Last Updated on September 12, 2020
It’s difficult to suggest road trips in New Mexico solely based on prescribed routes – seeing the Land of Enchantment simply presents too many possibilities! Of course, this state is full of road trips on specific routes but sometimes you must blaze your own path. Consider each suggestion in this article, pick which destinations suit you, grab a good road map and cobble together your own New Mexico road trips instead.
Your Next New Mexico Road Trip Begins Here
The very best road trips in New Mexico include a mix of historical sites, natural wonders, quirky attractions, majestic scenery and plenty of red and green chile. So chart your next course right now – whether you’re after a New Mexico weekend getaway or the ultimate southwest road trip, this article is full of ideas to keep you rolling for many miles.
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Natural New Mexico Road Trip Attractions
The beauty of this state is certainly no secret; discover an impressive variety of natural wonders during your road trip through New Mexico.
Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano
Where: About 25 miles south of Grants on NM Route 53.
Phone: (505) 783-4303
Get fired up and chill out at the premier ice cave in New Mexico. Bandera Volcano was active about 10,000 years ago; a collapsed lava tube, or cave, formed as a result of that past eruption. Today, that cave remains cool enough to form and maintain ice year-round from rain and snow melt seeping in.
An easy trail to the volcano rim leads to a viewing platform overlooking the cave. Enjoy several additional trails, check out the museum/gift shop and enjoy the picnic grounds after visiting this rather cool sight. Combine Bandera Volcano with La Ventana Arch (further below).
White Sands National Monument
Where: White Sands is located about 15 miles south of Alamogordo, NM on US Highway 70.
Visiting White Sands National Monument on a road trip through New Mexico is an absolute must! Pretend you’re in a winter wonderland while hiking across white sand dunes and sledding down powdery hills – purchase your sled at the gift shop or bring your own.
We strongly recommend the FREE daily Sunset Stroll with a park ranger. This guided walk focuses on the unique ecosystem and just how all of this white sand got here to begin with. Tours begin one hour prior to sunset; visit the Sunset Stroll page for more information.
La Ventana Natural Arch
Where: La Ventana Arch is located just off NM Route 117, within El Malpais National Monument.
While El Malpais National Monument is a vast area with rough roads, La Ventana Arch is quite simple to visit. An easy path from the parking lot leads to an observation area immediately below the arch. Take plenty of photos here – this is the closest you’ll get to La Ventana Arch.
Just up the road from La Ventana is the scenic Sandstone Bluff Overlook. This spot is also easy to access from NM Route 117 and you’ll likely have this scenic location to yourself. Combine La Ventana Arch and Sandstone Bluff Overlook with Bandera Volcano (above) on your New Mexico road trip.
Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences
Truth or Consequences (T or C) is a popular weekend getaway in New Mexico and a great stop on any road trip. Need to spend the night? We suggest Blackstone Hotsprings for a thoughtful assortment of themed rooms, each featuring tubs with geothermally-heated water.
The town of T or C has several art galleries, good restaurants and an interesting historical museum. For an hourly soak without an overnight stay try Indian Springs. Stopping for a soak between road trip destinations lets you take a break from all that driving!
Iconic Road Trip Destinations in New Mexico
The southwest evokes the idea of the classic road trip and New Mexico is the perfect place to hit the highway and discover iconic attractions.
Four Corners Monument
Where: This spot is located at Four Corners Road, off US Highway 160 in the northwest corner of New Mexico. Curiously, New Mexico is the only state offering public access to the Four Corners Monument! *See below for another odd fact about this classic New Mexico road trip destination.
Multitask on your New Mexico road trip by putting yourself in four states at once! The borders of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet here at one point, making this an essential stop on any southwest road trip. Traditional Navajo foods await road trippers here, so arrive hungry.
Four Corners Monument seldom gets busy although someone will be around to take the obligatory photo of you. *Interestingly, you cannot access Four Corners without leaving New Mexico first, then re-entering the state from either Arizona or Colorado!
Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico
Any Route 66 road trip in New Mexico must include Tucumcari – this town proudly features vintage motels, restaurants and gift shops celebrating The Mother Road. Tucumcari is also home to the New Mexico Route 66 Museum, where the world’s largest Route 66 photo exhibit is.
We recommend the Tucumcari strip at dusk for the glowing neon signs. Next up is a stop at Del’s for classic dishes, local specialties and cocktails. For many, Route 66 tops the list for New Mexico road trip attractions and it’s allure will likely never fade away.
Cuba, New Mexico
Where: US Highway 550, roughly between Bloomfield and Bernalillo.
Our road trips through New Mexico often pass through the village of Cuba on US Highway 550. This is a great place to stop for a bite or for the night; several vintage hotels and diners still exist here. Uncover some dinosaur bones nearby at White Ridge Trails.
For a scenic drive take NM Route 4 from San Ysidro into the Jemez Mountains where hot springs await along with several interesting nearby sites. Fans of the series Breaking Bad should stop at the now-closed Big Chief Gas Station on US 550, about 40 miles south of Cuba.
Bonus Tip: From Cuba take NM Route 126 into the mountains to Jemez National Recreation Area. This route becomes unpaved but easily passable; the countryside along the way makes this drive worth the effort! Finally, a northbound road trip on US 550 is more scenic than heading south.
Stellar New Mexico Road Trip Ideas
Don’t space out and miss our suggestions – consider these stellar destinations right now for your next adventure.
A Cosmic Road Trip to the Very Large Array (VLA)
Where: This site is 50 miles west of Socorro, beyond the village of Magdalena on US Highway 60, then left on NM Route 52. Follow signs to VLA.
This oddly-named attraction is very much out of this world. Here, 27 giant mobile radio telescopes allow astronomers to investigate many different celestial objects. These telescopes move on railroad tracks to prescribed positions for optimal pulsar and quasar observation!
Visit VLA independently to witness these super-seers in action. Alternatively, take a guided tour every 1st & 3rd Saturday of the month at 11:00 am, 1:00 and 3:00 pm to learn about supernovas and gamma-ray bursts. The telescopes, museum and gift shop make this a road trip to…focus on.
The International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell
Video by acoupleofdrifters.com
Where: 114 N Main St. Roswell, NM.
Every road trip in New Mexico should include a visit to this quirky museum. An alleged UFO crashed 100 miles northwest of Roswell in 1947, but the scandal surrounding that incident happened here. Us mere earthlings have been fascinated by flying saucers ever since!
Learn more about that crash and the world-wide phenomena of aliens, strange abductions and UFO sightings. The displays here are worth a stop and the gift shop alone will definitely keep you entertained. Roswell also has a free zoo also worth a look during your visit.
Scenic Spots for a New Mexico Road Trip
Enjoy the scenery as your drive through New Mexico and from atop these lofty road trip destinations.
Where: Sandia Crest is located at the end of NM Route 536, also known as the Sandia Crest Scenic Highway.
Road trips in New Mexico bring you through Albuquerque sooner or later and that means a drive to Sandia Crest. The views at the top continue for hundreds of miles in every direction and there’s even a visitor center and restaurant here to seal the deal!
Take a break from your New Mexico road trip and spend some time in Albuquerque – you’ll find plenty of things to do and great places to eat. Stretch your legs and check out our list of unique hikes near Albuquerque before continuing with your road trip.
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Where: Between Raton and Clayton on US Highway 87. The entrance to Capulin Volcano Visitor Center is off NM Route 325.
Looking for unique New Mexico road trip ideas? Don’t overlook the two-mile drive to the rim of this extinct volcano, or stretch your legs on one of several hikes to the top. Peer into the crater and enjoy fine views into Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and even Kansas on a clear day.
The bushes at the crater rim are swarmed with thousands of mating ladybugs from mid June through early August – a biological phenomena known as hilltopping. This enchanted area also boasts some of the darkest night skies in the entire country, perfect for stargazing!
Note: At the time of writing (late August, 2019) Capulin Volcano Road was closed due to washouts from heavy rain – check the official website above for current local advisories before making your road trip.
New Mexico Road Trip Spots for History Buffs
From the Stone Age to the Space Age, New Mexico is full of historic sites to visit on your next road trip.
Blackwater Draw National Landmark and Museum
- Blackwater Draw National Landmark is on NM Route 467, seven miles north of Portales, NM.
- Blackwater Draw Museum is located at 1500 S. Avenue K, Lea Hall, Room #163, Portales, NM.
This stream channel between Portales and Clovis is home to a major archaeological site discovered in 1929. Previously unknown stone spear points, and an entire 13,500 year-old Paleo-Indian culture associated with those points, were discovered at this sight.
Today, the weapons and the culture are both known as Clovis, the name of the town up the road from the sight. Literally pick up some heavy mammoth bones at the museum, then head to the excavation site to see more bones and stone tools insitu waiting to be studied and recorded.
Billy the Kid Museum & Grave
Where: The Museum is located at 1435 Sumner Ave. Fort Sumner, NM. See directions below for Billy the Kid’s grave.
The Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner is a New Mexico road trip classic! See Billy the Kid’s rifle along with a few relics from the home where he was shot and killed. The Billy the Kid Museum also showcases regional history, old tools, household goods and even several vintage automobiles.
The grave of Billy the Kid is in a small, nondescript walled “cemetery” just off a very peaceful county road. You certainly won’t miss the giant protective steel cage housing his tombstone. Pay your respects to this largely misunderstood American legend.
Billy the Kid’s Grave: Take US Highway 60/84 east from Fort Sumner to Billy the Kid Road, then turn right. Continue straight on this road for to Old Fort Sumner Cemetery. Alternatively, go east from Fort Sumner on US 60/84 to NM Route 272 and turn right; follow this to the cemetery.
Mogollon Ghost Town
Where: NM Route 159, just off US Highway 180 in Gila National Forest.
This historic New Mexico ghost town oddly features a restaurant open (occasionally) at weekends. The remote, paved road to Mogollon Ghost Town offers an exciting and very scenic drive and you may have this abandoned metropolis to yourself during the week.
Explore some rusted mining equipment and a seasonal museum, or just enjoy this beautifully situated ghost town in the hills of Gila National Forest. The mining heyday of Mogollon is long gone but this historic site makes for a great modern-day road trip in New Mexico.
Rio Puerco Bridge
Where: North side of Interstate 40, Exit 140. Rio Puerco Bridge is approximately 15 miles west of Albuquerque.
Take a walk across the Rio Puerco Bridge and step back in time for a bit. This retired bridge was part of Route 66, which is still visible alongside the interstate which was built to replace it.The Mother Road carries on for a hundred feet either end of the bridge before fading into the sand…
The Rio Puerco Bridge isn’t one of the most well-known New Mexico Route 66 attractions, however this site is definitely worth a stop. If you get hungry during your road trip check out Laguna Burger next to the bridge and sample one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the entire state!
A Few Tasty Destinations for Your New Mexico Road Trip
It’s all about red and green chile in New Mexico. Keep these places in mind when you need a fill-up during your road trip.
A Road Trip to Hatch for a Green Chile Cheeseburger
Where: Hatch is located off Interstate 25, approximately 40 miles north of Las Cruces.
The name of the game in Hatch is red and green chile – this town is ground-zero for the crop that makes New Mexico famous. Try a green chile cheeseburger at Sparky’s and see why this pepper is an addictive addition to any aliment. Red and green chile is about flavor rather than heat.
Will your New Mexico road trip itinerary bring you here for the Hatch Chile Festival during the Labor Day weekend? If so, celebrate this humble crop and enjoy the fun (and the smell of roasting chile) that fills the air! The Hatch Chile Festival certainly makes for a classic New Mexico road trip.
Chef Bernie’s in Farmington, New Mexico
Where: 910 W. Main St. Farmington, NM.
Website: Visit Chef Bernie’s on Facebook
Road Trips in New Mexico make you hungry and Chef Bernie awaits. After visiting Four Corners Monument (above) head east to Farmington for tasty and filling food at Chef Bernie’s. Breakfasts and lunches here set you back 5 or 6 bucks with change to spare for the table-side jukeboxes!
This is a no-frills diner serving basic food to hungry locals ordering anything and everything smothered in green chile – follow their lead. Get here for Chef Bernie’s famous cafeteria-style meals, or just grab a booth or a seat at the counter in the diner. Don’t forget those jukeboxes!
From classic Route 66 road trips to New Mexico weekend getaways, there’s something for everyone in the Land of Enchantment! Again, I encourage you to simply grab a map and head off in any direction to find your next road trip adventure.
If you really have time on your side I strongly recommend seeking out more New Mexico Route 66 attractions aside from Tucumcari and the Rio Puerco Bridge. You’ll find plenty to explore in New Mexico on just about any road you wander down!