The Best New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary (2024)

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Want to know the best New Mexico road trip itinerary? We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know!

New Mexico, the land of enchantment, is a phenomenal road trip destination.

There are so many natural wonders, historic sites, ancient history, and even great experiences for foodies.

This is the best New Mexico road trip itinerary that will take you to all the highlights the state has to offer.

New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary map

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The Best New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

You can do this road trip in the order we show or in reverse or even just pick apart the activities of most interest to you.

For the sake of simplicity, the road trip itinerary we’re sharing is going to start in Santa Fe and end in Albuquerque after circling the state.

✅ Santa Fe

This road trip begins in the historic town of Santa Fe.

There are several sites on the outskirts of town where you’ll keep passing back through Santa Fe, so it’s best to plan to stay at least a couple nights here.

While in Santa Fe, you’ll want to visit Santa Fe Plaza, a historic section of town.

Santa Fe Plaza - New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

Additionally, Canyon Road is their arts district you can drive through and do some window shopping.

Santa Fe Arts District - New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

✅ Meow Wolf

One activity that is an absolute must in Santa Fe is Meow Wolf.

It’s an immersive, other-worldly experience that is also interactive.

You’ll find your way through a variety of rooms, secret passage ways, and nothing is ever what it seems.

✅ Pecos National Historical Park

Pecos is a hugely under-rated hidden gem about 30 minutes outside of Santa Fe.

When we visited, we were the only ones there and we were able to explore the entire place on our own.

The Pecos Pueblo are a set of ruins dating as far back as the 1400s and a second set of ruins are of an old mission that came about much later.

The short walk up to the mission has markers that tell the story of how the pueblo to be and is dotted with some other smaller ruins along the way.

Once you’ve made it to the mission, you’re free to roam around pretty much anywhere as long as you don’t see any ropes preventing access.

An even lesser known spot down the road is the site of a Civil War battle.

There’s a short 2.25 mile walking trail that takes you through the story of the Glorieta Pass battle.

Glorieta Pass Civil War Battle walking trail - New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

When we went it actually started snowing, which probably explains why we were the only ones there.

Glorieta Pass Civil War Battle walking trail - New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

While based in Santa Fe, we recommend making the 45 minute drive out to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

They are run by the Bureau of Land Management.

At the time we are writing this, making the monument inaccessible.

So just keep checking back on their website if you’re planning on traveling here any time soon! 

✅ Bandelier National Monument

From Santa Fe, it’s about an hour long drive up to Bandelier National Monument.

We recommend doing the short Main Loop Trail which is about 1.2 miles round trip.

It takes a little over an hour, but there are ladders where you can climb into little alcoves carved out hundreds of years ago.

Along the way, we also recommend adding a 1 mile detour to your loop to check out Alcove House.

It has a series of ladders and steps to access an old Pueblo ceremonial house.

During winter, this area gets icy and the trails will occasionally be closed, so check the weather before making your trip. 

✅ Santuario De Chimayo

Santuario de Chimayo is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the US.

The shrine here is a National Historical Landmark.

Santuario de Chimayo - New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

The clay here is said to have healing power, so hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through each year to get some for themselves or others.

It’s especially popular to visit during Holy Week.

There is also a separate, smaller chapel dedicated to children who have died, but no photos are allowed inside.

✅ Taos & The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway takes you on a short loop through Taos, Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Red River, Questa, and Taos Ski Valley.

It’s about an 85 mile drive, but plan to spend about 2 to 3 hours to make your way through it all.

When you’re in Taos, you’ll want to check out the historic pueblo, the church, Earthships, and Taos plaza.

Additionally, just outside of Taos is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

It’s the second highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System and the fifth highest bridge in the United States.

✅ Chaco Culture National Historical Park

This park consists of a 9 mile Loop Drive.

At each stop you’ll see ruins of ancient pueblos that you can explore.

There are also some petroglyphs in the rocks and an old cemetery.

Here are the trails we recommend checking out while on the drive: 

Una Vida and Petroglyphs – 1 mile round trip

Hungo Pavi – ¼ mile round trip

Chetro Ketl – ½ mile round trip

Pueblo Bonito – ½ mile round trip

Casa Rinconada – ½ mile round trip

Pueblo del Arroyo – ¼ mile round trip

Each of these trails take you around the various pueblo ruins.

Plan to spend maybe 15-30 minutes or more exploring each site.

✅ Aztec Ruins National Monument

This park also takes you amongst ancient ruins.

There is a self guided audio tour you can play on your phone while you walk the loop around the park.

It’s a much smaller distance than Chaco Culture and doesn’t require any driving.

Some of the buildings have been restored to show how they would have looked back when they were originally built.

The inside of the buildings have some interactive exhibits as well.

✅ Four Corners

The Four Corners is a fun little road trip stop where you can be in 4 different states at once.

It’s where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah all meet together.

It makes for a great vacation photo!

✅ Gila Cliff Dwellings

The Gila Cliff Dwellings are pretty remote, but it’s a very scenic drive.

Once you arrive, there’s a short trail to get to the Cliff Dwellings, then you can roam around inside.

There are ladders throughout to get to different levels of the Cliff Dwellings and to get better views behind various walls.

You’ll most likely have at least 1 volunteer or park ranger there to assist with anything and answer any questions.

✅ White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park is unlike any other National Park you’ll visit (unless you’ve been to Great Sand Dunes in Colorado).

Here, the main activity is sledding on the sand.

You can rent sleds or bring your own.

Putting a little bit of wax on them help them slide a little better.

It works better the hotter the sand is.

One thing to keep in mind when planning a visit to this park is that it is nearby where the military does some testing, which occasionally closes down access to the park.

Usually there are advance notifications on their website, but sometimes last minute changes are made, so just be prepared for that possibility.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most well known caverns in the US.

You’ll want to book your cavern tour in advance because they always sell out.

Pick the tour that fits your physical capabilities and interests.

In addition to the caverns, there is a scenic drive throughout the park and some overlook spots to enjoy the views.

At night, there are ranger programs where you can see the bats.

As you leave the park, just outside the entrance are some great restaurants and gift shops that I highly recommend checking out.

Check out How To Plan A National Park Road Trip + What Parks To Visit for more ideas.

✅ Roswell

Driving through Roswell as you make your way back up to Albuquerque is a fun experience.

As you may already know, everything in this town is alien themed.

There’s also the International UFO Museum here.

✅ Albuquerque

Albuquerque is one of my favorite cities to visit while road tripping.

They have some of my favorite foods – Indian tacos (or fry bread) and Sopapillas.

If you’re more into fast food (or cheaper food), then you’ll want to try the Indian tacos and Sopapillas from Twisters.

If you’re up for a sit down meal, then Garcia’s Kitchen is where you’ll want to go to try these.

They have several locations throughout Albuquerque.

A fun activity while in Albuquerque is the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.

There’s an entire section of interactive activities and games where you’ll learn to understand how nuclear science works in a fun way.

It’s an outdoor and indoor museum, so there’s quite a bit to do here.

✅ Petroglyph National Monument

Just down the road is Petroglyph National Monument.

Depending on what all you want to see and do here, you could spend as little as an hour or as much as 4-5 hours here.

As you walk each trail, you’ll come across hundreds, if not thousands of ancient petroglyph drawings.

Depending on the time of day and the shadows some are more visible than others.

We recommend checking out the following trails: 

Boca Negra Canyon – 1 mile round trip (keep in mind, last entry is at 4 PM to access this trail) 

Rinconada Canyon – 2.2 mile round trip (keep in mind, you must be parked by 5 PM to access this trail)

Piedras Marcadas Canyon – 1.5 miles round trip 

Frequently Asked Questions: New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

These are the most frequently asked questions we see about this New Mexico road trip itinerary.

✔️ How many days do you need to see New Mexico?

This entirely depends on your personal travel preferences.

The itinerary above takes at least a week to 10 days to do it all.

But if there’s certain things you want to skip or something is closed, then you could see much of New Mexico in 5-7 days.

If you shorten the itinerary to just the areas around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, you can enjoy a 2-3 day weekend seeing these areas of New Mexico.

Sometimes your budget and time constraints will determine how much time you really have to explore New Mexico.

See our Tips For Traveling On A Budget guide to help make the most of your trip.

Additionally, consider Crowdfunding Your Trip if you need more in your budget to make the trip happen.

✔️ How long does it take to drive through the state of New Mexico?

The time it takes to drive through the state of New Mexico can vary depending on several factors, including your starting and ending points, the route you take, speed limits, traffic conditions, and stops along the way.

New Mexico is a relatively large state, and the driving time can range from around 4 to 8 hours or more, depending on your route and driving speed.

If you were to drive through New Mexico along Interstate 40 from its eastern border with Texas to its western border with Arizona, it could take around 6 to 8 hours of driving time, covering a distance of roughly 370 to 400 miles.

If you were to take a more northern route along Interstate 25 from the Colorado border to the Texas border, the driving time could be around 4 to 6 hours, covering a distance of approximately 340 to 370 miles.

These are just rough estimates and actual driving times can vary.

It’s important to consider potential delays due to traffic, weather conditions, and any stops you might make along the way.

It’s a good idea to use online mapping tools or GPS navigation devices to get a more accurate estimate based on your specific starting and ending points and the route you plan to take.

✔️ How to plan a road trip to New Mexico?

The best way to start is by perusing this blog post to get ideas of places that you might want to visit.

Then check out the various tourism websites representing New Mexico as a state and the cities within the state.

You can also crowdsource ideas from friends and family.

Maybe even make a post on social media for ideas of places to visit, where to stay, restaurants to go to, etc.

Lastly, you’ll just want to put pen to paper and build out your itinerary based on your budget and interests.

Check out Tips For Planning A Trip To Anywhere (A Step-By-Step Guide) for even more ideas.

✔️ What is the best month to visit New Mexico?

The best month to visit New Mexico depends on your preferences and the type of activities you’re interested in.

New Mexico experiences a wide range of climates and landscapes, from high desert to mountainous regions.

Here’s a general overview of the weather and popular activities in different months:

Spring (March to May)

Spring is a popular time to visit as the weather starts warming up, and wildflowers bloom across the state.

March can still be chilly in some areas, but by April and May, temperatures are generally pleasant.

It’s a good time for outdoor activities like hiking, exploring national parks, and visiting cultural sites.

Summer (June to August)

Summers in New Mexico can be hot, especially in the southern parts of the state.

However, the northern mountain regions offer cooler temperatures.

This is a great time for high-altitude hiking, exploring the Santa Fe and Taos art scenes, and attending various festivals and events.

Fall (September to November)

Fall is often considered one of the best times to visit New Mexico.

The weather is generally mild, and the fall foliage in places like the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Jemez Mountains is stunning.

September and October are particularly pleasant months for outdoor activities, and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta usually takes place in early October.

Winter (December to February)

Winter can be a good time to visit if you’re interested in skiing and winter sports.

The northern parts of the state, like Taos and Santa Fe, have ski resorts and charming holiday festivities.

However, some areas might experience cold temperatures and occasional snowfall.

Keep in mind that New Mexico’s elevation varies greatly, which affects its climate. Southern areas are generally warmer, while the northern mountain regions are cooler.

For more information on visiting New Mexico in the Winter, check out our Tips For Staying Safe When Traveling During Extreme Weather.

Additionally, since most of us tend to get colds or the flu during Winter, check out our Tips For Staying Well While You Travel too.

Ultimately, the best month to visit New Mexico depends on your interests and the activities you’d like to do.

If you enjoy outdoor activities and milder temperatures, spring and fall are excellent choices.

If you’re a fan of winter sports, winter might be your preferred time.

But if you’re looking for cultural events and festivals, summer can be appealing.

Be sure to research specific destinations and check the weather forecasts closer to your intended travel dates to make an informed decision.

Conclusion: The Best New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary

This is the best New Mexico road trip itinerary because it takes you around the entire state to all the best historical, cultural, and foodie destinations.

You’ll see pretty much all the best that New Mexico has to offer on this trip and it’s unlike any other place you’ll visit.

For more information, be sure to check out Adventure Awaits In The US: 6 Travel Tips To Make The Most Of It.

Additionally, if you still need some travel inspiration, check out 161 Road Trip Quotes To Inspire Your Next Adventure.