Located in north-central New Mexico, Albuquerque is the perfect launching point for road trips around the state. We’ll share some of our favorite New Mexico road trips that you can take from Albuquerque. So, stock up on the snacks, open your map app, grab your favorite travel partner, and hit the road!
Distance from Albuquerque: 64 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 1 hour
Santa Fe is New Mexico’s capital city and rich with history. It is also the home of some of the state’s most exciting summer events, like the annual Indian Market, Spanish Market, International Folk Art Market, and Santa Fe Opera performances. Santa Fe is also home to numerous top-ranked restaurants. You can make your trip all about experiencing them, from New Mexican food to fare with an international flair.
Valles Caldera National Preserve
Distance from Albuquerque: 81 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 1 hour, 30 minutes
If you enjoy exploring nature in a unique environment, Valles Calderas National Preserve should be on your road trip list. This stunning location was used in multiple films and television shows because of its natural beauty. In fact, the view from the front porch of Sheriff Longmire’s rustic cabin was Valles Caldera standing in for Montana!
A caldera is a depression that can form after a volcanic eruption and, in this case, it created a large area that is mostly devoid of trees. While here, you can enjoy many hiking trails of varying length and difficulty and wander by the remains of buildings created for Western movies, like the one used as Walt Longmire’s cabin. Elk and bears can be found here, wildflowers can be abundant in early summer, and you can cross-country ski in winter.
This land has been used and misused in many ways over the years, including overgrazing by sheep and extensive timber harvesting. Now part of the National Park Service, the land is protected and on its way to recovery. While you can’t camp here, you can hike, bike, ski, and enjoy dramatic night skies.
El Malpais National Monument
Distance from Albuquerque: 100 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 1 hour, 30 minutes
El Malpais, the badlands, is a vast area of volcanic rock, lava flows, and lava tube caves waiting for the adventurous to explore. The monument includes ancient sandstone bluffs, trails, including access to the Continental Divide Trail, picnic areas, and, of course, 175 square miles of volcanic features. The youngest volcano in the park erupted about 3,400 years ago, which makes it one of the youngest lava flows in the country.
Native Americans even made their homes in some of the lava caves found here and had trade routes through the land. One of the caves is now the summer home to 150,000 Mexican free-tailed bats that exit the cave at sunset. The fact that the lava absorbs water allows a wide range of plants to grow, and is especially verdant during the summer monsoon season. Another natural wonder to enjoy at El Malpais is the dramatic night sky. Summer is an excellent time to view the Milky Way.
El Morro National Monument
Distance from Albuquerque: 120 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Don’t visit El Malpais without a side trip to El Morro, a landmark that has been used for travelers across the centuries to find a place to rest and get water. While they were there, they used the 7,219-foot-tall sandstone bluff for some historic graffiti. It began with Native Americans, continued with Spaniards exploring the area, and when the United States was young, even more names were added to the growing list. Today, more than 2,000 petroglyphs, names, and messages can be found on the sandstone bluff, from well-known names like Don Juan de Oñate and Diego de Vargas to many that have been lost to time, other than what they left behind at El Morro. The first English inscription was left by U.S. Army engineers who were surveying the territory in 1849. You can also visit the ruins left behind by Ancestral Puebloans.
To preserve the unique history inscribed here, El Morro was declared a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, only the second in the nation. It can be visited Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are nine free campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis, in case you want to make your road trip a weekend adventure. It is also free to visit El Morro.
Distance from Albuquerque: 123 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 1 hour, 39 minutes
This city in New Mexico was the original Las Vegas and it thrived during the years when the Santa Fe Railway brought tourists to stay at the Casteñeda, one of the famed Harvey House hotels. Well-known bad guys of the Old West were found here as well, including Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Jesse James.
This quintessential Western town was built in the Spanish style with a large plaza in the center and important businesses, like a now historic hotel, rounding it. You’ll also find a thriving arts community in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas’ beauty has drawn filmmakers here since 1911. Like Valles Caldera, it stood in for Wyoming in the television series Longmire, and many movies were filmed here, including No Country for Old Men, Wyatt Earp, and part of Easy Rider.
Distance from Albuquerque: 150 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 2 hours, 10 minutes
If you enjoy exploring frontier history, make a road trip to Fort Union in Watrous County past Las Vegas, New Mexico. The fort was active from 1851 – 1891, serving to protect American settlers in the land the United States had recently won from Mexico and specifically to guard the Santa Fe Trail at the intersection of the Mountain and Cimarron branches.
There were actually three forts built here over the years, a ramshackle wooden fort resembling a village, which was replaced by a defensive fort in anticipation of a Confederate attack, and the third adobe and stone fort, which served for 30 of the fort’s 40 years. The third iteration of the fort was the largest in the Southwest.
Here you can see the territorial-style adobe remains of the third fort, take a self-guided 1.25-mile trail through the fort, or take part in a ranger-guided tour for a more indepth look at the history. This is also where the largest visible network of ruts of the Santa Fe Trail can be seen. There are also many special events at the fort, including anniversaries of the fort’s establishment in July and of it becoming a national monument in June.
Learn the secret of Private William Cathay, a member of the all African-American 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A. The 9th U.S. Cavalry was also stationed at Fort Union and six of these Buffalo Soldiers, as they were nicknamed, earned the Medal of Honor, our country’s highest award for military valor.
Distance from Albuquerque: 181 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Ruidoso is a popular mountain playground for those looking to escape summer heat or enjoy winter activities. It’s fun for those looking to stroll the historic streets and shop, eat, and drink their way through town as well as visitors who want to camp and hike in the Lincoln National Forest.
Ruidoso is also home to Ruidoso Downs where you can enjoy thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. Bring your clubs along to enjoy the area’s golf courses or, if it’s more your style, try the disc golf course! Find more Ruidoso adventures here.
Distance from Albuquerque: 225 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 13 hours, 11 minutes
White Sands National Park was recently elevated from a monument to a park and the distinction is well deserved. It is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. In fact, if White Sands was a business-sized envelope, the next largest sand dune would be the stamp in the corner.
Here, because the sand is made of gypsum and the water table is high, you can walk barefooted on even the hottest day. Kids and the young at heart can enjoy sledding down the ever-changing dunes, and then enjoy discovering the unique ecosystem of the park. For example, to survive, many animals have evolved to be white rather than dark like their closest relatives so they are camouflaged on the sands.
Events include full moon nights, sunset strolls, and an annual balloon festival. Camping is available for those willing to hike to the primitive campgrounds.
Distance from Albuquerque: 236 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 3 hours, 45 minutes
Silver City in southwestern New Mexico is not only the gateway to the Gila National Forest but is a great place to visit for its rustic charm, art galleries, history, and restaurants. Stroll the elevated sidewalks and then discover why they’re so high! Explore the Indigenous, ranching, and mining history of the area. Go antique shopping or head out for a hike.
From Silver City you can explore the Gila National Forest, Gila Wilderness, Aldo Leopold Wilderness, The Catwalk National Recreation Area, or simply hike Boston Hill right from the edge of town.
Distance from Albuquerque: 282 miles
Travel time from Albuquerque: 4 hours
The longest road trip on our list is to one of the state’s most popular destinations: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It is located in the southeastern corner of the state in the Guadalupe Mountains. Here you can take a hike from the natural entrance into the depths of limestone caverns to see otherworldly views of pools, stalactites, and stalagmites. Not up to walking down or up? There’s even an elevator to help you reach the most beautiful parts of the caverns in just minutes! In the summer, stay until dusk to enjoy watching the masses of bats leaving the caverns for the night to hunt for the millions of bugs they eat.
Once you’ve come all this way, don’t forget to explore the city of Carlsbad. The Pecos River brings opportunities from fishing, boating, and water fun to the annual Christmas on the Pecos event. Year-round you can enjoy exploring the city’s interesting history, art galleries, restaurants, and an interesting state park, the Living Desert Zoo and Garden. Learn more about things to do on your visit here.