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Gallup is a sizable city in Northwest New Mexico, though oddly enough it is overlooked by most visitors, ourselves included until most recently. We’ve compiled a tally of notable things to do in Gallup NM, that includes stunning hikes, historical snippets, unique shopping, native dances and fascinating foods. Did you know Gallup hosts the second largest hot air balloon rally in North America?
In it’s heyday Gallup played host to Hollywood’s elite, with the surrounding countryside providing the classic backdrop to many Westerns from the 40’s and 50’s. Indeed Gallup could be considered the catalyst for New Mexico earning the moniker Tamalewood.
Gallup was also a stopping point on historic Route 66. The town is full of remnants of it’s former past, you just have to give it a chance to reveal all of it’s treasures. Why not avail of the free downtown parking – all day, every day and check it out.
In short, don’t gallop through Gallup!
For Even More Information…
Gallup Visitor Information Centre: 106 W. Highway 66, Gallup (Inside Gallup Chamber of Commerce)
Phone: (505) 722-2228 or 1-800-380-4989
Things to Do in Gallup, New Mexico
Within this post you will find Gallup has more to offer than an initial cursory glance may belie. You will find attractions to keep the whole family entertained. For the food connoisseurs there are even traditional Navajo specialties that you won’t find anywhere else.
No matter what you’re looking for we’ve got plenty of suggestions for things to do in Gallup, NM to keep you going for just a few hours or even a long weekend. Included in this piece you will find the following:
- A guide to the second largest hot air balloon rally in North America
- Hiking trails in Red Rock Park
- The best local company providing hot air balloon rides year-round
- Exciting rodeo events
- Unique shopping for all budgets/unique foods
- Cultural attractions
- Museums in Gallup
- Street art in Gallup
- Route 66
- Quirky attractions
- Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway map
- Places to stay in Gallup, NM
Keep reading for the bonus scenic drive that only the locals know about.
Red Rock Balloon Rally Gallup, New Mexico
Where: 825 Outlaw Road, Church Rock, NM 87311
Directions: Red Rock Balloon Rally is held at Red Rock Park in Gallup. To access this park from Gallup head east approximately 8 miles on NM Route 118 (Historic Route 66) to NM Route 566; turn left and continue about a half mile to the entrance of Red Rock Park.
When: December 6th – 8th 2019
Parking Fee: $5 per vehicle (Cash only)
This has become the second largest hot air balloon rally in North America, held annually the first full weekend of December. Watch as 200 hot air balloons take to the skies against the backdrop of massive red sandstone bluffs cut with deep canyons.
Red Rock Balloon Rally Schedule of Events:
Friday, December 6th 2019:
- 7:30 am – Mass Ascension from various schools and parks throughout Gallup and also from Red Rock Park.
- 6:00 pm – Glow in the Rocks. Balloons are tethered whilst being fully illuminated by their burners. The Balloon Glow is accompanied by Indian Dancers performing by bonfire at Red Rock Park. This year’s rally features the Apache Crown Dancers.
Saturday, December 7th 2019:
- 6:30 am – Dawn Patrol at Red Rock Park
- 7:30 am – Mass Ascension at Red Rock Park
- 8:00 am – Pyramid Rock Run Registration – Register the morning of the run or pre-register at the Chamber of Commerce located at 106 W. Highway 66. Phone: (505) 722-2228.
- 9:00 am – Pyramid Rock Run – The course of this fundraiser run follows the trail to the top of Pyramid Peak as the balloons fly.
- 1:00 pm – Downtown Christmas Parade
- 6:00 pm – Balloominaria at Rio West Mall – a Balloon Glow at the Mall
Sunday, December 8th 2019:
- 6:30 am – Dawn Patrol at Red Rock Park
- 7:00 am – Mass Ascension at Red Rock Park
- 10:00 am – Awards Brunch and Auction at Red Rock Park.
Discover Great Hiking Trails
Where: Red Rock Park, 825 Outlaw Road, Church Rock, NM 87311
Directions: To access Red Rock Park and the hiking trails from Gallup head east approximately 8 miles on NM Route 118 (Historic Route 66) to NM Route 566; turn left and continue about a half mile to the entrance of Red Rock Park.
Hiking Tip: Download the FREE Alltrails app so you don’t get lost on any trail, anywhere.
Church Rock Trail
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 750 feet
Church Rock Stem Trail Distance: 0.7 miles
Church Rock Loop Trail Distance: 0.8 miles
Pyramid Connector: 1.3 miles
The stem trail begins in the parking lot by the post office at Red Rock Park. After about 0.7 miles the trail splits to become a loop. All of the trails within the park are marked with rock cairns. As you hike through washed out canyons on this loop trail you’ll contour fingers of striking red rock.
Depending on which direction you take the loop trail, at some point you will either ascend or descend out of or into the canyon via steps carved into the sandstone. Should you have time on your side and if you’re feeling ambitious, take the connector trail from Church Rock to Pyramid Rock.
Pyramid Rock Trail
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Pyramid Rock Trail Elevation Gain: 777 feet
Pyramid Rock Trail: 3.4 miles
The trail head starts at an elevation of 6,710 feet and ascends to the actual peak of Pyramid Rock. The trail passes some hoodoos and cap rocks. From the peak there are extensive views in all directions including fine views of Mount Taylor to the East.
Unique Hot Air Balloon Rides in Gallup:
Phone: (505) 979-2012
Why not get a bird’s eye view of the above hiking trails? If experiencing a hot air balloon ride at sunrise is on your bucket list, Gallup is the place to fulfill your dream. Here you will drift over classic Southwestern scenery as the rising sun illuminates the sandstone bluffs and canyons of Red Rock Park beneath.
Although Albuquerque is typically regarded as the quintessential destination for a hot air balloon ride, why not get off the beaten path and blaze your own trail here in Gallup?
Attend Your First Rodeo
Where: Red Rock Park, 825 Outlaw Road, Church Rock, NM 87311 (see directions above).
- June – Multiple Events Throughout the Entire Month
- July – Annual WildThing Championship Bull Riding Event
- August – Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial Rodeo
It may not be your first rodeo, but throughout the Summer Red Rock Park plays host to a variety of rodeo competitions. Check the links above for current rodeo dates. Rodeos are a fun family day out and typically include the following events; barrel racing, bronco bareback riding, bronco saddle riding, steer roping and bull riding to name but a few.
Visit a Genuine Trading Post
Gallup is often referred to as the Indian Capital of the World, the Gateway to Indian Country or similarly the Heart of Indian Country. This is due to it being bordered by the Navajo Nation, Zuni Pueblo and Hopi Reservation. Therefore it is not surprising that it is also a hub of historic trading posts.
Should you be in the market for authentic, high quality native craftsmanship a visit to one of these shops is a must. Aside from shopping, you may even witness the time honoured tradition of an actual pawn transaction between a pawn clerk and a local tribesperson. Gallup denotes the reality of the classic Western town.
Pawn at a trading post in Gallup is completely different to the typical pawned goods elsewhere. Here you will not find Playstations etc… but rather rooms full of Pendleton blankets, saddles, silver and turquoise jewellery, rugs, pottery, kachina dolls, paintings and all manner of treasures. Trading posts are often used as repositories for priceless family heirlooms by customers.
Take a step back in time and visit any of the well established trading posts in Gallup, many of which are located along historic Highway 66, including Richardson’s which has been operating since 1913.
Browse One of the Best Flea Markets in New Mexico
The 9th Street Flea Market in Gallup, New Mexico
Where: 340 N. 9th Street, Gallup, NM.
When: Every Saturday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
If you’re looking for flea markets in New Mexico, look no further than this Gallup flea market. This is one of the largest American Indian markets in the country. We love perusing these trash to treasure troves no matter where we are, but this is quite possibly the ultimate rummage sale. If you find yourself in Gallup on a Saturday make it a priority to visit this flea market – it may well be the highlight of your visit to Gallup.
Whether you’re looking for one-of-a-kind retro fittings for your home/business or maybe you’re just browsing, you cannot fail to be amazed by this market. If you’re searching for a unique gift there are local Zuni and Navajo artists selling hand-crafted jewellery and pottery. There really is something here for the whole family, even pony rides for the kids.
Not impressed yet? How about vendors selling firewood, tack (western saddles), livestock and hay. Should you visit in the Autumn you’ll be treated to the sweet smell of freshly roasting New Mexican chiles. You may even see wolf pups or peacocks for sale! This is truly one of the best local’s flea markets in New Mexico, with the majority of vendors being American Indian.
Navajo Foods Not to be Missed at the Flea Market
Aside from the bric-a-brac, this is also the perfect opportunity to indulge in some fascinating, local Native foods. Make sure you bring your appetite, this is not your typical fair food. Try some of the following:
Kneel Down Bread
Kneel down bread is also known as Navajo tamales. Indeed it is very reminiscent of a tamale, right down to being baked in the husk. Kneel down bread is made with corn that is still in the milk stage. Unlike a tamale, kneel down bread has a subtle sweet taste and can be found flavoured with green and red chile.
Sheep rearing is integral to the Navajo. The wool is spun, dyed and weaved into unique rugs, whilst the meat is a common staple food on the reservations. Take your pick of the plethora of stalls selling mutton stew and all things mutton at the flea market in Gallup, NM. If you try the mutton sandwich it’s typically served on frybread – a Navajo specialty.
And now for something completely different! Although this may be something of an acquired taste, it is definitely worth trying – at least once.
A Piccadilly is essentially a slushie/snow cone on steroids. Select which flavour syrup you would like for your snow cone. Next choose between regular or spicy dill pickles which are then placed on top of your snow cone. This is then all topped off with your choice of Kool Aid powder.
Experience Indian Dances Nightly
Where: Courthouse Square, 207 W. Hill Avenue, Downtown Gallup, NM.
When: Nightly at 7:00 pm Memorial Day – Labor Day
Experience traditional Indian dances nightly during the Summertime at Courthouse Square. Photos and videos are permitted.
Check Out the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial
Where: Downtown Gallup and at Red Rock Park, 825 Outlaw Road Church Rock, NM 87311. See directions to Red Rock Park above.
The Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial holds the distinction of being the oldest constant annual event in New Mexico. Events include a parade, nightly tribal dances, a competition pow wow and an all-Indian rodeo.
This is also a perfect opportunity to sample traditional food and to admire the skills of local artists and weavers. The Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial is one of the best family friendly things to do in Gallup, New Mexico if you happen to be there in August.
Take a Free Tour of El Morro Cinema
Where: 207 W. Coal Avenue, Downtown Gallup, NM.
Phone: (505) 726-2600
The historic El Morro Theatre dates to 1928 and was designed by the famous architect Carl Boller. He also designed the KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque and the Lensic Theatre in Santa Fe. The El Morro is most impressive from the outside and the foyer with it’s original doors is also worth a look. Tours of the single screen facility are free during business hours (evenings after 6:00 pm and weekends between 2:00 pm and 10:00 pm).
Visit Virgil at the Rex Museum
Where: 300 W. Highway 66, Gallup, NM.
Hours: Monday – Friday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Phone: (505) 863-1363
Admission: Free, though a $2 donation is appreciated.
The Rex Museum is a wonderful little mishmash of Gallup’s past. It’s housed in a building which has served as a brothel, a hotel, a grocery store and a police station throughout it’s life. Displays include Gallup’s coal mining history, Gallup bricks and Hollywood’s infatuation with the area in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The highlight of the museum is Virgil – the knowledgeable, friendly, quirky caretaker whose fascinating insights into Gallup are worth every second of your time.
Stumble Upon the Storyteller’s Museum at the Gallup Cultural Center
Where: 201 E. Highway 66, Gallup, NM.
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Cultural Center is a joint project by the City of Gallup and the Southwest Indian Foundation. Located in downtown Gallup’s historic train station on the second floor, here you’ll find exhibits covering weaving, sandpainting, kachinas, silversmithing and even a breakdown of the Navajo code used in World War II. There is also a fantastic display of local plants used in the dying process of Navajo weaving. This small museum is definitely worth stopping into.
Learn the Secret of the Navajo Code Talkers
Where: Gallup Chamber of Commerce, 106 W. Highway 66, Gallup, NM.
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Phone: (505) 722-2228
A small exhibit housed in just a few glass cases is dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers at the Gallup Chamber of Commerce. From 1942 to 1945 Navajo Code Talkers served in all six Marine divisions stationed in the Pacific. The uniqueness of the Diné language proved indispensable to the Americans in the Pacific War.
Not only did the Japanese never crack the secret of the code, but in the three years of the their mission there was never a single instance of a message being misquoted or inaccurately deciphered amongst the Code Talkers. The Navajo Code Talkers programme was only declassified by the military in 1968.
Discover a Hidden Museum in Gallup
Red Rock Park Museum
Where: 825 Outlaw Road, Church Rock, NM 87311. See directions to Red Rock Park above.
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:30 am – 4:30 pm
Within the grounds of Red Rock Park, next to the park office and to the west of the Convention Center, you will find a small museum. On display here are pottery, rugs, kachinas, turquoise and silver.
Exhibits chronicle the Ancestral Puebloans (300 – 1200 A.D.) and present day Navajo, Hopi and Zuni. If you have even a remote interest in the local Indian culture, this small museum is worth a little of your time, especially if you are already staying at the campground here.
Take a Walking Tour of the Murals in Downtown Gallup, New Mexico
Downtown Gallup is compact enough to park your car (remember that free parking) and stretch your legs as you seek out some local street art. A small map of the murals can be found in the Gallup Real True visitors guide.
This self guided tour provides insight into Gallup’s fascinating past. The murals depict scenes of historical and cultural significance within the area. Gallup has a history of supporting and promoting murals within it’s downtown. Discover WPA (Works Progress Administration) murals in McKinley County Courthouse dating to the 1930’s.
Don’t forget to look for the beautiful Indian portrait tucked away behind the El Rancho Hotel & Motel sign. This one is not listed on the mural map but was our favourite find amongst the art on display in Gallup. We encourage you to discover your own bits of hidden art throughout the city!
Drive Along Route 66 in Gallup, New Mexico
Gallup played an integral role in visitors coming out west. Not only was the current railway station built there in 1918, but Route 66 also ran through Downtown Gallup. Even today plenty of cars and especially trains pass through this city.
Remnants of the history of the Great American Road Trip remain, as original motels and diners complete with their Googie neon signs continue to illuminate this stretch of the Mother Road. Indeed, Gallup still proudly recognises this section of Route 66, retaining the hallowed though defunct route number for posterity.
Go Find the Galoop Structure
Where: Joseph M. Montoya Blvd., Gallup, NM.
Directions: From Downtown Gallup take North 2nd St. to W. Maloney Ave. and turn right; Maloney Ave. then becomes Montoya Blvd. Pass the Galoop Structure on the right, about a quarter of a mile along Montoya Blvd. Park at either Babe Ruth Park on the right or the City Park across the street and walk to the Galoop Structure.
Reminiscent of a Scalextric race track loop, this sculpture overlooks Gallup on the east end of town. There is no parking so be careful if you want to snap a shot. There is a shoulder on the far side of the road or you can park East of the Galoop structure at one of the two parks mentioned in the directions above.
Pick a Sunny Day to Visit the Sun Daggers
Where: North side of McKinley County Court House, 207 W. Hill Avenue, Downtown Gallup, NM.
These rough-hewn sandstone daggers serve as a sort of sun dial. In front of the daggers and embedded in the courthouse plaza are plaques commemorating significant events in the history of Gallup. Throughout the day the shadows cast by the daggers strategically land on the plaques.
See the Bullet Hole in Dude Man’s Forehead
Where: 416 W. Coal Avenue, Gallup, NM
This Muffler Man fibreglass statue is also known as “Dude Man” locally. It seems this poor cowboy muffler man was target practice for someone and took a bullet to the forehead.
Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway
The Trail of the Ancients is a 480 mile long scenic byway with a further 110 miles off of the loop. Gallup sits right on this scenic trail. Complete the entire scenic byway or plan your own route. Either way you’ll find great hikes, fascinating ruins, historical landmarks and unique geologic formations along the way.
Whatever you do don’t miss out on what many consider a spiritual experience at the ancient ruins of Chaco Culture National Historic Park located roughly 96 miles from Gallup.
Bonus: Scenic Drives Near Gallup, New Mexico
Where: Window Rock, AZ
Directions: From Gallup take US Route 491 north approximately 8 miles to NM Route 264; head west on 264 approximately 19 miles to the town of Window Rock, AZ. From Window Rock head north on Navajo Route 12 for about half a mile and follow signs (right) to Window Rock Tribal Park.
This peaceful little park is located amongst the administrative offices of the capital of the Navajo Nation and is often overlooked by passersby. The highlight of the park is the natural window rock formation in the sandstone. You will also find a Veteran’s Memorial here, dedicated to the Navajo soldiers who have served in the U.S. military.
Where: Cleopatra’s Needle is approximately 3.7 miles north, then 1.5 miles east of Navajo, NM. A series of dirt roads lead to Cleopatra’s Needle and reliable directions are too vague to list; see GPS coordinates below.
Directions: From Gallup head north on US Route 491 for 8 miles, then west (left) 16.5 miles on NM Route 264 to the town of Window Rock, AZ. From Window Rock head north on Navajo Route 12 about 17 miles to the town of Navajo, NM.
From the gas station in Navajo continue north 4 miles past a very obvious green rock formation on the right; turn right on Indian Route N31 (paved) and continue for almost 1 mile to a dirt road; turn left. From the dirt road follow the GPS coordinates below to Cleopatra’s Needle, about 1 mile further.
GPS: 35.9616775 (latitude), -108.9853713 (longitude).
Recommended: All wheel/4 wheel drive or taking it really slowly across the dirt roads!
The drive from Window Rock and especially the drive along Navajo Route 12 is absolutely stunning. More surprisingly it is well off the tourist trail. As for Cleopatra’s Needle, this sandstone pillar is popular with serious rock climbers – or at least those that are in the know of this secret spire.
Hotels/Motels in Gallup, New Mexico
Harking back to it’s glory days as a stop-off on the Mother Road (Route 66) Gallup, New Mexico is still a prime layover easily accessed from I-40. As a result of which the city is teeming with hotels and motels for all budgets.
Route 66 is also home to the historic El Rancho Hotel. Built in 1936 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this landmark hotel hosted Hollywood’s elite in the 1940’s and 50’s. Aside from the hotel this rambling structure also includes motel rooms, a restaurant and the 49er lounge.
Even if the El Rancho Hotel is not in your budget make sure you at least stop by the beautiful lobby and head upstairs to see all of the signed photos of former Hollywood guests, including Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Betty Grable, Katharine Hepburn and Doris Day, to name but a few.
An incredibly busy railway line runs through downtown Gallup. Both Amtrak and freight trains and their associated noises are common throughout the day and night here. Oddly enough planning and site selection for many hotels neglected to take this into account!
- Have earplugs on-hand.
- Research the location of your hotel in relation to the proximity of the train tracks.
RV Parks/Campgrounds in Gallup, New Mexico
There are two RV parks/campgrounds in Gallup, NM catering to both RVs and tent campers. Each RV park provides standard hookups and amenities. Both RV parks in Gallup, New Mexico are booked a year in advance for the Red Rock Balloon Rally.
In addition to it’s main campground, Red Rock Park also provides stalls and pens for those travelling with horses. June is completely a no-go for camping at Red Rock Park unless you are a rodeo contestant. Campsites are booked out way in advance for the rodeo events in July and August also. Plan ahead!
USA RV Park Gallup, New Mexico
Where: 2925 W. Highway 66, Gallup, New Mexico 87301
Phone: (505) 863-5021
Cabins: Four on-site basic cabins sleeps 4 (No Toilet/No Cooker/No Fridge)
USA RV Park offers cowboy cookouts and pool access during it’s Summer season. You’ll also find laundry facilities, a playground and dog walk area on-site. This RV park is located on Highway 66 and is about as close as you can get to Downtown Gallup, New Mexico without staying in a hotel.
Red Rock Park Campground
Where: 825 Outlaw Road, Church Rock, NM 87311 (see directions above at Red Rock Balloon Rally).
Phone: (505) 722-3839
Reservations for Red Rock Park Campground are by telephone only, online reservations are not accepted. If you are travelling with your horse you pay an additional fee per horse, per night in addition to your campsite. For full information call the office number listed above Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 4:00 pm.
Walmart in Gallup, New Mexico
For all of you RVers and those in the know in the van life community, yes there is a 24 hour Walmart in Gallup, New Mexico. More importantly it does allow overnight parking. Check Allstays for more details on this and other Walmart locations and their policies for overnighting.
Fire Rock Casino
Where: 249 East Route 66, Church Rock, NM 87311
Phone: (505) 905-7100
- Sunday – Tuesday 8:00 am – 4:00 am
- Wednesday 8:00 am – 12:00 am
- Thursday – Saturday 24 Hours
There is only one option regarding casinos in Gallup, New Mexico and that is Fire Rock Casino. There is no hotel at this casino. However if you are an RVer or van lifer you can park overnight in the west parking lot of the casino’s grounds. As always, double check on their current overnight policy with casino security.
Hopefully this guide is enough to encourage you to take a detour and explore at least a couple of the many things to do in Gallup, NM. Whether you’re up for a scenic hike or just fancy a casual stroll through downtown, come see for yourself why this town in Northwest New Mexico continues to be an attraction.
Considering it’s easy on-off access to Interstate 40 and the plethora of hotels and motels available in Gallup, it’s easy to think of it as just a place to rest one’s head for the night. As you can see Gallup, New Mexico is so much more than that.