Landscapes that have been carved out by time. A people whose culture and traditions stretch long before the arrival of Europeans in North America. New Mexico has an unmistakable identity that charms from the first bewitching glance.
With the help of the folks at New Mexico Tourism and our data scientists at trivago, we’re here to share our version of undiscovered New Mexico with 12 small towns and two scenic drives that capture the spirit of this Land of Enchantment. The kind of places that demand a second and third visit. The kind of people that welcome you and make your spirits soar higher than a hot air balloon.
Do them all as one or make it into a series of New Mexico road trips over a weekend from Albuquerque, Santa Fe or Las Cruces. Nearly 1500 miles of driving later, we’re sure you will be able to point out the viga on the portal and the ristra hanging by the kiva. Buckle up, pack away some carne seca and let’s hit the road!
Truth or Consequences & Hatch
– Bring on the Heat –
Albuquerque: 150 miles — Santa Fe: 212 miles — Las Cruces: 75 miles
Start this Undiscovered New Mexico road trip by heading down the I-25 on a drive out of Albuquerque and Sunport. At a very toasty range between 98 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, the geothermal waters in Truth or Consequences are said to cure “any and all ails”. The hot springs around T or C are said to gush out an estimated 99 liters of mineral rich water every second! Take your pick from any of the ten bathhouses scattered around the Hot Springs Historic District.
If you prefer your heat served on a plate, the town of Hatch has your zesty answer. Home to the annual Hatch Chile Festival over the Labor Day weekend, this heat capital lives and breathes chiles. At Sparky’s Burgers, BBQ & Espresso, the Famous Hatch Green Chile burger is the go-to order, while at Valley Café it has got to be the Green Enchiladas smothered in roasted Hatch green chile sauce. Keep a Mexican Coke or Jarrito nearby to tame the flames.
Food lovers ought to check out Monticello, some 25 miles NW of T or C, which boasts its own balsamic vinegar production!
Roadtripper’s Stay: Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa
On a family visit to the Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa in 2012, media mogul Ted Turner was so enthralled by the beauty of this cool desert spot that he purchased the property and added it to his roster of vacation experiences. Each of the Sierra Grande rooms promises an oversized soaking tub each with a view of the property’s desert rock garden or the Turtleback Mountain in the distance.
End your day with a complimentary 30-minute restorative soak in one of the Spa’s private baths. Guests can register for a plethora of guided tours offered by Ted Turner Expeditions on their half million acres of private wildlands around T or C. An Armendaris Heritage & Photography Tour, Ladder Ranch Birding Tour or a Sunset/Sunrise Motor Tour are just some of the ways the tour company encourages encounters with the great outdoors.
– White Sands and Yucca –
Distance from previous stop: 137 miles — Albuquerque: 207 miles — Santa Fe: 218 miles — Las Cruces: 68 miles
As you approach Las Cruces, take the US-70 towards Southeast New Mexico guiding yourself towards the Organ Mountains. Hang a left on your way into Alamogordo in the direction of White Sands National Monument. A venerable wonder of Mother Nature, the ivory-colored dunes of gypsum crystals form the largest expanse of its kind in the world. Walk these dreamy parabolic dunes barefoot, which unlike conventional sand stays cool to the touch or carve your own trail on a sled (available for purchase at the Visitor Center). Photographers should check for sunrise and sunset times to capture a wide spectrum of colors.
Into Alamogordo, curious kids and sci-fi obsessed grown-ups ought to pop by the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Joining together the Space Hall of Fame, the New Horizons Dome Theater & Planetarium and exhibitions on Rockets, the Daisy Decelerator and Icons of Exploration; you could easily set aside a full-day at the museum.
When things get too hot, treat yourself to a frozen custard pulled over at Caliche’s. The retro drive-through is a local favorite, not in the least because of their ever-changing menu of frozen dessert flavors. You could go for classics like Strawberry Cheesecake and Fudge Brownie Bliss although that would overlook specialties like the Habanero Lime Shake, Green Chile Sundae and the seasonal Pumpkin Custard.
Roadtripper’s Stay: Hampton Inn Alamogordo
On the way into town, the Hampton Inn off of White Sands Blvd. is the top rated stay in Alamogordo according to trivago users. Quiet rooms for uninterrupted shut-eye, comfortable beds to collapse into and a hot breakfast to greet you in the morning are just some of the reasons why guests continue to frequent the Hampton Inn. End your day with a dip in the pool or hot tub where the free WiFi is ready for use.
trivago Budget Tip: Be the first to know when prices drop! Not ready to book? Let trivago email you when prices for your ideal hotel room are going down. Favorite your desired hotel using the ❤️ icon then choose the bell icon to ‘Create price alert!‘ Savings made easy!
– Not so Noisy –
Distance from previous stop: 50 miles — Albuquerque: 182 miles — Santa Fe: 190 miles — Las Cruces: 118 miles
The drive to our next stop should only take you an hour or so. Why not take a detour passing by the World’s Largest Pistachio and the adjacent gift shop at Pistachioland? We think that cup holder could do with a few bars of pistachio brittle.
Further north along US-54 you can come face to face with the more than 21,000 petroglyphs at Three Rivers. Inscribed by the Jornada Mogollon indigenous people more than one thousand years ago, these drawings etched onto the side of rocks line a one-mile trail around the site.
Though borrowing its name from the Spanish word for noisy, Ruidoso and Lincoln County remain an unruffled resort region whose mountain peaks draw skiers from throughout the Southwest. For some extra thrill at ground level, the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino are the place to shake things up and holler to your heart’s content.
High above, shred through the 55 different runs and trails at Ski Apache, the southernmost ski resort in the U.S. If you haven’t had a chance to ski or snowboard in a t-shirt, this ski area is your best bet with December temperatures hovering around 50°F. Zipline, mountain biking and hiking are also on offer during warmer months. trivago hotel data shows that this year-round destination is most popular with visitors from other Southwestern NM cities notably Carlsbad, Clovis, Hobbs and Las Cruces.
Roadtripper’s Stay: Inn of the Mountain Gods
Owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe (indigenous to the region around Ruidoso), the Inn of the Mountain Gods welcomes guests of all travel persuasions to their 273 room property. Some come for the golf, big game hunting and horseback riding while others try their luck at the casino, take in a comedy show or dine at one of eight eating establishments. There is no shortage of activities for your stop here overlooking Mescalero Lake.
– Alien Capital of the World –
Distance from previous stop: 75 miles — Albuquerque: 189 miles — Santa Fe: 192 miles — Las Cruces: 184 miles
It’s not every day that you pass through a town with a flying saucer-shaped McDonald’s, a R2D2 mailbox and where green eggheads may very well outnumber human heads. But this is Roswell and things here have been rumored to a bit out of this world.
Owing back to claims of a UFO crash in 1947, the notoriety of Roswell as the first landing place of extraterrestrials on Earth had already reached a feverish pitch by the time the U.S. Government finally admitted that one of their own surveillance balloons was to blame. A trip to the International UFO Museum and Research Center will give you the full back story and may send you off anew as a UFO hunter.
Folks looking to get out of town should try Bottomless Lakes State Park where limestone escarpments cut into the nine turquoise blue lakes. We’ll say it again – it’s simply enchanting!
Roadtripper’s Stay: Holiday Inn Roswell
A top value winner in town is the Holiday Inn Roswell. As one of the newest hotels in town, the guestrooms and common spaces are modern and welcoming to roadtrippers. As with most Holiday Inn properties, complimentary parking, high-speed internet, a fitness center and pool are available to all guests. For hungry guests, Los Cerritos next door offers 79 cent Taco Tuesdays as well as the ultimate table-side guacamole appetizer experience.
trivago Tip: Save your roadtrip hotels for later by creating a Hotel List. Do you often find yourself retracing your steps to find that stunning hotel from last week? Simply click on the ❤️ over the hotel photo on trivago and store it for later in your own Hotel List. Share it with your roadtrip buddies to get their input too.
– Caverns & Canyons –
Distance from previous stop: 76 miles — Albuquerque: 280 miles — Santa Fe: 273 miles — Las Cruces: 207 miles
Playing into the theme of enchantment is the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The winding entrance ramp into the caverns open up onto one of the world’s largest underground cave rooms, the Big Cave. Join one of the guided tours that visit corners like Kings Palace, the Spider Cave and the Hall of the White Giant.
Channel your inner prairie dog by paying a visit to the Caverns’ lunchroom located 750 feet underground. Come 5:45 pm, visitors can witness the nightly Bat Flight from the Amphitheater as hundreds of Brazilian Free-Tailed bats swoop out from the cave in search of their insect dinner.
The Sitting Bull Falls is in fact sourced from a natural spring at the top of the canyon before it drops 150 feet below into a swimmable pond– no, it isn’t just a desert mirage but rather the perfect spot to wade and cool off.
Roadtripper’s Stay: Fiddler’s Inn
The adorable canary yellow cottage at Fiddler’s Inn should be your address for the night in Carlsbad. This independently-owned property features four unique rooms each furnished and decorated in its own Pinterest-worthy style.
Our tip is to reserve the serene Orange Blossom Suite with its spunky yellow Damask upholstery or Cotton Eyed Joe with its textured ceiling panels. Breakfast is served two doors down at the Blue House Café from Monday to Saturday. When the dinner hour comes, local whispers are telling us that Danny’s Place is the barbecue joint to check out in town.
At this point in your trip, why not head further east into neighboring West Texas with our top Undiscovered West Texas towns?
– Rock & Roll in the East –
Distance from previous stop: 181 miles — Albuquerque: 219 miles — Santa Fe: 213 miles — Las Cruces: 293 miles
Twelve minutes west of the New Mexico-Texas border is the swingin’ town of Clovis. Rock n’ roll fans cannot pass through Clovis without arranging a private tour at the Norman Petty Recording Studios. A veritable time capsule of the 50s and 60s, Norm and Vi Petty’s studio launched some of the most influential artists of their time including Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs, all from their cozy 7th Street address.
Lucky for spice lovers, Clovis doesn’t part with New Mexico’s high standard for honest Mexican cuisine. Some of the State’s best chile verdes are served from the no-frills La Espiga de Oro’s grocery store lunch counter. Scoop through a motley of dips from the Salsa Bar before settling into some mean Tacos el Pastor (on housemade tortillas, of course) or flautas enveloped in the quintessential chile verde.
Roadtripper’s Stay: La Quinta Inn & Suites Clovis
As the top-rated property in Clovis on trivago, there’s no going wrong with a stay at La Quinta. Choose between a King or two Queen Suite with jetted bath and sleeper sofas (in select rooms). Standard amenities include free WiFi, pillowtop beds and a hot breakfast daily. Added perks like a cookie bar reception (Monday to Thursday) and dog bones for four-legged visitors set this hotel apart from the pack.
– For your Fix of Route 66 –
Distance from previous stop: 84 miles — Albuquerque: 173 miles — Santa Fe: 167 miles — Las Cruces: 304 miles
Long marketed under the slogan ‘Tucumcari Tonite!’, this community of 5300 has been welcoming Route 66 roadtrippers into its highway inns for decades. More than a pit stop, Tucumcari has grown into a bona fide Route 66 destination for many cross-country travelers.
Across from the bold neon sign of the historic Blue Swallow Motel stands the eclectic Tee Pee Curios, your local hook-up for a Route 66 souvenir. Murals scattered along Tucumcari Blvd. paint a better picture of what the town resembled during the age of the automobile. For a more researched perspective, the New Mexico Route 66 Museum and the Route 66 Townhouse will give you the full story.
Roadtripper’s Stay: Roadrunner Lodge
Turntables, teak furniture and Moon Pies in the candy dish: the Roadrunner Lodge is what old school diners have done to preserve the feeling of a bygone era, but in motel form! This ‘mom and pop’ joint was originally two competing Route 66 properties up until 2014 when they were merged and reopened as the Roadrunner.
For a roadside accommodation that is big on nostalgia, the Roadrunner throws in the comforts of 21st century like high-speed internet and 120 channels of HD TV. Complete this retro stay with a movie at the Odeon, a one-room Art Deco cinema that screens current Hollywood flicks.
Cimarron & Red River
– Where the West is still Wild –
Distance from previous stop: 163 miles — Albuquerque: 185 miles — Santa Fe: 158 miles — Las Cruces: 382 miles
As you climb your way north, you’ll notice how the landscape of the Great Plains begin to crumple and rise into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As a first stop, check out the Philmont Scout Ranch outside of Cimarron, where 300,000-plus acres of High Adventure Base hosts Boy Scout groups from across the US every year. The site caters to both the history geek (who might fancy learning about the Phillips family at the Villa Philmonte) and the wilderness buff (prepare yourself for trekking and camping galore).
As you link up to NM-38 (which is regularly traveled by drivers on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway), Red River stays true to its Wild West way of life. Navigating the waterways by raft or by OHV are just some of the ways that visitors get their adrenaline pumping in Red River.
In the winter, skijoring is the spectator sport in-town. For those unfamiliar with this extreme sport, imagine the exhilaration of being led on skis by a charging horse through an obstacle course with jumps to land and hoops to grab. By night, you can find a good time over country music year-round at Bull O’ The Woods Saloon and Motherlode.
Roadtripper’s Stay: Casa Del Gavilan Historic Inn
Casa Del Gavilan invites you to experience the tranquility of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at their six-bedroom inn. In true disconnected fashion, no TVs or telephones are found on the property while a basic Internet connection is available for checking the odd email here and there. When you’ve got all of nature’s beauty surrounding you, why would you need to pay attention to anything else?
Each room comes with its own flair like the all-encompassing views from the Nairn Guest Room (looking out onto the peak of the Tooth of Time) and the fireplace in the Phillips Guest Room. Breakfast in the morning, a library with board games and hiking trails frequented by local deer and elk round out this idyllic wilderness stay.
Tip: If you’d like to keep our New Mexico Road Trips recommendations handy on your drive, click the ⭐ icon next to the Maps title to save it to your own Google Maps!
– Back to Basics –
Distance from previous stop: 47 miles — Albuquerque: 142 miles — Santa Fe: 79 miles — Las Cruces: 362 miles
You’ll find a quieter neighbor to Taos just seven miles away in Arroyo Seco. Art galleries and artisanal workshops dot the main stretch on El Salto Rd. Don’t be surprised if a contemporary tapestry design by Weaving Southwest and jewelry by Claire Works finds its way into your trunk.
In town, ACEQ refreshes its menu based on the produce in season nurturing a farm-to-table approach that showcase ingredients like housemade ricotta, chamomile flowers and sunchokes. Plates reflect both land and sea with supportive wine pairings to match.
Roadtripper’s Stay: Sagebrush Inn
Who doesn’t dream of staying in an authentic adobe accommodation while roadtripping through New Mexico? Sagebrush Inn & Suites ranks high on both the Southwestern charm and value for money axes. An illustrious property with a history of accommodating travelers since 1931, the adobe’s earthen red walls have welcomed the likes of Georgia O’Keefe, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper and former President Gerald Ford.
The Inn pulls off a pleasing accord of local artwork, refreshed New Mexican textiles, exposed wooden beams and corner kiva fireplaces that has established a lineage of loyal visitors. This pet-friendly accom takes care of the whole crew with a heated outdoor pool, hot tubs, bocce ball court and the on-site Sagebrush Grill. A visit to Taos Pueblo, the artistic center of Taos and the prodigious Rio Grande Gorge Bridge are all nearby.
More sublime pueblos and adobe hotels to match in “Quintessential Adobe Hotels in New Mexico”
The High Road from Taos
– Mountain High Beauty –
Distance from previous stop: 58 miles — Albuquerque: 91 miles — Santa Fe: 28 miles — Las Cruces: 312 miles
To continue this Loop of Enchantment, we’re making our way from Arroyo Seco in the north in the direction of Santa Fe to the south via the famous High Road to Taos Scenic Byway. This back-country meander along NM-76 crosses a number of Spanish Land Grant villages that will keep you in low gear for more than just the switchbacks.
The starting point is the highly photographed San Francisco de Asis Mission Church from which the Ranchos de Taos orbits. Interpreted on canvas several times by Georgia O’Keefe, the structure dating back to 1815 has two early Spanish wooden altars worth crossing the threshold for.
Some highway stop experiences to consider along the pine-lined High Road from Taos include:
- Sinking your teeth in a slice of cake from Sugar Nymphs in Peñasco
- Revering in the antiquity of the Las Trampas’ Church of San José de Gracia
- Browsing through the Pueblo pottery at Chimayo Trading & Mercantile
- Driving through the evolving fall foliage during the annual High Road Art Tour
- Feeling the light mist from Nambé Falls (during summer hours)
- Taking a quiet pause at the Santuario de Chimayo
Roadtripper’s Stay: Casa Escondida
If you’re one of the many visitors from Santa Fe and Albuquerque that make Taos a favorite overnight stay, why not shake things up by spending the night in Chimayo. For the crisp fall and winter nights in the valley below the Sangre de Cristo mountains, snuggle down at the homely Casa Escondida. The nine rooms at the bed & breakfast are each decorated with their own finesse, which much like the North New Mexican aesthetic, take their cues from nature.
For breakfast, the expected continental offerings get jump started by a daily warm speciality dish (green chili soufflé, if you’re lucky) and a breakfast meat for the protein lovers. Loungers under the portal and chairs by the firepit afford guests those sought-after R&R moments.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks & the Turquoise Trail
– A Rockin’ Landscape –
Distance from previous stop: 58 miles — Albuquerque: 91 miles — Santa Fe: 28 miles — Las Cruces: 312 miles
To walk the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is much like walking through the mythical landscapes of Tatooine from Star Wars. These enigmatic conical tent rocks (also known by the ever-fun to say name: hoodoo) rise from hip height up to 90 feet above the ground. The one-and-a-half-mile trail around the site is the best way to take in the grandiosity of this ethereal landscape.
Nearby, the Bandelier National Monument shows spectacular evidence of the ancestors of the Pueblo people including their dwellings chiselled into the volcanic tuff of the Jemez Mountains.
Los Cerrillos is much like a living ghost town. Built on the riches of turquoise then gold and silver, many of the buildings date back to the late 19th century and are still eerily stand today. Glistening Cerrillos turquoise is the souvenir of choice fashioned into pendants and earrings at the Casa Grande Trading Post.
A visit to Los Cerrillos can easily be paired with a stop in Madrid, notably Gypsy Plaza, the Mine Shaft Tavern and the decadent treats at Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop.
Roadtripper’s Stay: Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort
Some 50 miles due southwest from Santa Fe, as the Sandia Mountains begin to come into view, is the Hyatt Regency Tamaya. Pressed against the Rio Grande, this resort works with the native Santa Ana Pueblo Indians to showcase both the cultural and natural beauty of the region. On the cultural menu, traditional breadmaking in a Huruna oven, Native American dancing and flute performances and Srai Wi (“My Children”) kids activities such as adobe brick making and flute painting.
Meanwhile, outdoor activities at the Tamaya include hitting the links at Twin Warrior Golf Course, pony and trail rides and a resort spa. There is no better way to see the resort and the imposing Sandia Mountains than by hot air balloon – after all you’re only a few miles upstream from the world famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
We crunched the data… New Mexicans love their state but they also don’t mind the odd getaway to Vegas or eastward bound to the Lone Star state to Lubbock and San Antonio. Want trivago’s full findings? Request it here!
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Feature image courtesy of the New Mexico Tourism Department