When my family found ourselves transplanted from the sprawling metropolis of the greater Houston area to the wide-open spaces of Artesia, we took a long look down the arroyo and asked, “What can we see next?”
New Mexico was uncharted territory for us and we couldn’t wait to start exploring. We have spent the past three years road tripping in every direction. We’ve explored the every day trip and long weekend destination, with a few ambitious road trips sprinkled in here and there. Here is a list of my family’s top ten New Mexico road trip destinations.
1. Cloudcroft, New Mexico
Sure, you’ve been to Cloudcroft. Only an hour and a half from Artesia, Cloudcroft is where most Artesians go for a quick jaunt to cool off and rejuvenate in the fresh mountain air. Cloudcroft, however, has a few local gems that are worth an extra look.
When driving west on Hwy 82, right after the tunnel ends there is the Tunnel Vista Observation Site. The view of the Tularosa Basin is worthy of an Instagram story but be sure to follow the steep trail to the bottom of Fresnal Canyon where you will find an oasis, complete with flowing springs, deep pools, and waterfalls.
Another local Cloudcroft fave is strictly a winter activity, so do your snow dance now. Pack a lunch, ski helmets, and a sled/snow tube/trash can lid and head down Sunspot Highway to Upper Karr Forest Service Road. Free and with multiple ‘tracks” to accommodate all levels of bravado, this snow hill is the best we’ve found in New Mexico.
Whether you spend the day chasing waterfalls or playing in the snow, a finale at Cloudcroft Brewing Company is in order. They’ve got a short and sweet menu, but please go straight for a pepperoni and green chile pizza and a local brew.
2. Silver City, New Mexico
As the gateway to the Gila National Forest, Silver City is Santa Fe’s uninhibited, funky little sister. Pack your bikes and cruise up Main Street for grub created with locally grown ingredients. If you like to give (or receive ha!) unique gifts, Silver City is a gold mine for artisan created jewelry, tapestries, and ceramics.
Once you have your fill of food and culture, hit the road to the Gila Catwalk Trail. Approximately five miles from Glenwood, New Mexico, the Catwalk Recreation Area is a great place to spend the day. The Catwalk is a raised walkway trail that winds its way through the canyon, well over 10 feet from the water. We were enchanted and thrilled with the rushing water below. After heading back for a picnic, my boys stripped to their skivvies and spent hours making dams in Whitewater Creek.
3. Pie Town, New Mexico
Pie lovers, this next spot is for you! A pit stop for hunters and Continental Divide through-hikers, Pie Town does not disappoint the hungry. We tried a burger, fries, and pie (of course), from The Gatherin’ Place. The food was excellent and the company even better. We met “Patches” who was walking her way north on the Continental Divide Trail. She said the pie was the best she’d ever eaten, and I’m sure that wasn’t just the break from dehydrated meals and granola bars talking. Pie Town’s sense of community is unmatched as well; each of the four pie shops has mutually agreed to rotate days of operation so that everyone gets an opportunity for business. If you’d like to do your own Best of Pie Town taste test, be sure to go to the annual Pie Festival in September when all four shops are open at once.
4. Very Large Array – Observatory in Socorro County, New Mexico
On your way to or from Pie Town, stop at the Very Large Array for a Contact-esque photo shoot and some insight into the stars. The VLA is the most advanced radio telescope array on Earth. The facility offers self-guided walking tours, a gift shop, and First and Third Saturday tours guided by the NRAO staff.
5. La Ventana Arch – Nature Preserve in Cibola County, NM
Located near Grants, New Mexico, La Ventana Arch is just one example of New Mexico’s stunning geological diversity. The trail is accessible for all levels of hikers. For the more adventurous, hop the fence and boulder up a giant rock for an arch photo op. After the arch, take a page out of the CDT hikers’ trail map and follow series of rock piles called cairns through extreme terrain unyielding to the trampling of hooves and boots alike. Cairn hiking through the lava fields of the El Malpais National Monument is a challenge not soon forgotten.
6. Valley of Fires Recreation Area – Carrizozo, New Mexico
While we’re on the subject of extreme terrain and lava fields, take the scenic route to Albuquerque and stop in at Valley of Fires Recreation Area. A paved walking path guides you through the wonderfully preserved lava fields.
7. Jemez Mountains – Jemez Springs, New Mexico
Tucked into the hillsides of the Jemez Mountains is the quaint and kitsch village of Jemez Springs. Motorcycle gangs, archaeologists, and Zen seekers converge on the narrow streets in harmony because Jemez Springs offers a little something for everyone. Whether you choose to sip a margarita on the patio of Los Ojos Bar and Grill, run by former Olympians, soak in the natural hot springs turned spas, or explore the ruins of a 700-year-old village, Jemez Springs is sure to please everyone in the crowd.
If you are into the solitude of nature, the Jemez Mountains offer a few off the grid hot springs. Best in the summer is McCauley Hot Springs. I’d use the term “hot” here loosely. These springs are lukewarm but still a treat after a beautiful two-mile hike through the woods.
Spence Hot Springs is warmer with a tiered pool and a sauna-like cave. Prepare for encounters with woodland creatures and Instagram models.
Favored by true nature enthusiasts and nudists alike, San Antonio Hot Springs is the most remote and hottest of the three springs. While there is a road leading to San Antonio Springs, the road is passable for 4×4 vehicles only and is often blocked by felled logs and deep ruts. Fear not though, the five-mile walk is the perfect deterrent for the fair-weathered soakers and of the three springs, you’re most likely to find solitude here.
If angling is your angle, Fenton Lake is a mountain haven for fishermen. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout and is home to German brown trout. There is onsite camping, fishing from the bank or on a canoe. A great spot for hiking, biking, and cross country skiing too. Just down the road is Seven Springs fish hatchery, where my own kids have reeled in 10-inch rainbow trout by the second or third cast. Adults, don’t get too excited though, fishing at the hatchery is for kids only.
8. Valles Caldera National Preserve Created by volcanic eruption millions of years ago, Valles Caldera is the premier mountain meadow fly fishing spot in New Mexico. If you get sick of untangling your line from meadow grass, Valles Caldera is also renowned for wildlife viewing. Elk abound and you may even catch a glimpse of a bobcat or black bear.
9. Bandelier National Monument – Los Alamos, New Mexico
Get immersed in the home and culture of the ancient peoples of New Mexico at Bandelier National Monument. Our family did the main loop trail, a walking trail complete with ladders to many of the lower cave dwellings. The bravest of us climbed up to the Alcove House set 140 feet above the bottom of Frijoles Canyon.
10. Bandelier National Monument – Los Alamos, New Mexico
Perched on a peninsula high above Pueblo Canyon, the town of Los Alamos is straight out of Thoreau’s imagination. Pedestrian-friendly, the brisk mountain air and college campus feel makes you want to grab your notebook and hit the Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos Nature Center, or Manhattan Project National Historic Park. Be sure to stop by Fleur de Lys for crepes and coffee and finish your day walking around Ashley Pond.
So if you have a day or four, load up the car and take off. Lifelong memories are to be made, adventures to be had, and relationships to be strengthened. There is nothing like a road trip to bring a family together. New Mexico is calling and you must go!
For more travel tips, tricks, or inspiration, follow us at @foxfamilytravels on Instagram or www.foxfamilytravels.com.