, plus Route 66 memorabilia, like records and Coca-Cola signs. The museum also has a souvenir shop where you can purchase some neat items for family back home. It’s worth a stop for any traveler, car enthusiast or not. Admission is $5.

If cars aren’t your thing, stop by the Blue Hole, an 80-foot deep crystal-blue natural swimming hole that’s perfect for a dip. You can even SCUBA dive here for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Blue Hole swimming hole in New Mexico on Route 66
Blue Hole on Route 66

Days 3-4: Santa Fe

  • Travel distance: 1.5 hours (108 miles) from Santa Rosa

Head north again and arrive in Santa Fe, the cultural center of New Mexico. This charming city is known as a hotbed for creative arts, with a mix of high-end and lower-priced art galleries, textile shops, pottery shops, and much more located on every block. For that reason, it’s worth spending a couple of days in Santa Fe. Most visitors stay in the Old Town, the heart of the city.

Santa Fe was founded as a Spanish colony in 1610 and still features authentic Pueblo-style architecture. The Palace of the Governors, now the New Mexico History Museum, sits at the heart of the downtown area. This area is very walkable and houses many hotels, stores, galleries, eateries, and just about anything else you may need.

Storefronts in Old Town Santa Fe
Old Town Santa Fe

If you’re into art or want a unique Santa Fe experience, check out the immersive art museum, Meow Wolf. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum is also a great place to visit for art lovers.

Santa Fe also has an incredible food scene. Local favorites include chili, burritos, and posole, a traditional Mexican comfort stew, usually consisting of simmered pork shoulder (check out La Choza for a vegan version). If you visit on a Saturday, the Farmers Market (which takes place year round) shouldn’t be missed. It’s a great place to pick up some peppers to take home with you.

Santa Fe also has great summer and shoulder season hiking. The Santa Fe National Forest offers dozens of trails in the Southern Rockies that are less than an hour from Sante Fe. The mountains in this region are surprisingly big, with some peaks reaching 13,000 feet in elevation.

Sante Fe’s mountainous backdrop

While I didn’t have time to explore these mountains, the Nambe Lake is one that’s on my list. It’s a 6.3 mile hike that leaves from the base of the Santa Fe Ski Area ending at a beaufitul alpine lake, reminiscent of something you’d see in Colorado.

If you have extra time, Sante Fe is a good jumping off point to Jemez Hot Springs, where you can find plentiful New Mexico hot springs to soak in. Alternatively, it’s an easy day trip up to hike to Taos or Bandelier National Monument (which I’ll talk about below).

A short drive from Sante Fe leads to these beautiful mountains

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

With its vibrant arts scene, Santa Fe attracts two million visitors each year. There is no shortage of luxurious, spa-like places to stay. Check out Eldorado, a centrally-located four-star hotel with a gorgeous rooftop infinity pool. Book a balcony room with a fireplace to enjoy both the sunny days and the chilly evenings.

Day 5: Bandelier National Monument

  • Travel distance: 50 minutes (41 miles) from Santa Fe

For a lovely day trip outside of Santa Fe, drive about 50 minutes northwest to Bandelier National Monument. This federal recreation land protects 33,000 acres of canyons and mesas and is the ancestral lands of 23 different Native American tribes. Visitors can see petroglyphs, caves, and carvings on the rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls from human civilization dating back over 11,000 years.

Most visitors will explore the Main (Pueblo) Loop Trail, a 1.4 mile loop trail that begins at the Visitors Center and continues through excavated archeological sites on the floor of Frijoles Canyon. You can explore the trail on your own or as part of a Ranger Guided walk, offered most days in the summer.

The 3-mile roundtrip Falls Trail, which leads to the breathtaking Upper Falls, is another popular trail. The site also offers 70 miles total of various pathways.

Entrance for a private vehicle costs $25, or is covered by the America the Beautiful annual park pass.

landscape shot of Bandelier National Monument
one of the caves in Bandelier National Monument

Day 6: Albuquerque

  • Travel distance: 1 hour (65 miles) from Santa Fe

Your final destination on this road trip is Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city. Albuquerque is most known for the International Balloon Fiesta, which occurs annually in October.

Dozens of hot air balloons in the sky during Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta at sunrise
Don’t miss the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October

Stroll down the Biopark where you can enjoy vast greenspace (note the Biopark is not dog-friendly). The Biopark’s Botanical Gardens features 32 acres of exhibits, featuring local plants and flora from around the world.

The biopark also has a zoo, home to over 900 animals. Get a combo ticket to enjoy the entire park. It’s $22 for non-residents ($16 New Mexico resident). Seniors and youth get discounted pricing.

Much like Santa Fe, there is a rich handcrafted arts scene, with many shops selling Native American pieces. The Old Town area is very walkable to hotels, restaurants, museums, stores, and public parks.

Old Town Albuquerque dates back to 1706 when the city was a Spanish colony. Visitors can find many historic buildings, like San Felipe de Neri Church, numerous museums, and inspired hotels.

San Felipe de Neri Church
San Felipe de Neri Church

For cheap, scrumptious eats, take a break at Sawmill Market. This modern food hall offers 25+ eateries, and includes something for everyone. Diners can enjoy burgers, burritos, pasta, waffles, pizza, sushi, vegan options and more. Several bars (21+) anchor the hall, making this a popular after-work spot for locals. Check out Cashos for delicious empanadas.

Where to Stay in Albuquerque

If you’re flying out of the Albuquerque International Airport, stay at the Airport Marriott Courtyard or another hotel in that immediate area.

If you prefer to return to El Paso on your final day, it’s an additional 250 miles of driving (~4 hours).

If you have more time…

If 6-days isn’t enough and you have extra time to explore, here are a couple of add-ons to this New Mexico itinerary:

  • Stop in Taos before going to Sante Fe: a town bordering the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that is rich in indigenous history with hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities
  • After leaving Sante Fe, spend a day in Jemez Springs soaking a New Mexico’s natural hot springs

Best Time to Visit New Mexico

Summer is the most popular time to visit New Mexico. Temperatures in Sante Fe typically reach the mid-80s, thanks to it being 7,000 feet above sea level. However, White Sands National Monument which is lower around 4,000 feet is much hotter with the highs in the mid-90s and no shade.

For the best all-around weather at all of the destinations in this New Mexico itinerary, I’d suggest visiting in spring or fall. You’ll have mild temperatures both in Sante Fe and White Sands, along with fewer crowds. Just make sure to pack layers for hiking and be prepared for noticeable temperature swings between day and night.

Hope this post gets you excited to visit New Mexico! Leave your questions and New Mexico road trip tips down in the comments.

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