Day Trips in New Mexico: Family and Hiking Day Trip Ideas

white sands monument
White Sands National Monument Near Las Cruces, New Mexico

Day Trips in New Mexico

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No matter where you’re staying in New Mexico, it’s easy to find a day trip idea to suit every interest. Whether you’re looking for an active adventure, unique cultural experience, or a day trip vacation full of luxury and pampering, day trip vacation ideas in New Mexico offer a little something for everyone.


Day Trips from Las Cruces

Gila Cliff Dwellings: It’s easy to see why the ancient Mogollon peoples chose the steep sided canyon deep within the Gila Wilderness to make their home. Constructed some 700 years ago, these ancient cliff dwellings remain as awe-inspiring as ever. Both the architecture and the views are second to none. http://www.nps.gov/gicl/index.htm

White Sands National Monument: A short drive north of Las Cruces in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin you’ll find a natural wonder rising gently from the vast desert landscape. While the great rolling waves of white gypsum sand dunes are the main attraction at White Sands National Monument, the area is also home to many unique plants and animals including the oryx, which was introduced to the area in 1969. http://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Far beneath the rugged slopes and arid terrain of the Guadalupe Mountains lies a hidden treasure: vast limestone chambers decorated with intricate arrays of stalactites, stalagmites, and other spectacular mineral deposit formations. With 117 known caves and endless opportunities to explore both above and below ground, you’ll want to make sure you leave plenty of time to take it all in. http://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm

Caballo Lake State Park: Created in the 1930s when an earthen dam was erected across the Rio Grande, Caballo Lake is an ideal spot to spend a day boating, sailing, swimming, fishing, or just kicking back and enjoying the view of the beautiful Caballo Mountains. http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/caballolakestatepark.html

Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway: Named after Geronimo, a famous Apache warrior, this scenic drive winds through many historical and culturally significant towns in the southwest corner of the state. The southern route, which stretches from Caballo Lake State Park to San Lorenzo, features ghost towns and historic mining camps (many of which are now retreats for artists and writers), along with magnificent scenery and plenty of opportunities outdoor recreation. http://geronimotrail.com

City of Rocks State Park: Established in 1952 to protect the integrity of its main feature, a “city” of sculptured rock pinnacles rising some 40 feet into the sky, this park is an ideal place to take in the arid beauty of the Chihuahuan desert region of southeastern New Mexico. http://www.gilawilderness.com/travel/cityofrocks.htm

The Catwalk National Scenic Trail & Whitewater Picnic Ground: 5 miles northeast of Glenwood, NM you’ll find a most unusual “catwalk” — a 250-foot metal causeway winding its way along the sides of the deep, steep, Whitewater Canyon. Once a gravity-fed waterline that supplied water and power to a nearby ore mill, the Civilian Conservation Corps converted it into a sturdy metal walkway that offered visitors an opportunity to enjoy the canyon from high above the water. http://www.gilawilderness.com/travel/catwalk.htm
Petroglyph National Chris Corrie Photo
Petroglyph National Monument Albuquerque, New Mexico

Day Trips From Albuquerque


Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway and the Sandia Mountains: It’s a trip you’ll never forget: gilding along above the deep canyons and breathtaking terrain of the Cibola National Forest on your way to the summit of Sandia Peak, some 10,378 feet above sea level. While the ride up the world’s longest tramway is an experience in and of itself, the views from the top — an 11,000 square-mile panorama of the Rio Grande Valley — and the recreational opportunities that await you when you reach your destination, make it a can’t miss day trip adventure. Located on the eastern edge of Albuquerque in the Sandia Foothills at the end of Tramway Road. www.sandiapeak.com

Santa Fe, New Mexico:  Brimming with history, culture and endless recreational opportunities, Santa Fe is a magical spot to spend a day (or many more!). Visit the art galleries on Canyon Road or tour one of the many historical or cultural museums. Take a hike in the beautiful Santa Fe National Forest or treat yourself to a day of pampering at an award-winning spa followed by a New Mexican dining experience at one of the capital city’s finest restaurants. Whatever you do in Santa Fe, it’s sure to be a day trip you won’t soon forget. www.santafe.org

Very Large Array: The scientifically inclined will enjoy taking in the Very Large Array (VLA) located about fifty miles west of Socorro, NM. One of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, the VLA consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration, and is quite a sight to behold. www.vla.nrao.edu
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: Located on the Pajarito Plateau in north-central New Mexico, this monument offers visitors the opportunity to observe, study, and experience the geologic processes that shape natural landscapes. The tent rocks themselves are cone shaped rock towers formed during the volcanic eruptions of the Jemez volcanic field that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago. Hiking amongst these towering pillars is an awe-inspiring experience not to be missed! http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/rio_puerco/kasha_katuwe_tent_rocks.html

Petroglyphs National Monument: As home to one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, Petroglyph National Monument is a perfect spot to learn about the lives of the Native American and Spanish settlers that inhabited this area some 400 to 700 years ago. Featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks, this site holds a valuable record of cultural expression for both contemporary Native Americans and the descendants of the early Spanish settlers. http://www.nps.gov/petr/index.htm

Acoma Pueblo: As the oldest, continuously inhabited settlement in North America, the Acoma Pueblo offers a glimpse into the ancestral cultures of New Mexico. Often called “Sky City” for its impressive location atop a 400-foot tall mesa, a visit to this pueblo offers an opportunity to step back into time and experience the arts and culture of a truly ancient people. http://sccc.acomaskycity.org/

Madrid: Once a rough and tumble mining town, Madrid has experienced a renaissance and is now home to art galleries, restaurants, and a host of colorful shops. Located on the high road to Santa Fe, Madrid has plenty to offer the day-trip visitor, and enough interest to merit a stop along the way to Santa Fe. While in town, be sure to take a tour of the Coal Mine Museum, or stop in to the Mine Shaft Tavern to take in a traditional melodrama while enjoying a delicious burger or a cucumber-jalapeno margarita! http://www.visitmadridnm.com/

Valles Caldera National Preserve: The Valles Caldera is a 13.7-mile wide volcanic caldera located in the stunning Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. Now a national preserve encompassing over 900,000 acres of grass valleys, dense timber forest, and unsurpassed natural beauty. A visit to the Preserve offers peace, solitude, and year-round recreation opportunities ranging from sleigh rides and snowshoeing in winter to hiking, flyfishing and bird watching in the summer months. http://www.vallescaldera.gov/
Bandelier by Steve Laresa
Bandelier National Monument Explore Ancient Cliff Dwellings

Day Trips From Santa Fe


Bandelier National Monument: Rugged canyons, towering mesas and ancient cliff dwellings are the hallmarks of Bandelier National Monument. Located near the historic town of Los Alamos on the arid Pajarito Plateau, Bandelier protects over 33,000 acres of rugged landscape and ancient cultural sites dating back over 11,000 years. Whether you go for a hike to one of the beautiful natural waterfalls or a cultural immersion tour of the petroglyphs and cliff dwellings, a visit to Bandelier is one of northern New Mexico’s can’t miss attractions. www.nps.gov/band/index.htm

Ghost Ranch / the Art of O’Keeffe: Art lovers and admirers of Georgia O’Keefe and her work won’t want to miss taking a trip north to Abiquiu to visit Ghost Ranch. O’Keeffe described this stunning natural landscape as “a country of things in light,” and the red rock cliffs, towering mesas and winding streams of this picturesque setting do not disappoint. Ghost Ranch offers visitors a unique combination of natural beauty, paleontology, geology, archaeology, history and art. Combine all these elements with the cultural and historical traditions of the area, and the result is a spiritual retreat unlike anywhere else in the world. www.ghostranch.org
www.okeeffemuseum.org/her-houses.html

Turquoise Trail: The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway winds its way 50 miles along Highway 14 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. As it passes through a Scenic and Historic Area encompassesing 15,000 square miles, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views from the top Sandia Crest, and drive back in time as you visit the mining towns of Golden, Madrid, and Cerrillos, before arriving in the oldest capital city in the United States. Along the way you’ll have a chance to enjoy the arts, crafts, theater, music, museums and restaurants of these revitalized communities. http://www.turquoisetrail.org

Pueblo Country: Eight of the Southwest’s most famous American Indian pueblos can be found a short drive away Santa Fe: Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, Taos, San Juan, Santa Clara, Tesuque, and San Ildefonso. Visiting a Pueblo is a special experience that provides a glimpse into the customs and cultural traditions that are so deeply woven into the daily lives of Pueblo Peoples, today as in the past. When planning a visit, please remember how important it is to respect the customs and regulations specific to these sovereign governments. Be sure to stop by the individual Pueblos’ main offices to ask for rules and check about closures. http://www.santafenm.info/pueblos.htm

Ojo Caliente: All that outdoor activity and sightseeing got you feeling a little worn out? Ojo Caliente Hot Springs Resort is a sure cure to whatever is ailing you. About an hour northwest Santa Fe, Ojo is the perfect spot to spend a day of well-deserved rest and relaxation. The various mineral water baths offer a variety of experiences from skin exfoliating mud to the exceptionally buoyant soda springs. Call ahead to reserve a private soaking pool or a luxurious spa package. http://www.ojospa.com
Wind Mill Kip Malone photo
New Mexico Wind Mill Rustic Scenery

Day trips from Taos


The Enchanted Circle: This three hour driving tour will take you through some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. From Taos you’ll head north through the lush Hondo Valley to the town of Questa where you’ll find the Artesanos de Questa, a cooperative where local craftspeople show their wares. A turn to the east takes you to old western town of Red River and a slight dip south leads to Eagles Nest Lake, one of the best trout and landlocked salmon waters in the United States. Onward to the resort town of Angel Fire, and then back down the winding Taos Canyon to your starting point. Guaranteed to be the best three hours of driving you’ll ever do. http://www.enchantedcircle.org

D.H. Lawrence Ranch:  D. H. Lawrence, English author of literary classics such as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley's Lover, first came to New Mexico with his wife Frieda in September 1922. The beauty of the state enchanted him and brought him back time and time again. In 1924 a New York socialite and patron of the arts who had first invited Lawrence to Taos, presented the author and his wife with a gift of a 160-acre ranch 20 miles northwest of town. Lawrence spent much of his time from 1922 to 1925 writing in the solitude on this ranch, and after his death his wife returned his ashes to a chapel on the property. Today the University of New Mexico uses the ranch as an educational, cultural and recreational site. http://www.unm.edu/~taosconf/Taos/DHlawrence.htm

Great Sand Dunes National Park: Located outside the borders of the Land of Enchantment in southern Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes is a natural playground unlike anything you’ve ever seen. 30 square miles of sand dunes ringed by fluttering aspen forests and clear streams back up against the slopes of the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Whether you spend the say sliding down the graceful dunes or hiking one of the quiet trails through the surrounding woodlands, you’ll return home with a new appreciation for the earth’s natural wonders. http://www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm

The Valle Vidal: If wildlife viewing in a magnificent natural setting sounds like your idea of paradise, the Valle Vidal (Valley of Life) is a must-see. Home to an incredible array of native flora and fauna including mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, bald eagles, and native Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the Valle Vidal is also home to the largest herd of elk in New Mexico. Recently designated as a federally protected preserve, this 102,000 acre wildlife paradise is an untouched piece of wilderness ripe for exploration. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/regions/southwestern/ValleVidal/