12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in New Mexico
Boasting one of most incredibly scenic and diverse landscapes in North America, New Mexico offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. With strong influences of both Native American and Hispanic culture, the state offers the visitor a multitude of unique attractions both in large cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque as well as the smaller hubs of UFO-focused Roswell and the artists' colony of Taos.
Center of the American Southwest, the "Land of Enchantment" didn't gain statehood until 1912. Today, New Mexico offers the visitor fantastic nature experiences, distinctive cuisine, and an impressive fine arts scene.
1 White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument is one of the most stunning landscapes in the state, located a half an hour's drive southwest of Alamogordo in the south of New Mexico. It lies in the Tularosa Basin, a northern offshoot of the Chihuahua Desert and is surrounded by rugged mountains. Here, gleaming white gypsum sand has built up into an extraordinary landscape of dunes up to 60 ft high, which are constantly displaced by the wind.
Hours: Open 8am-7pm (May 15 to Aug 15), 8am-4:30pm (Aug 16 to May 14)
Admission: Adults $3, Children 16 and under free
2 Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Comprised of nearly 120 known caves, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is hidden mostly underground. Carved from limestone deposited in an ancient sea, the alien underground landscape is one of the most famous New Mexico tourist attractions. The Park Service offers self-guided audio tours and ranger-led tours. Visitors can also experience bat tours, trips to specific caves and walks through the outlandish geological formations. Up above, the visitor will find a wide range of opportunities for back-country hikes and backpacking. Be sure to bring ample water.
Hours: Open 8am-7pm (summer) and 8am-5pm (winter)
Admission: Adults $10, Children 15 and under free
3 Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument is a 33,677-acre preserve encompassing some of the most dramatic volcanic landscapes and archaeological ruins in the state. Former home of ancestral Pueblo people, the area was occupied from 1150 to 1600AD. Visitors can take advantage of a fine museum, camping options, an interpretative trail and excellent back-country hiking.
Hours: Open daily 9:30am-5:30pm
Admission: $6 per car (seven day permit)
4 Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Perhaps one of the most stunning archaeological sites in all of North America, Chaco Canyon was occupied by ancestral Puebloan peoples from about 800 to 1200AD. It was a major center comprised of 15 massive ruins and hundreds of smaller constructions. Located in a remote area northwest of Albuquerque, the park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Park facilities and activities include camping, an excellent interpretive center, interpretive and back-country hikes and astronomy experiences from telescopes located in the canyon.
Hours: Open 7am-sunset
Admission: $8 per car (seven day permit)
5 Cumbres-Toltec Scenic Railyway
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a narrow gauge heritage railroad that runs between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado. It is the highest steam railroad in the nation. Constructed in 1880-81, this cozy train ride traverses the 10,015 ft Cumbres Pass and heads through the dramatic Toltec Gorge. Trains leave from both Chama and Antonito and return bus rides are available.
Hours: Trains run May to October
Admission: Parlor Car: Adults $179; Deluxe Tourist: Adults $139, Children $69; Coach: Adults $95, Children $49
6 Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
North of the old mining town of Silver City are the Gila cliff dwellings: 42 rooms in six caves, built into the cliff face by the Mogollon Native Americans around the year 1300. The monument has a museum and visitor center. Visitors should take note that the tours start at the cliff dwellings themselves, and it takes about a half hour to walk up to them from the trail-head.
Hours: Open 8am-4:30pm
Admission: Families $10, adults $3
7 Billy the Kid Museum
Out on the eastern plains of New Mexico is the small town of Fort Sumner, the resting place of the infamous Billy the Kid. The lanky youth was shot and killed at the nearby Fort Sumner State Monument by Sheriff Pat Garrett at the age of 21. The museum hosts the Kid's rifle, horse-riding equipment and the original Wanted poster. Rumor has it they even have some of his hair. The museum also has a collection of cavalry swords, old firearms and antique cars and trucks. Guided tours are available.
Hours: Open daily 8:30am-5pm
Admission: Adults $5, Seniors $4, Children 7-15 $3
8 Pecos National Historical Park
Pecos National Historical Park encompasses what was once one of the largest Native American pueblos in the state. It was inhabited from early 14th century until 1838, with a population over 2,000. In 1990 the park was expanded to 6,600 acres. Also worth visiting is the nearby Civil War Battlefield of Glorieta Pass.
Hours: Visitor center open 8am-4:30pm (Labor Day to Memorial Day)
Admission: Adults $3
9 The Very Large Array
In the remote rolling hills west of Socorro lies the Karl G Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) - a radio astronomy observatory located on the Plains of San Agustin. The array is used to observe black holes and other astronomical phenomena. There are self-guided walking routes through the site, and the VLA also hosts free, guided tours on the first Saturday of each month. Though reservations aren't required, it is worth checking ahead for times. Tours begin from the VLA Visitor Center.
Hours: Museum open from 8am-4:30pm
10 Valle Vidal
Perhaps the most stunning landscape in New Mexico, the Valle Vidal is a 101,794-acre mountain basin tucked into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains northeast of Taos, New Mexico. Protected from mineral exploitation in 1996, the Valle Vidal offers miles of pristine wilderness. Hiking, camping, fishing and hunting opportunities abound.
Hours: Open year round
11 Wheeler Peak Wilderness
The highest point in New Mexico is the summit of Wheeler Peak, at 13,161 ft. The mountain is next to Moreno Valley near Angel Fire in the Carson National Forest, in the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. The area is home to a variety of wildlife and visitors may be lucky enough to see marmots, pikas, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and golden eagles. Hiking is one of the most popular things to do with several trails, most ranging from 4 mi to 8 mi long.
Due to the elevation, Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area enjoys moderate summer temperatures and cold winters, when temperatures regularly fall below freezing. Most visitors come here during the summer months, which are warm but also a little wet. July and August are the rainy months, so be sure to bring a rain jacket to deal with passing showers.
Hours: Open year-round
12 Taos Ski Valley
Northeast of Taos, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (8,900-12,500 ft), is the magically beautiful and excellently equipped winter sports region of the Taos Ski Valley. There are more than 100 runs covering 1,294 acres, and half of the trails are for expert skiers.
Hours: Open 9am-4pm
Admission: Adults $77, Seniors and Children 17-12 $67, Children 12 and under $47