New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary: 7 & 10-Day Options in the Land of Enchantment

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Article written by: Rebecca
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Looking for a New Mexico road trip itinerary that hits the state’s best sights? Read on!

After visiting more than half the states in the United States, New Mexico is certainly up there in my top 5 favourites. The so-called Land of Enchantment certainly bewitched me, with its diverse landscapes, rich history and culture, and touch of quirkiness.

We spent almost three weeks driving around New Mexico as part of a 4.5-month road trip around the USA.

If you’re ready to find out what makes this state so special, then I’ve pulled together a New Mexico road trip itinerary that’s a hit list of all the places you need to see and all the best things to do in New Mexico.

In this post, I’m sharing my tips on where to go and what to see, hitting what I think are the state’s highlights, including:

  • Albuquerque
  • Taos
  • Santa Fe
  • White Sands National Park
  • Roswell and more!

Before you keep reading on… if you want a downloadable and printable New Mexico road trip planner, then click here to get your copy.

This blog post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you).

Suggested New Mexico itinerary ideas

So, how many days do you need in New Mexico? For the road trip itinerary I’m suggesting here, 10 days or 2 weeks in New Mexico would be ideal, but I’ve also provided two options for 7 days in New Mexico if you’re shorter on time.

A straight two-lane highway leading towards large rock formations under a bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. The landscape on either side of the road is covered with sparse green shrubbery. A New Mexico road trip is a great way to see this state.

Below is how I’d recommend you plan your itinerary to see the best of New Mexico, and then the rest of the post gives you ideas of what to see and do in each location.

If you wish to mix up this itinerary, I’ve included options on where to stay and how long I think you need to spend in each place to make the visit worthwhile. Make this a choose-your-own-adventure itinerary, add or remove destinations – make it your own!

10-day New Mexico itinerary and map

Ten days is a great amount of time to see the state’s highlights. Here’s a suggested itinerary for 10 days in New Mexico:

Day 1: Arrive in Albuquerque and spend the day exploring
Day 2: Head to Taos and book a guided tour at Taos Pueblo for the afternoon
Day 3: Spend a full day enjoying Taos
Day 4: Drive to Santa Fe along the High Road
Day 5: Explore everything that Santa Fe has to offer
Day 6: Drag yourself away from Santa Fe for the drive to Ruidoso, where you’ll spend a night
Day 7: Drive to Carlsbad, stopping in Roswell along the way, and explore Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the afternoon
Day 8: Get on the road early to head to White Sands National Park, before continuing on to Truth or Consequences
Day 9: Drive to Farmington, with stops at the Very Large Array and Pie Town
Day 10: Spend the morning hiking in Bisti Badlands before heading back to Albuquerque

I’ll admit, this is a pretty packed itinerary, but if you plan your trip well you’ll be able to fit everything in.

7-day New Mexico itinerary

For one week in New Mexico, I’d suggest either of the following routes:

DayOption 1Option 2
1Arrive in Albuquerque and hit the road for TaosArrive in Albuquerque, pick up your car and head to Taos
2Spend the day in Taos before leaving for Santa Fe in the late afternoonSpend the day in Taos before leaving for Santa Fe in the late afternoon
3Full day in Santa FeFull day in Santa Fe
4Leave Santa Fe and drive to White Sands National Park, stopping at Roswell along the wayLeave Santa Fe and drive to Carlsbad, stopping at Roswell along the way
5Spend the morning having fun at White Sands National Park, before continuing on to Truth or Consequences for a soak that eveningExplore Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the morning and then drive to White Sands National Park in the afternoon
6Drive to Farmington, with stops at the Very Large Array and Pie TownHang out in White Sands National Park in the morning and then drive to Truth or Consequences to end the day with a soak in the hot springs
7Spend the morning hiking in Bisti Badlands before heading back to AlbuquerqueHead back to Albuquerque and enjoy a day exploring the city

Alright, let’s hit the road on this USA bucket list road trip!

Not bringing your own wheels? You can easily rent a car in New Mexico. I prefer booking on DiscoverCars because I can easily compare and choose the best price and vehicle.

Stop 1: Albuquerque

New Mexico’s largest city is the easiest place to start and end your New Mexico itinerary. It’s got the largest airport in the state, Albuquerque International Sunport, and the major airlines fly in here.

Pick up your rental car and start exploring the city. 

Numerous hot air balloons floating in a clear blue sky. The balloons vary in color and pattern, with some featuring stripes, others with checkered designs, and a few with unique prints. This is the Albuquerque Balloon Festival that's one of the coolest things to see in New Mexico.
The famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Photo by Ian Dooley on Unsplash) 

How many days in Albuquerque?

1-2 days will give you a good overview of New Mexico’s capital city.

Top things to do in Albuquerque

While we didn’t actually stop in Albuquerque during the almost three weeks we spent in New Mexico, I have researched some of the best things to do in Albuquerque:

  • Go sightseeing in Old Town, where’ll you spot gorgeous architecture, including the San Felipe de Neri church, which dates back to 1793.
  • Check out ABQ BioPark, which conveniently houses a botanic garden, zoo and aquarium all in one place.
  • Sip some local wines at gorgeous Casa Rondeña Winery, a highlight of any Albuquerque itinerary.
  • Watch the sunset from atop Sandia Peak, accessible by car or the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway.
  • Fan of the Breaking Bad series? Then you’ll have fun on this Breaking Bad tour – it’s even done in an RV! – to some of the key filming locations.
  • Get your first taste of New Mexican food – El Pinto Restaurant and Cantina is highly recommended, as is Little Anita’s. Or try the Native American cuisine at Indian Pueblo Kitchen, where you can sample waffles made with blue corn and quinoa or fry bread with local honey.

If you can, time your trip to New Mexico with the world’s largest hot air balloon festival, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, held each October. During the festival, the sky is filled with hundreds of colourful balloons, and there’s a lot going on around the city to keep visitors entertained. 2024 dates: 5-13 October

If you’re not here during the festival, the Albuquerque Balloon Museum shares some of the history of this mode of transport. Or you can take sunrise hot air balloon ride.

Where to stay in Albuquerque 

Hotel Chaco, in the heart of the historic Old Town, is a boutique hotel with Native American New Mexican artworks on display in the rooms.

Rooms at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm are comfortable and gorgeous – start the day with breakfast at the on-site restaurant and then bike through the lavender fields in the afternoon.

Sandia Peak Inn is a colourful motel great for those on a budget.

“Well! Well! Well! This is wonderful! No one told me it was like this.”
– Artist Georgia O’Keeffe on arriving in New Mexico

Stop 2: Taos

Driving time: 134 miles / 2.5 hours

Taos is where we actually started our New Mexico road trip and what a place to begin!

This gorgeous little town is home to many artists, which gives it a relaxed, creative vibe. It’s also where you’ll find Taos Pueblo, an ancient Native American community that’s been around for around 1,000 years.

A smiling woman - the author of this article - with sunglasses and a denim jacket standing on a rocky overlook. She is facing the camera with a river and rugged canyon walls in the background. This photo was taken at Taos Canyon in New Mexico.

How many days needed?

You need at least two days in Taos to see everything. But I could easily have spent a week here!

Best things to do in Taos

  • Check out the amazing views over the Taos Gorge. The sunrises and sunsets here are a must see in New Mexico, when the soft light hits the all the right spots.
A deep canyon - Taos Gorge in New Mexico - with a narrow river running through it, viewed from a high vantage point. The canyon walls are steep and rocky, with sparse vegetation, and the sky is dusky, suggesting either dawn or dusk.
Taos Gorge
  • Go hunting for hot springs – Black Rock Hot Springs is right on the river (and river flow determines whether you can access it and the temperature of the springs) or you can experience the commercial springs at Ojo Caliente.
A close-up of a rock wall with graffiti indicating directions to "Black Rock Hot Springs" with an arrow. Below, another message reads "NO LITTER" in green paint. One of the best things to do in Taos, New Mexico, is soak in hot springs.
  • Visit the Taos Earthship, a fascinating facility with homes made of natural and recycled materials like tyres and bottles, and learn about this global sustainable architecture movement.
  • Spend a few hours learning about Native American history at Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. Tours are led by a guide who lives in the Pueblo. There are also many talented artisans selling gorgeous jewellery and homewares from their houses – I bought a delicately engrave bracelet that I adore.
A traditional adobe building complex with multiple levels, wooden ladders, and several windows. The building is set against a backdrop of tall mountains and a clear sky. This is the interesting Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.
Taos Pueblo
  • Head up to Taos Ski Valley. In winter this ski village is pumping with avid skiers and snowboarders, while in summer you can hike and fish up here. 
  • Grab a drink and a meal at Adobe Bar at Taos Inn or Alley Cantina, both in the centre of the town. Or check out the beers on offer at Taos Mesa Brewing
A historic plaza with a large tree in the foreground, adobe buildings, and a clear sky. Signs and flags are visible, and the place appears calm with no visible people. Taos should definitely be on your New Mexico road trip itinerary.
Taos plaza

Where to stay in Taos

We stayed at this gorgeous little casita in Arroyo Seco, just a short drive out of Taos. It was cosy and warm and we loved sitting in the hot tub in the snow!

If that property isn’t available, there are many more gorgeous homes to rent in Taos, many in adobe style and with hot tubs.

Close to Taos Plaza, Casa Benavides Inn has rooms with colourful blankets and a fantastic breakfast.

Stop 3: Santa Fe

Driving time: 1.5 hours / 70 miles

You can take the High Road between Taos and Santa Fe, stopping at interesting towns and churches along the way. This route does take a little longer but won’t add too much extra time to your New Mexico road trip.

If I thought Taos was my love, then Santa Fe comes a very, very close second.

The country’s oldest state capital city is arty and historic and unpretentiously cool. Santa Fe is one of the best places to visit in New Mexico, so make sure this small city is on your itinerary.

A charming adobe building in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a bright blue door and matching trim. The house is surrounded by a tall adobe wall, and there are lush plants and a tree casting a shadow on the facade.

How many days needed?

To really experience the best of Santa Fe and its surrounds, plan to stay here for at least 2 days.

Top things to do in Santa Fe

  • Amble around 400-year-old Santa Fe Plaza, admiring the historic architecture. This should be one of the first Santa Fe attractions you visit.
  • Shop for unique, Native American-made silver and turquoise jewellery out the front of the Palace of the Governors. There’s also pottery, blankets and other artisan goods on sale.
  • Try a few of the specialties on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail – Santa Fe takes its margaritas seriously.
  • Take a peek inside Loretto Chapel and puzzle over its mysterious spiral staircase.
  • Experience the surreal, immersive brilliance of Meow Wolf. Climb through a washing machine or refrigerator door to enter fantastical worlds.
The colorful and stylized "Meow Wolf" sign on the facade of a building, with abstract figures resembling bats in flight above the lettering. Meow Wolf is one of the coolest places to visit in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  • Wander around the Railyard District, a completely revamped area that’s home to restaurants, a brewery, galleries and more. On Saturdays, vendors convene here for the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
The Santa Fe Railyard area with people walking around, an old water tower with the text "Santa Fe Railyard" clearly visible, and a cloudy sky overhead.
  • Duck in to the many galleries and studios along Canyon Road. Grab tapas at El Farol while you’re here – they have a great happy hour daily from 3-5pm!
  • Take your pick of the museums on Museum Hill: the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art are all great additions to a Santa Fe itinerary.
  • Eat! Santa Fe has some great restaurants. Our faves were dinner at Paloma, a Mexican kitchen and bar, the casual and friendly Tune Up Café, and the James Beard Award-winning restaurant The Shed.
  • For an afternoon pick-me-up, try the thick, velvety hot chocolate from Kakawa Chocolate House.

Day trips from Santa Fe

One of the highlights of our time in Santa Fe was hiking in the incredible landscapes nearby. As well as the things to do in Santa Fe that I’ve listed above, I highly recommend taking a day trip or two out of the city.

Bandelier National Monument: There is human presence in this area going back over 11,000 years. See ancient petroglyphs and take a peek inside the dwellings that are carved into the rock face. Website

Close-up of ancient cave dwellings at Bandeleir National Monument in New Mexico, with multiple small openings in a cliff face, showing signs of erosion and weathering.
Previously occupied homes carved out of the rock face at Bandelier National Monument

Tsankawi: This is actually a section of Bandelier but it’s completely separate and so very different (and a bit tricky to find! Instructions are here, even though we still had to drive back and forth a few times).

This trail cuts along a mesa, where at times you’ll be walking on a narrow, winding path that has been carved out by water and footsteps over thousands of year. There are cavates, petroglyphs and ladders to climb. It was one of our favourite walks – and because it’s harder to find, there were fewer people.

Warning: don’t do this walk if there’s the chance of thunderstorms or rain.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: One of the most incredible places I have ever visited, it’s easy to see how this place gets its name (Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Keresan language of the pueblo).

Cone-shaped formations that resemble tents jut up from the earth, the result of millions-of-years-old volcanic eruptions. You’ll also walk through canyons that have been carved out over millions of years. It’s a reminder of just how mind-blowing nature is. Please note that Kasha-Katuwe is currently closed to the public.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, featuring unique cone-shaped rock formations with horizontal striations under a bright blue sky. This is a must-visit on your New Mexico itinerary.
The mind-blowing Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

If you leave early and are efficient with your day, it is possible to visit all three sites in one (long) day.

Where to stay in Santa Fe

The rooms at The Inn of Five Graces are New Mexico luxe: colourful furnishings, adobe fireplaces, mosaic bathrooms.

The king rooms at Casa de Tres Lunas each have fireplaces and warm furnishings.

Stop 4: Ruidoso

Driving distance: 3.5 hours / 190 miles

On the way to Ruidoso, stop in Madrid, a former ghost town that’s been revitalised as an artistic hub.

Leave the desert behind and head into the mountain resort town of Ruidoso. Set in the Sierra Blanca mountain range, Ruidoso is a little off the beaten track – although it’s well known by the skiers who flock here in winter.

A mural on a building with "RUIDOSO New Mexico Sierra Blanca" depicting a mountain landscape within a large circle, and the rest of the wall in adobe style.

How many days needed?

One day is plenty to spend in Ruidoso – more if you want to get out and go hiking or skiing.

Top things to do in Ruidoso

  • Hike around Grindstone Lake for views of the Sierra Blancas. It’s especially nice at sunset – expect to see a few deer out enjoying dinner.
A serene lake with the moon visible in the twilight sky, surrounded by a forested landscape reflecting in the calm water. This is Grindstone Lake in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
Grindstone Lake at sunset

Where to stay in Ruidoso

We stayed at Shadow Mountain Lodge and Cabins so we could have a kitchen and laundry facilities. Deer would often wander through the property in the evening.

The rooms at West Winds Lodge & Condos look cosy.

Stop 5: Roswell

Driving distance: 1.5 hours / 75 miles

If there’s one thing that comes to mind for most people when they hear Roswell, it’s aliens.

This kitschy town has capitalised on being the location of an alleged alien spacecraft crash landing in 1947 and turned that interest into a booming tourist attraction. It’s a fun stop on this New Mexico road trip.

The iconic "Welcome to Roswell" sign featuring a spaceship and silhouettes of cows, against a clear blue sky with directional signs in the background. Roswell is one of the quirkiest places to visit in New Mexico!

How many days needed?

Unless you’re a hardcore UFO fanatic, then a few hours in Roswell is plenty. Roswell is one of the quirkiest places to visit in New Mexico.

Top Roswell New Mexico attractions

  • Have a look at the International UFO Museum and Research Center (more a museum than “research centre”), dedicated to informing people about the 1947 “Roswell Incident”. There’s kitschy alien surgery displays and an alien ship take off and landing and it’s all a lot of fun.
A dimly lit exhibit featuring three life-sized gray alien figures standing in front of a mock-up of a silver flying saucer within an indoor setting. This is the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico - a quirky place to add to your New Mexico itinerary!
  • Snap a few funny photos at Alien Zone.
A man standing by a grill with a brown alien figure seated nearby in a casual backyard setting, creating a humorous tableau of an alien barbecue. This is Alien Zone in Roswell, a must-visit in New Mexico if you're interested in UFOs!
The photo opps at Alien Zone are quirky, to say the least!

Where to stay in Roswell

I recommend keeping on the road and staying the night in Carlsbad instead of Roswell (or overnighting near White Sands National Park if you’re doing the 7-day New Mexico itinerary).

However, if you do want to stay overnight in Roswell, we found Baymont by Wyndham Roswell to be clean, comfortable and friendly. You’ll find that most of the hotels here are chain names.

A floor inset with a graphic saying "Hello Earthlings" with a cartoonish alien face, located in Roswell, NM, as indicated by the text on the floor, with two pairs of feet standing on either side of the greeting.

While visiting New Mexico you’ll hear a common question: “red or green?” The waiter is asking if you’d like red chiles or green chiles. To try both – highly recommended! – just reply, “Christmas”, which means you’ll get a mix of both red and green.

Stop 6: Carlsbad

Driving distance: 1.25 hours / 76 miles

The “Pride of the Pecos” is most famous for the network of ancient caves that runs beneath the earth’s surface. But Carlsbad is also a historic city worth the trip.

The interior of Carlsbad Cavern showing an array of natural stalactites and stalagmites illuminated against the dark backdrop of the cave. This is one of the best places to visit in New Mexico for people interested in the natural world.

How many days needed?

Plan to spend one day in Carlsbad.

Top things to do in Carlsbad

  • Explore magnificent Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the Chihuahua Desert – hit the hiking trails above ground or delve underground to see some of the more than 119 caves that make up the national park. It’s one of the top New Mexico tourist attractions. Note that reservations are currently required to enter the cavern, see the website for more information.
  • See prairie dogs, roadrunners, mountain lions and more at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park.
  • Stroll along the Pecos Riverwalk.

Where to stay

I’ve previously stayed at The Trinity, which has a lot of character and stylish rooms. It’s in a historic building that once was a bank.

Other options in Carlsbad are chain hotel brands like the Home2Suites by Hilton Carlsbad or TownePlace Suites by Marriott.

Stop 7: White Sands National Park

Driving distance: 3 hours / 161 miles

One of the most unique national parks in the United States is White Sands National Park. Designated a national park in 2019, this is the world’s largest gypsum dune field.

I was blown away by the stark beauty of this place. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in New Mexico to experience nature at its most surreal.

A vast expanse of white sand dunes under a bright blue sky, with sparse vegetation and distant mountains in White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

On the way to White Sands, the drive takes you through the gorgeous Lincoln State Forest. You can also stop in for a cheesy photo in front of the giant pistachio at Pistachio Land – certainly one of the quirkiest things to see in New Mexico! – and pick up some pistachios, brittle and fudge. 

Two people and a dog - the author, her husband and her dog - posing in front of a large sculptural representation of a pistachio at Pistachio Land in New Mexico.

How many days needed?

Dedicate at least half a day at White Sands before moving on to the next stop (we stayed overnight in nearby Alamogordo because of the time we arrived).

A person - the author of this article - standing on the crest of a white sand dune, looking into the distance with a dynamic sky of white clouds and blue sky above. This is White Sands National Park, a place that should definitely be on any New Mexico road trip itinerary.

Tips for visiting White Sands National Monument

  • Entry fees: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 days (get an America the Beautiful Pass if you’re planning to visit three or more national parks in a year).
  • If you can, plan to be in White Sands for sunset – the views across the white sand are amazing.
  • You can hire sledding boards to go sledding down the dunes – it’s a LOT of fun for young and old!
  • Make sure you put on plenty of sunscreen – you’ll easily get burnt from the sun bouncing off the white sand dunes, even on cloudy or cold days.
  • There are barbecues and shaded tables around the park, so bring some food or snacks to take a break.
  • The road to White Sands is sometimes closed because of missile testing (yes really!), which may delay your entry into the park.
  • Travelling New Mexico with your pet? White Sands NP is pet-friendly!
Picnic shelters partially buried in white sand dunes, with a mountain range in the distance and overcast sky above, in White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

If you do stay in the area for a night, then there are plenty of things to do in Alamogordo:

  • Check out the New Mexico Museum of Space History has a museum and planetarium – it’s affiliated with the Smithsonian.
  • Train aficionados will love the Toy Train Depot, a model train museum.
  • Learn about America’s missile and space activity at the White Sands Missile Range Museum (there are a few ID hurdles to jump through to visit, however).
  • Get outdoors at Desert Foothills Park or Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.
  • Grab dessert from Caliche’s Frozen Custard, a friendly, neon-lit ice cream store on N White Sands Boulevard.
A colorful mural with the message "Greetings from Alamogordo, New Mexico," featuring various images representing the state, including landscapes, wildlife, and cultural icons.

Where to stay near White Sands National Monument

You can plan your itinerary so you stop here on your way from Carlsbad to Truth or Consequences, but if you do stay overnight, there are several options in Alamogordo, a 20-minute drive from White Sands.

Most of the hotels here are basic motels or chain hotels. You can’t miss the huge neon sign of the White Sands Motel, while we stayed at The Classic Desert Aire Hotel, which was a basic, comfortable motel.

Stop 8: Truth or Consequences

Driving distance: 2 hours / 121 miles

Truth or Consequences has to be one of the quirkiest places in the USA. I mean, a town that renamed itself after a TV show just to win a competition? You know this is going to be an interesting place.

Couple that with a friendly, small-town vibe, soothing hot springs and lovely adobe buildings, and T or C (as the locals call it) is a must-visit.

A whimsical indoor scene with a "TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES CITY LIMIT" sign, with an elevation detail, placed above a brightly painted wooden bench and a small table with a chair. Don't miss the small town of Truth or Consequences on your New Mexico road trip.

A must-stop on the way to Truth or Consequences is the town of Hatch, also known as the “chile capital of the world”. Stop for a green chile cheeseburger (the ultimate New Mexico road trip food) at Sparky’s or chile at the Pepper Pot.

A plate of traditional New Mexican cuisine with an enchilada smothered in cheese and red sauce, served with sides of rice and refried beans, topped with a slice of tomato and shredded lettuce.

How many days needed?

You could spend several days in Truth or Consequences soaking your worries away, but for this itinerary, one day is enough.

Top things to do in Truth or Consequences

  • You’ll need some downtime on your New Mexico road trip. Soak in the hot springs that the town is famous for. We loved the huge tubs at Pelican Spa and the riverside tranquility of the private spas at Riverbend Hot Springs overlooking the Rio Grande (book for sunset if you can). La Paloma Hot Springs and Spa is also popular. These are some of the best places to visit in New Mexico for true relaxation.
Two individuals relaxing in an outdoor hot tub in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, with a scenic view of mountains in the background, partially obscured by wooden fencing and foliage.
Relaxing at Riverbend Hot Springs
  • Take a tour of Spaceport America – and see where Richard Branson took off from on the inaugural Virgin Galactic spaceflight.
  • Go hiking in Elephant Butte Lake State Park or Caballo Lake State Park.
  • Grab a drink at the friendly Truth or Consequences Brewing Co.
  • Pull up to A&B Drive In for a burger and a shake in your car.

Where to stay in Truth or Consequences

We stayed in one of the huge, colourful rooms at Pelican Spa – which meant we could use the hot springs tubs whenever we liked.

Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa also has on-site natural springs spas.

Stop 9: Very Large Array

Driving distance: 2 hours / 122 miles

Stop by the historic town of Socorro to see the San Miguel Mission and even explore some nearby ghost towns.

Take a drive by the Very Large Array, a radio astronomy observatory that you might recognise from the Jodie Foster film Contact.

A large radio telescope dish stands solitary against the backdrop of a twilight sky, with hues of orange and blue over the New Mexico landscape. This is the Very Large Array in New Mexico.
Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash 

One of the top New Mexico tourist attractions, you can tour the facility, which includes a documentary narrated by Jodie Foster herself and the opportunity to get up close to these very large objects. You need to pre-book tickets, which have timed entry.

You’ll need about an hour here. If you’re short on time or radio telescopes just aren’t your thing, you can just drive by and take a peek from the road (which is what we did).

Stop 10: Pie Town 

Driving distance: 40 mins / 40 miles

When I found out there was a town in New Mexico called Pie Town and that it indeed is famous for its pies, you better believe I planned our New Mexico itinerary around a stop here.

A weathered wooden sign that reads "Pie Town," indicating the historic community in New Mexico known for its pies, set against a bright blue sky.

This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town has three main pie shops that draw tourists in from all around. Plan your trip so you can be here for a morning or afternoon tea of flaky pastry goodness at Pie-O-Neer, Pie Town Pies or Pie Town Café. There’s little competition between the three businesses, and they actually open on different days. I’m not sure if this is to share around the business, but you’ll find at least one shop open when you drive through. 

The stores also serve burgers, sandwiches and the like if you arrive around lunchtime.

Pie Town is one of my favourite places to see in New Mexico.

Stop 11: Bisti Badlands

Driving distance: 3.5 hours / 175 miles

It’s hard to describe the landscape of the Bisti Badlands – also known as Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.

The stark, lunar-like landscape sprouts mushroom-shaped rock formations, while other rocks look like giant dinosaur eggs. This landscape is spectacular and makes the long trip here worthwhile.

A landscape of unique rock formations with layers of sediment, creating a dramatic and rugged terrain under a partly cloudy sky. This is Bisti Badlands, one of the most interesting places for your New Mexico itinerary.
The otherworldly landscape at Bisti Badlands

How many days needed?

Getting to Bisti Badlands is a bit of a trek, so plan on being here for a full day to get in some hiking. It’s one of the most beautiful places in New Mexico if you can make the effort to get here.

Top things to do in the area

  • Go hiking in the 45,000-acre Bisti Badlands. The tricky thing is that the trails in Bisti aren’t marked. It is easy to get disoriented in this remote area (trust me – there are few signs and there were several times my husband and I had to look around to figure out where we were) so come prepared with a GPS (or have a trail saved to your phone), plenty of water and food. There’s no phone service out here, nor are there toilets.
  • Take a guided hike, which may save you from getting lost! Navajo Tours USA runs guided tours of Bisti Badlands which come with the added benefit of a knowledgeable guide who’ll teach you about the geology and Navajo history as well.
  • Learn about the Ancestral Puebloan people at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Ranger-guided tours are offered from May to October. The park is also an International Dark Sky Park and has night sky programs. It is remote out here and the road is rough, so come prepared with a full tank for the car and water and snacks for you. If visiting in summer, come out here in the morning to avoid the heat of the day.
An ancient rock face at Chaco Cultural Natural Historic Park with intricate petroglyphs, showcasing the artistic expression of indigenous peoples from centuries past.
Rock carvings at Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  • See ancient ruins at Aztec Ruins National Monument, where you can see a ceremonial Great Kiva.
  • Head to Shiprock Pinnacle at sunset for views of this giant rock formation. Shiprock – known to the Navajo as “Tsé Bit’ a’í”, meaning “rock with wings” – resembles a ship and rises nearly 1,583 feet (482 metres) above the ground. Note that the area is sacred, so you can only view and photograph the pinnacle from the paved roadway.
  • Check out Three Rivers Brewery in nearby Farmington, the best town to base yourself in near to the Bisti Badlands.

Where to stay

Base yourself in nearby Farmington, about an hour away from the Bisti Badlands. We stayed at Home2Suites by Hilton Farmington.

Casa Blanca Inn and Suites is a B&B in lovely gardens.

End point of the New Mexico road trip: Albuquerque

Driving distance: 3 hours / 184 miles

On your final day, head back to Albuquerque and finish up your trip. Spend a few hours here ticking off anything you didn’t get to do when you first arrived, then return your rental car and head home.

Tips for a New Mexico trip itinerary

This is one of the coolest USA road trips and now one of my favourite states. Travel in New Mexico is pretty easy. Most of the places I’ve listed in this itinerary are on paved highways, with some of the more remote areas on fairly well maintained dirt roads.

How to get to New Mexico 

We came to New Mexico from Texas so we did a bit of a different loop to what I’ve suggested in this New Mexico itinerary. 

However, the best way to arrive in New Mexico is via Albuquerque, which has the largest airport in the state. 

Santa Fe has an airport, but the only direct flights are to Dallas (American Airlines), Denver (United) and Phoenix (American Airlines), so you’ll need to connect through one of these cities. 

A cluster of red chili peppers hanging to dry outside a building, reflecting the culinary and cultural significance of chilies in New Mexico.

How to do this New Mexico road trip

The best way to experience this New Mexico itinerary is to with your own car. Having your own wheels gives you the flexibility to go at your own pace and explore more of the state.

When we drove this route we were in my husband’s beloved F150. Depending where you’re coming from, you can either bring your own car or there are rentals available to pick up in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Check Discover Cars to compare vehicles and pricing.

You could also rent an RV or a campervan to get around New Mexico. This means you only need to pay once for your transport and accommodation. I like RVShare for RV rentals (it’s sort of like an Airbnb for RVs, where people rent out their campervans, RVs and motorhomes when they’re not using them themselves).

Best time to visit New Mexico

Mexico is a great state to visit year-round, but it’s important to know that the state has very different climates in the north and south. With mountains and deserts and high altitudes, it definitely pays to check the weather forecast for your trip, because you may have to pack for vastly different temperatures in just a week!

The best time to visit New Mexico is between September and November, when you’ll get milder weather that’s not freezing but not scorching either. On the other hand, it’s also the busiest time of year to visit – especially when some of the popular festivals, like the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, are on.

We visited New Mexico in early May and had lovely sunny blue skies for most days – but it snowed in Taos which we hadn’t expected or planned for! The rest of our trip was pleasant, with mostly warm (and some hot) days and usually brisk evenings.

A person relaxes in an outdoor hot tub, surrounded by snow-covered ground and an adobe-style house, in a serene New Mexico winter setting.
Snow in Taos!

What to pack for a visit to New Mexico

Here are a few items I recommend you pack for a visit to New Mexico. I also have a full road trip packing list guide.

Final thoughts on a New Mexico road trip

New Mexico is one of my favourite USA states. With an intriguing mix of landscapes, Native American history and under-the-radar experiences, it’s easy to see why this state is called the Land of Enchantment. Plan your own New Mexico road trip itinerary to see it for yourself – and don’t be surprised if you fall prey to its magic.

PS. Don’t forget to download this article as a New Mexico road trip planner you can print!

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Heading to New Mexico? What’s on your road trip itinerary?

Related posts

Before you go… here are some more USA road trips you might enjoy:


  • Book flights to and around the USA online with Skyscanner. I like this site because it shows me which dates are cheaper.
  • Find a great hotel in the USA. Check prices on and Expedia online.
  • Check out the huge range of day tours throughout the USA on GetYourGuide or Viator. There’s something for everyone.
  • A copy of the Lonely Planet guide to the USA will be handy.
  • One thing I always purchase is travel insurance! Travel Insurance Master allows you to compare across multiple policy providers, while SafetyWing is great for long-term travellers and digital nomads.


Don’t forget to save this New Mexico road trip itinerary to Pinterest!


I'm a travel junkie who started dreaming about seeing the world from a very young age. I've visited more than 40 countries and have a Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management. A former expat, I've lived in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Argentina and the United States. I share travel resources, tips and stories based on my personal experiences, and my goal is to make travel planning just that bit easier.

2 thoughts on “New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary: 7 & 10-Day Options in the Land of Enchantment”

  1. Hi Rebecca,
    This is very useful BLOG towards the planning of a trip to the New Mexico Road Trip Itinerary! Thx a lot for this handy BLOG!
    I would like to make a suggestion of traveling from the Bisti Badlands to Taos to Santa Fe to Albuquerque as the trip ending and starting from Albuquerque to Ruidoso and the rest of the trip the same as you have mentioned in the BLOG. This route could potentially save 2+ hours of travel time, miles and gas! Do you see any issues of doing this way with a little tweak? Are we missing anything by doing this way? Please let me know.

    • I don’t see why not! The itinerary can be completely flexible depending on where you start and end – and if you find a way to save some travel time, even better! Have a great trip – it really is such a fantastic state.


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