Keen to explore more of the Land of Enchantment? There’s so much more to New Mexico than miles of mountainscapes and desert—and a few day trips from Sante Fe will show you this whole new world! From the Chihuahuan Desert to the Santa Fe National Forest, you’ll find countless places to explore within a few hours’ drive from Santa Fe.
Home to breathtaking, diverse terrain, the Southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico has a wealth of attractions. Wind your way through the Sangre de Cristo mountains and discover hidden villages with storied histories. Visit the home of the famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe or unwind at a luxurious spa-focused retreat. Experience vibrant cultural communities and hike through spectacular hoodoo formations from volcanic eruptions.
Ready to ramble along on your journey? Check out these top-notch Sante Fe side trips that will make your adventures into the New Mexican landscape unforgettable!
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Nestled at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is a charming town in northern New Mexico’s high desert. Named in honor of the nearby indigenous village of Taos Pueblo, Taos is famous for its beautifully preserved historic adobe buildings.
The 56-mile drive north from Santa Fe to Taos is one of the most beautiful and interesting road trips through New Mexico. Known as the High Road to Taos, this scenic byway takes you on a journey into the rich history and preserved culture of Old Spain.
Start your day in Taos with a stroll around the 400-year-old town and soak up some history. Visit the World Heritage Site and still-inhabited Native American pueblo of Taos Pueblo. Admire the exquisitely preserved adobe buildings around town and enjoy local cuisine at one of the many excellent restaurants.
Also among the most popular things to do in Taos is to take in the vibrant arts and culture scene by visiting one of the many galleries and museums displaying regional artwork, like the Taos Art Museum. On your way out of town, visit the historic 1920s-era D.H. Lawrence Ranch, home of the famous novelist.
Bandelier National Monument
Journey back to the time of ancient civilizations with a visit to the Bandelier National Monument. An hour west of Santa Fe, the historic site is home to ancestral Pueblo dwellings that were carved into volcanic tuff by pre-colonial communities more than 11,000 years ago.
You can explore the ancient dwellings and other ruins on an easy 1.2-mile loop trail through the Frijoles Canyon. Follow in the footsteps of the original inhabitants and climb ladders into several of the small carved rooms.
If you don’t mind heights, head to Alcove House and venture 140 feet higher via four ladders to the spot where Ancestral Pueblo people built their homes in a natural recess in the cliff face.
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Take some time to explore the rest of the park, home to a fascinating array of fauna and flora. Follow one of the many trails from the Frijoles Canyon visitor center or join a ranger-led hike through the wilderness.
Another fantastic one-day adventure is to Ghost Ranch in north-central New Mexico. Just an hour’s drive from Sante Fe, the 21,000-acre retreat was once the home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe.
The spooky name of the ranch mutated from “El Rancho de los Brujos” or “Ranch of the Witches.” The ranch took its name from the cattle rustlers who hid their stolen goods in the area’s canyons.
Located on the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau, the property boasts magnificent mesas, dramatic multicolored cliffs, and towering stone spires. These breathtaking landscapes inspired some renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous works.
Ghost Ranch will also give you a peek into the planet’s evolution. You can explore archaeological sites and fossil quarries where the bones of the world’s only complete Coelophysis dinosaur were found. Marvel at ancient lakes, rivers, mudflats, and oceanic shorelines perfectly preserved at the ranch.
When you’re done exploring the artistic and geological side of the ranch, spend a few hours enjoying a range of outdoor activities. Head out on one of several hiking or horseback riding trails, cool off with seasonal canoeing and kayaking, or enjoy guided ranger-led tours of the ranch.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa
When you need a bit of pampering, head to the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. An hour’s drive north of Sante Fe, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort is a tranquil and secluded retreat where lithia springs, mud pools, and milagro (miracle) wraps will nourish your soul.
Set in a remote village near Abiquiu, this fabled hot springs resort centers around the legendary Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. Spend the day soaking in one of 12 mineral pools or enjoying custom spa treatments.
If rejuvenation means getting out into nature, explore the beautiful landscapes of the 1,100-acre resort on scenic hiking and biking trails. Hit the trails in the morning and watch for broken pottery shards from ancient civilizations along the way.
Relax over a sumptuous meal at the laid-back restaurant and a bar before spending a few hours in the warm, mineral-infused spring-fed pools.
Harken back to the days of the Spanish occupation with a day trip to the quaint village of Chimayó. Situated along the famous High Road to Taos Scenic Byway, about 25 miles north of Santa Fe, the historic pueblo of Chimayó is home to one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage centers in the country.
Chimayó is based on the ancestral homeland of the Tewa Indians, Puebloans, who have inhabited the area since the 12th century. The Tewa believed they shared the land with supernatural beings and the soil of the area had magical healing properties.
The sacred sanctuary of El Santuario de Chimayó was built on the land, and today this national historic landmark is a significant Catholic pilgrimage center. Head to the small prayer room next to the Spanish colonial-style Catholic church to see some of this magical soil.
Take a stroll around the picturesque village and sample some of the local red chilies. The region produces some of the best chilies in the state, and you’ll see chile ristras (chile garlands) embellishing doorways around the village.
Feed your creative soul with a visit to the quaint, picturesque artist’s enclave of Madrid. Tucked in the northeastern end of the Sandia Mountains, the tiny village is set along the beautiful Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. The short 40-minute drive along this often-forgotten road is just as alluring as the destination itself.
Hailed as a ghost town due to its minuscule population, Madrid is anything but. Home to a vibrant artist’s community, the tiny town boasts brightly painted houses against a backdrop of breathtaking Ortiz Mountains vistas.
Streets are lined with eclectic art galleries and quirky shops, and you can explore lovingly restored mining town-era attractions like the Miner’s Amusement Hall. Learn about the town’s storied history and coal mining community at the Coal Mining Museum. Venture down a haunted mine shaft to meet the famed La Llorona spirit of Mexican legend.
If you visit during the holiday season, it’s hard to miss the magnificent Christmas lights displays throughout the town on the weekend leading up to the special day.
Set along the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway, less than an hour north of Albuquerque, the village of Jemez Springs offers a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Make your way through the spectacularly scenic Los Alamos with its sweeping, high-altitude prairies to the charming haven for a day of connecting with nature.
The beautiful surrounding landscapes are ideal for getting out and about in nature, from miles of scenic hiking trails to the village’s famous hot mineral springs. Spend the day hiking in the hills around town, fishing in the Jemez River, and re-energizing in the restorative waters of the geothermal springs.
Keep an eye out for art happenings and local music events that occur regularly around town.
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
If you’re a history buff, a day trip to the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is a must! Nestled in the sparsely populated grasslands southeast of Albuquerque, two hours south of Sante Fe, the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument preserves three of New Mexico’s most famous Spanish Catholic missions.
Situated in the Mountainair region, the site was established in 1909 to preserve the celebrated ruins of the historic Christian church of Gran Quivira Mission. The Mission of San Gregorio de Abó and the Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Quarai Mission was later included in the national monument.
Head to the visitor center in each area to learn the rich history of the 17th-century Spanish Franciscan missions and explore the ruins by following interpretive trails around the sites. Keep an eye out for relics of ancient pueblos around the sites, some of which are beautifully preserved.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Lovers of geology will delight in the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Located on the Pajarito Plateau, just a 40-minute drive to the west of Sante Fe, the national monument offers visitors the chance to learn how geologic processes shape natural landscapes.
Ranging between 5,570 feet and 6,760 feet above sea level, the National Monument features unusual-shaped rock formations resembling cone-shaped tents. Formed by volcanic eruptions over six million years ago, the tent rock formations known as hoodoos reach heights of over 90 feet.
Explore the ethereal landscapes and other-worldly rock formations on a national recreation trail that winds through the park. Spend some time observing the geology of the landscapes and take note of the various species of fauna and flora that call the area home.
NOTE: The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is currently closed to the public. For more information on its re-opening, visit https://www.blm.gov/visit/kktr.
Feel like a change of scenery? Why not head to the high-desert city of Albuquerque for the day? New Mexico’s largest city is a bustling metropolis with a slightly faster pace of life than the sleepy Santa Fe. Just an hour’s drive from Sante Fe, Albuquerque is also a hub of Southwestern culture and history, so there’s no shortage of interesting attractions and activities to enjoy.
Start your day in Albuquerque with a stroll through Old Town Albuquerque and admire the beautiful historic adobe buildings dating back to the city’s 1706 founding as a Spanish colony.
Browse museums, art galleries, and shops selling lovely Native American handicrafts. Delve into the area’s tribal history with a visit to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center., one of the most interesting places to visit in Albuquerque.
Cruise along Central Avenue to soak up Americana at its best, from buzzing neon signs to vintage motels. Pop into the famous Route 66 Diner and order a to-die-for malt or milkshake. Rent a bike and hit the 16-mile Paseo Del Bosque Trail that snakes along the banks of the Rio Grande and shady cottonwood forests.
If you’re a Breaking Bad fan, take a trolley tour of famous locations from the hit show, such as Jesse’s house and Walt’s car wash. Grab some ‘Breaking Bad candy’ from the Candy Lady to take home as a souvenir.
Sandia Peak Tramway
Located in the Sandia Foothills on the eastern edge of Albuquerque, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway is North America’s longest aerial tram. Stretching from the northeast edge of the city to the crest of the magnificent Sandia Mountains, the tramway rides high above breathtaking terrain, offering spectacular 11,000-square-mile panoramic views.
The tram ride takes about 15 minutes to ascend the steep western side of the Sandia Mountains, with around four trips leaving every hour from the base and top departure stations. Once at the top, you can enjoy various activities, from hiking and birdwatching in the summer to skiing in the winter.
Catch the last tram down from the mountain to watch the sun setting over the vast desert, creating a kaleidoscope of multicolored hues that make for exquisite photos!