New Mexico Road Trips and Scenic Drives
Mountains. Valleys. Mesas. Forests. New Mexico has them all. Our vistas aren’t reserved for mountain tops; here in New Mexico, stunning views can be seen right from major roadways any byways. In fact, New Mexico drives are frequently recognized as some of the most beautiful in the country. So rent a car (you’ll want one in order to get around anyway) and hit the road on one of these scenic New Mexico road trips.
Albuquerque & Santa Fe – Turquoise TrailDrivers can travel between Albuquerque and Santa Fe by two main routes: Interstate 25 and State Road 14. Though I-25 (the more efficient route) passes through several pueblos and features views of valleys and mesas, NM-14 wins the contest for scenic route.
The road makes up most of the Turquoise Trail, a National Scenic Byway, and passes several points with breathtaking views.
Southern Terminus: Its junction with NM 333 in Tijeras, NM, just off Exit 175 on I-40
Northern Terminus: Its junction with US 84/US 285 (St. Francis Drive) in Santa Fe
Driving distance: 54 miles
The Turquoise Trail is a road for drivers who like winding over mountains and through valleys. The road passes rugged and undeveloped mountains between San Antonito, toward the south, and Cerrillos (a small community once a bustling mining town) allowing for expansive views of the plateau outside Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Mountainsides and mesas present brown, yellow and red sediments topped by deep green shrubs and trees and lighter green grasses. Turquoise, gold, silver and lead were extracted from the hills in this area.
The community of Madrid (pronounced MA-drid) is the area’s biggest draw. This former mining town now offers shoppers an array of jewelry, clothing, sculptures, photographs and a host of other works of art. The famed Mineshaft Tavern is a stop on New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, while The Hollar offers excellent Southern cuisine.
Cerrillos and Madrid have both been filming locations featured in movies including “Wild Hogs” and “Young Guns.”
The road also passes through Golden, a near-ghost town with picturesque ruins and a renowned antiques store. Outside Santa Fe the roadway leaves mountains and crosses a plateau passing a film studio and a brewery.
(For a beautiful side trip, turn off of NM 14 at San Antonio and travel up NM 536, the Sandia Crest Highway, to the top of the Sandias. This mountain road terminates at a visitor’s center north of the top of the Sandia Tramway and offers unparalleled views of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande valley.)
Enchanted CircleThis 84-mile loop connecting Taos, Eagle Nest and Angel Fire shows off some of Northern New Mexico’s iconic sights and landscapes.
The route circles Wheeler Peak, which at 13,161 feet in elevation is New Mexico’s tallest peak. Wildlife including elk, black bears and eagles can also be seen from the roadway. The fiery spectrum of golds, oranges and reds of aspen and cottonwood trees in fall help put it on Travel + Leisure’s list of America’s Best Fall Foliage Drives.
The route follows U.S. Route 64 between Taos and the small community of Eagle Nest and turns onto NM 434 to the community and popular resort area of Angel Fire. Between Eagle Nest, the resort community of Red River and Questa, the route follows NM 38 before following NM 522 between Questa and Taos.
Skiing and hiking are popular activities in the resort areas of Red River and Angel Fire. Angel Fire is also home to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and Peace and Brotherhood Chapel. The memorial overlooks the Moreno Valley and affords visitors space and time for peace and quiet reflection. Photographs and other war-era memorabilia can be viewed, as well.
High Road & Low Road Between Santa Fe & TaosThe drives between Santa Fe and Taos are frequently counted among Travel + Leisure’s best (see: America’s Best Winter Drives, America’s Most Scenic Roads and America’s Best Spring Drives).
Southern Terminus: Junction of U.S. 285/84 and State Road 503 in Pojoaque
Northern Terminus: Junction of State Road 518 and State Road 68 in Ranchos de Taos
Driving distance: 56 miles
The “High Road” to Taos brings travelers through high desert, forests and mountain countryside as it winds through the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Northern New Mexico. This route passes through more than a dozen small communities nestled in the hills, each with its own rich history.
The Nambe and Picuris pueblos, the ancient community of Talpa date back hundreds of years, while Chimayo, home to the famed Santuario de Chimayo, Cordova and Las Trampas are home to artisans who practice traditional and modern crafts. Las Trampas is home to the San Jose de Gracia Church, which is a National Historic Landmark and considered a model of Spanish Colonial Church Architecture.
The symbolic northern terminus is the iconic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, in Ranchos de Taos, one of the most painted and photographed churches in the country.
To follow this route from Santa Fe, follow NM 68 north to its junction with Hwy 76 in Espanola. Follow Route 76 through Chimayo, Cordova, Truchas, Trampas and to its intersection with Hwy 75. FollowRoute 75 east through Penasco and to its intersection with NM 518 and follow Route 518 west to Ranchos de Taos. From there, follow NM 68 north to Taos.
Southern Terminus: Junction of U.S. 285 and State Road 68 in Espanola
Northern Terminus: Taos
Driving Distance: 73 miles
The “Low Road” hugs the Rio Grande offering drivers river views of peaceful blue water and white rapids set between mountain ridges.
This curving road is best traveled in daylight. It offers travelers numerous opportunities to stop and enjoy this hilly, scenic part of New Mexico including photo ops and art and antique stores. The route also passes the town of Dixon, home of the largest population of organic farmers in the state, as well as several of the region’s wineries, open for tastings.
For this route from Santa Fe, follow NM 68 from Espanola to Taos.