Looking to expand your New Mexico adventure? Fill up your itinerary with some of the best day trips from Albuquerque, NM. With volcanic sites, artsy towns, and remnants of ancient civilizations nearby, New Mexico’s biggest city is one of the most interesting travel destinations in the United States.
On a short drive from Albuquerque, you can explore Native American history at Acoma Pueblo and Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument or shop for intricate handcrafted gifts in Taos, Madrid, and Santa Fe. Or discover the magic of the New Mexico landscape at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument and Valles Caldera National Preserve.
Ready to ramp up your New Mexico trip? Uncover the spectacular surroundings of the Duke City with this complete guide to the most epic Albuquerque side trips!
Top-rated Albuquerque side trips
Want to explore 2,000 years of culture? Acoma Pueblo is the oldest continually inhabited city in North America. Also known as Sky City, it’s 7,000 feet above sea level and sits on top of a huge sandstone mesa, with panoramic views that stretch across the New Mexico sands. Acoma Pueblo was founded in the 12th century, but the community still exists there today.
It’ll take you around an hour to drive to Acoma Pueblo from Albuquerque. The area is home to 6,000 people spread across the villages. Take a tour of the pueblo from a born and bred Acoma resident, who will give you deep insights into the history and culture of the city.
Explore the fascinating history of the 17th-century church, San Esteban del Rey. The Franciscans had the Acoma people build it while colonizing the area. Today it’s seen as a shining example of the mix between Spanish Colonial and Puebloan architecture.
Take a city adventure to the vibrant Santa Fe, an hour away from Albuquerque. If you think you’ve run out of ideas for what to see in New Mexico, you’ll find tons of inspiration in “The City Different.” The cultural mash-up of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican influences in Santa Fe will give you a varied and exciting itinerary for your Albuquerque day trip.
Kick off your day in the Santa Fe Plaza. One of the most popular Santa Fe attractions, the 17th-century square, now a National Historic Landmark, immerses you in the artistic spirit of the city. Terracotta buildings contrast with colorful murals adorning the surrounding columns and archways. Some of Santa Fe’s most important monuments and galleries are here.
Art will be at the soul of your Santa Fe trip. Explore it further in the galleries on the historic Canyon Road or head up to Museum Hill and explore some of the city’s world-renowned museums.
Indigenous and local artists flock to Santa Fe to sell beautiful handmade creations. Pick up unique gifts from the markets at Santa Fe Railyard and the Palace of the Governors. The New Mexico History Museum vets the vendors, so you can rest assured you’re not wasting your money on cheap tourist souvenirs!
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Ready for a hike? Visit the breathtaking Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Wander beneath sweeping rock formations as you discover New Mexico’s natural beauty. The ride here is under an hour of drive time, so well worth carving some time out for during your stay in Albuquerque.
Depending on your fitness level, you can take the Cave Loop or the Canyon Trail. Both will give you an outstanding experience. The more challenging Canyon Trail takes you to the top of the mesa for views across the Rio Grande Valley and Sangre de Cristo.
Walking around here will feel like you’re in a fantasy novel. Make your way through towering basalt corridors and mysterious stone pyramids. Volcanic eruptions created the otherworldly rock cones over 6 million years ago. It’s still an outdoor laboratory today for people to get a deeper insight into geology and natural beauty.
Keep your eyes peeled for black volcanic glass on the floor of the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. They’re locally known as “Apache tears.”
If you went hard at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks the day before, you’ll want a relaxing day to soothe those sore muscles. Take the one hour and 20-minute drive from Albuquerque to Jemez Springs. This small village is a great opportunity to disconnect for the day.
The area is full of hot springs famous for their therapeutic power. Soak in the warm indulgence of mountain minerals. Jemez Hot Springs, also known as the “giggling springs,” has four different pool temperatures infused with over 17 minerals.
Sink into even deeper relaxation at the Jemez Springs Bath House. It’s on the site where a geyser was established and has been helping people unwind for over 100 years.
The people of Jemez Springs are proud of their heritage. Explore its rich history further at the Jemez Historic Site. Visit the ruins of the 500-year-old Indian village and understand how the Jemez people lived.
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Ready for some more outdoor action? Jemez Springs sits in the Santa Fe National Forest. Pretty trails dotted with impressive wildlife snake along the Jemez River. Explore the hiking routes in the area or head up to the impressive Battleship Rock.
Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the idyllic town of Taos. Under two hours and 30 minutes from Albuquerque, this bohemian area is a must-visit for art and history lovers and is full of unique things to do.
Pretty adobe buildings line the winding streets that end in the historic Taos Plaza. Here you’ll find live music, local markets, and plenty of unique Taos culture.
Delve into the thriving Native American community at Taos Pueblo or explore Spanish colonialism at the Hacienda de Los Martinez. The living museum dates to 1804. Drive to the nearby petroglyphs to see how the people of Taos documented their history.
Taos has long been a hub for creatives and served as inspiration for many famous artists. Among the top tourist attractions in Taos are over 70 galleries where you can support a range of cultures and artistic styles by purchasing some unique artwork.
Or pick up wonderful Taos-made clothing, ceramics, and accessories from the local stores. The Taos Art Museum was once the home of Nicolai Fechin and today houses the work of many famous local artists.
Bandelier National Monument
Under two hours from Albuquerque, the Bandelier National Monument is a great way to fill an extra day in New Mexico. The 33,000-acre site is abundant with canyons and mesas. Not only is it a stunning example of natural beauty, but it also holds secrets of early human settlers.
At Bandelier National Monument, you’ll discover traces of human life going back 11,000 years. Curious petroglyphs and ancient dwellings are spread throughout the self-guided trail. The Pueblo Loop Trail is an easy walk and will take you through the main archaeological areas.
The thousands of Pueblo dwellings date from 1150 to 1600 AD. Climb up narrow staircases and ladders to find what mysteries they hide. Imagine the lives of the Pueblan people who settled here and ponder what made them give up their nomadic lifestyle.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, there are many longer hiking trails that take you around more of the dwellings and surrounding wilderness. You’ll be able to spot fantastic wildlife here, including elk, wild turkeys, and hummingbirds. Be prepared to encounter black bears and mountain lions.
Take an Albuquerque side trip to the historic mining town of Madrid. After its coal mining boom, it dissolved into a ghost town. Today, Madrid is a shining example of modern revival, with colorful architecture and a thriving creative community.
Drive less than one hour to explore this pretty mountain oasis. The abandoned 1940s homes and miner’s cabins have been reimagined into pretty local businesses. Wander the artistic maze of colorful clapboard and confusing proportions. The curious location was even used as a movie set for Wild Hogs. Visit the Ghost Town Trading Post to see where it was shot.
Madrid is a treasure cave of eclectic objects. Purchase artisan silver and precious gemstones from Crystal Dragon. Or buy upcycled jewelry made from old watch parts at 10 pm Studio. Starshine Gallery sells photography and upcycled clothing but also offers spiritual readings and reiki healing.
If you want to understand Madrid’s past and see images from its iconic Christmas light displays, visit the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum. The collection of bizarre buildings houses original mining equipment and an eight-ton Q wagon. Afterward, stop for a classic New Mexican feast at the Old Mine Shaft Tavern.
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
One hour and 15 minutes from Albuquerque is the intriguing Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. These preserved Native American pueblos and 17th-century Spanish missions give you a glimpse into ancient life. Understand the trials of the Puebloan people and what led them to revolt against the Spaniards.
It’s an eerie feeling to walk through the stone ruins emerging out of the grasslands. There are three separate sites to explore at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The largest is Gran Quivira. This huge city was once home to multiple pueblos. The mission complex and partially excavated pueblo village are made from cool grey limestone slabs. This is unusual because the other two sites are made from warm red sandstone.
Wander the lesser-known Quarai to find a grand red church. Or, to get that desert feeling, head to Abo. Here you’ll find jumbled sandstone ruins and a church with its buttresses and staircase still intact. Enjoy the isolated atmosphere as you gaze across the mountain plains.
Valles Caldera National Preserve
Visit the result of an incredible volcanic eruption at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. About 1.25 million years ago, volcanic activity created a caldera, a vast crater forever etched into the earth. Valles Caldera National Preserve is about an hour and 40 minutes from Albuquerque, and this must-see destination is a great day out if you love outdoor activities.
Venture through immense mountain meadows and stop by trickling mountain streams. Take the short Sulphur Springs trail to uncover steaming mud pools and hot springs. Or hike the Cerros del Abrigo Loop to ascend an old lava dome.
Valles Caldera National Preserve is celebrated for its spectacular nightscapes. Rangers lead exciting night treks across the caldera. They offer you high-powered telescopes and help you spot the best constellations.
Or you can venture out and discover it for yourself. You can gaze at the stars against the stark silhouette of Split Mountain, while Panorama Point has some of the darkest skies in the US.
Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge
Discover exceptional biodiversity at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. These wetlands in the heart of the desert are essential for thousands of creatures. Take the one hour and 25-minute drive here to discover this unique habitat for yourself.
The most popular activity in Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge is wildlife watching and photography. Visit in the spring and fall to spot migratory birds like waterfowl, cranes, and geese. Keep an eye out for funky lizards and turtles. Regulated fishing and big game hunting are also available if you want to stalk out your prey.
With little motor traffic, Bosque del Apaches Wildlife Refuge is a peaceful place for hiking and biking. The challenging Bajada Loop Trail gives you panoramic views of the Chihuahuan Desert.
On your way, you might find loggerhead shrike and American Badgers. Desert box turtles and greater road runners live on the Canyon National Recreation Trail. You’ll finish this hike by traversing the bottom of Solitude Canyon.
Very Large Array
This New Mexico attraction is a two-hour drive away but it’s one of the best day trips from Albuquerque. The Very Large Array is a bizarre sight to behold. It’s the largest radio telescope in the world, with 27 antennas pointing into the sky like giant sci-fi sunflowers. The remote plains of San Augustin give the whole complex an extra-terrestrial feeling.
The endless road through the Cibola National Forest will give you the feeling you’re driving to a new world. As you approach, you’ll spot the giant discs jutting out of the landscape.
Start at the Visitor Center to get an understanding of why the Very Large Array is essential to the research of our skies. The power of these telescopes has allowed scientists to find undiscovered parts of the universe and document unusual celestial activity.
Take a walking tour to see the spectacle for yourself. Snap a photo next to one of the 230-ton working antennas, then view them all from above on the observation deck. The dishes are arranged in a huge Y formation, expanding across the desert sands.