Hey there! I’m Laurel Tincher, founder of the blog By Laurel Christine. I write about sustainable living and reconnecting with nature, including stories about travel, fashion, design, and more. My adventures in sustainability have taken me all over the world, from my home state of California to my current home base in beautiful Hawaii.
Recently I had the opportunity to take a road trip around New Mexico, and it was one of the best road trips I’ve ever been on!
It’s no wonder why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment. From ancient natural wonders to Native American and Southwestern culture, to UFOs and alien lore, the state is one of the most wonderfully unique destinations in the United States and the world.
On top of its cultural and natural sites, you’ll find incredible food and friendly locals throughout the state. A road trip is the best way to experience all that New Mexico has to offer. You can pack in all the major cultural and natural highlights in a 10-day to a two-week trip.
The main airport in New Mexico is in Albuquerque. I wanted to make sure to visit White Sands, which is a long drive from that airport, so I decided to fly into Albuquerque and fly out of El Paso, Texas, which worked out well.
This trip itinerary includes stops in Taos and Santa Fe, plus outdoor excursions to the Bisti Badlands and White Sands National Park, with many other amazing sites along the way.
The Best Time to Visit
New Mexico gets snow in the winter and has sweltering, dry summers, so the ideal times to visit are from March-June or September-November. The fall is a less popular time for tourists, so things will be less crowded if you go that time of year.
There are also many festivals throughout the year if you have the opportunity to time your trip around a special local event.
I went on this road trip in June. The heat wasn’t too severe, but going in early summer did mean I had to take more breaks from the sun when visiting the parks and monuments.
Keep in mind that New Mexico can get sudden rain and lightning storms throughout the year. There were afternoon storms in the northern part of the state during the first several days of my trip.
Make sure your car has good wheels and working windshield wipers. I rented a 4WD car and was glad I did, although it isn’t essential for this trip.
My 10-Day Itinerary
- Day 1: Arrive in Albuquerque
- Day 2: Albuquerque
- Day 3: Bisti Badlands
- Day 4-5: Taos
- Day 6-7: Santa Fe
- Day 8: Bandelier National Monument
- Day 9: Las Cruces
- Day 10: White Sands National Park
Day One: Arrive in Albuquerque
New Mexico’s largest city blends historical culture with a modern downtown.
There are many ways to experience the natural beauty of the high desert area, which is the perfect introduction to the breathtaking state. I loved visiting local wineries and exploring Old Town Albuquerque.
If you visit in October, be sure to catch the world’s largest hot air balloon festival.
Top Things to See and Do in Albuquerque:
- Explore historic adobe buildings, museums, and shops in Old Town.
- View local flora and fauna at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden.
- Hike La Luz Trail to the top of South Sandia Peak for a beautiful view of the city. If the weather’s good, take the cable car back down to the bottom.
- Experience local wines at Casa Rondeña Winery.
Where to Stay in Albuquerque:
Stay at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm for a relaxing countryside experience. At the hotel, you can ride bikes through lavender fields and eat food grown right on the property.
If you don’t stay at Los Poblanos, definitely still stop in for a coffee or a meal.
Day Two: Continue Exploring Albuquerque
I would recommend exploring Old Town and hiking Laz Luz Trail on your first day to get acquainted with the area. If you aren’t up for the full hike, you can drive to the bottom of the cable car station for a stunning sunset view of the city.
On day two, visit the ABQ BioPark and go wine tasting. You can also walk along the Rio Grande at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park.
Day Three: Hike the Bisti Badlands
Take the 40 West to the 371 North
[Approx. 182 miles | 3 hours]
Exploring the Bisti Badlands, or Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, was one of the highlights of my road trip. It may seem like a long way to go, but it is well worth it, especially if you’re a photographer or nature and history lover!
The Bisti is a 45,000-acre desert wilderness area with some of the most unique rock formations on Earth. In prehistoric times the area was a coastal swamp, home to dinosaurs, reptiles, and other ancient creatures.
I would highly recommend booking a walking tour with Navajo Tours USA, especially if you’re traveling solo. It’s easy to get disoriented out there, so by going with a guide you’ll be sure to see all the best sites without having to worry about getting lost.
Plus, you’ll learn so much about the geologic history of the region and the local Navajo culture. I was traveling solo and booked a one-on-one tour, which was such an incredible experience!
Navajo Tours offers both morning and evening hikes, so if you leave Albuquerque early, you can do the evening tour, and then you can always go back again in the morning on your own if you want more time there.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Farmington is the closest place to stay for a visit to the Bisti Badlands, and it is about an hour’s drive between the city and the Bisti wilderness.
- There are no services or bathrooms at the Bisti Badlands. Be prepared for changing weather conditions, pack water and snacks, and make sure your phone is charged before you go.
What to Do Around Farmington in Addition to the Bisti Badlands:
- The Aztec Ruins National Monument is a fascinating preserved site that’s free to visit.
- Make the short drive out to Ship Rock, a 1500 ft. rock formation with religious significance to the Navajo Nation.
Where to Stay in Farmington:
- The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Farmington is a comfortable and convenient place to land for your Bisti Badlands adventure.
- You can also camp in some regions of the Bisti Badlands if you’re planning on bringing your camping gear.
Day Four: Drive to Taos
Take the 64 East
[Approx. 214 miles | 4 hours]
Taos is a lovely artist colony, full of galleries, museums, and historic adobe buildings. I could picture having my own art retreat there! The high elevation town is a popular destination for travelers in all seasons due to its access to nearby ski resorts. There are so many unique things to do in this vibrant community.
Top Things to See and Do in Taos:
- Stay at or visit the Greater World Earthship Community to see eclectic examples of off-grid, sustainable living.
- Stop at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument for a photo opportunity of the Gorge. If you have an extra day, book a rafting trip down the river!
- Grab a meal and drinks at the Adobe Bar at The Historic Taos Inn.
- Peruse the shops and galleries in the historic downtown area.
Where to Stay in Taos:
Staying at the Earthship community just outside Taos is a once in a lifetime experience.
The Phoenix Earthship, which can be booked on Airbnb, includes a gorgeous greenhouse and unique, sustainably designed biotecture, with a full kitchen and plentiful living space
It is a large space for a solo traveler, but I also stayed in one of the smaller Earthships, and it was definitely worth splurging on the Phoenix to get the full Earthship experience.
Day Five: Explore Taos and Visit Taos Pueblo
Just one mile north of town, Taos Pueblo is an ancient pueblo still inhabited by a Native American tribe of Puebloan people. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.
The adobe dwellings were built about 1,000 years ago, and about 150 people currently live there full-time. I really enjoyed chatting with the residents, trying local foods, and learning about this fascinating community.
Day Six: Drive to Santa Fe
Take the 68 South to the 84 South
[Approx. 70 miles | 1 ½ hours]
It’s a short, beautiful drive from Taos to the capital city of Santa Fe. You can leave early and pack in a day of hiking at Ghost Ranch or take your time and enjoy a leisurely day on the road.
Where to Stop Along the Drive to Santa Fe:
I had heard fantastic things about hiking at Ghost Ranch, so I drove out there on my way to Santa Fe. When I arrived, I realized I didn’t have enough time to do any of the hikes, so I left and drove all the way back to the 68 South!
Chimayo is a small town just 40 minutes outside Santa Fe.
It features a historic church and several well-known weaving shops and is known for its famous Chimayo peppers. Be sure to find a cafe that serves chile hot chocolate drinks, so delicious!
Where to Stay in Santa Fe:
Stay at Hotel St. Francis for its cozy and classic Santa Fe style in the heart of the city.
Day Seven: Explore Santa Fe
New Mexico’s capital is known for its art scene and pueblo-style architecture. The city is a blend of old and new, and filled with an abundance of culture and creativity.
Top Things to See and Do in Santa Fe:
- Rent a bicycle and explore the city on wheels, or ride one of the many local trails.
- Visit the historic Santa Fe Plaza, full of unique shops and restaurants.
- Eat local and organic Mexican food at Cafe Pasqual’s.
- Immerse yourself in a mysterious multimedia art experience at Meow Wolf.
- Don your cowboy hat and head to the Santa Fe Opera for a unique desert performance. The stunning opera house is partially open to the outdoors, allowing for incredible sunset and night sky views.
Day Eight: Bandelier National Monument
An hour outside Santa Fe, Bandelier National Monument is a perfect half-day excursion.
Within the park are 11,000-year-old human settlements built into a rocky canyon. If you aren’t afraid of ladders, you can climb up inside some of the highest settlements. Otherwise, there are more accessible cave dwellings to explore.
Day Nine: Drive to Las Cruces
Take the 25 South
[Approx. 285 miles | 4 ½ hours]
The final stretch of this ultimate New Mexico road trip takes you almost to the southern border of the state. Las Cruces lies at the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, just north of the U.S. border with Mexico.
Along the drive, stop at the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to view birds and other local wildlife. There is a loop road you can drive around for easy viewing, or you can take more time to hike in the nature preserve.
Top Things to See and Do in Las Cruces:
- Go wine tasting at the many local wineries around the city. Although New Mexico is not a well-known wine region, winemakers around the state produce a plethora of high-quality wines.
- Visit a pecan farm. In addition to wineries, Las Cruces is home to dozens of pecan farms, some of which are open to visitors.
Where to Stay in Las Cruces:
- Stay at Lundeen Inn of the Arts to connect with the local desert culture. Full of history and Southwestern art, the hotel is the perfect place to end a New Mexico road trip.
Day Ten: Visit White Sands National Park
The last stop on the journey is one of my favorite places on Earth. White Sands National Park is the world’s largest gypsum dune field.
The ethereal white dunes stretch on for 275 square miles. In the park, you can go on numerous hikes into the dunes, take amazing photos, and even go sledding down the dunes! Be sure to stay for sunset, it was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
Tips for Visiting White Sands National Park:
- It takes about an hour to drive from Las Cruces to the park.
- Pack sunscreen, water, and a hat. Take breaks from the sun often, as you don’t always realize how hot and dehydrated you’re getting.
- I was concerned about getting lost in the dunes, but you won’t have any issues if you keep an eye on the road that winds through the park.
- Pick up snacks and food for lunch at Mountain View Market Co+Op in Las Cruces.
- Grab coffee and breakfast for the road at Nessa’s Cafe.
If you have more time, head out to the famous city of Roswell to immerse yourself in UFO culture.
I hope you enjoyed this road trip guide to New Mexico! For more New Mexico recommendations, visit my New Mexico posts here.