Albuquerque is the gateway to the Southwest. Set in the center of New Mexico, the city makes a great base for discovering the diverse landscapes and cultures that make the state the Land of Enchantment.
These road trips from Albuquerque explore some of New Mexico’s most exciting and fascinating destinations, and most will have you back in time for dinner and margaritas. Here are seven of our favorite journeys that can be completed in a day from the Duke City.
Go mining for adventure on the Turquoise Trail
Filled with mountain views and Old West history, the Turquoise Trail is the nickname for New Mexico 14, a two-lane road that travels from Tijeras just east of Albuquerque to Santa Fe along the east side of the Sandia Mountains. It gets its sobriquet from the precious mineral that Native Americans mined in Cerrillos and traded throughout the Americas. Travelers along this national scenic highway pass through Cedar Crest with its Greenside Cafe and Rumor Brewing before reaching the turnoff for New Mexico 536 that climbs to the crest of the Sandía Mountains at 10,678ft. In Sandia Park, the Tinkertown Museum is an eclectic collection of outsider art that’s a family favorite (closed November through March).
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Continue north on NM 14 to arrive in Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) which was a booming coal-mining town in the 1930s. Madrid became a ghost town that was discovered by free spirits in the 1960s, and old mining shacks were once again inhabited and fixed up. Today the town’s historic mining buildings are brightly colored art galleries, cafés and museums. The next stop on the trip is Cerrillos, such the epitome of an Old West town that it’s been featured in several movies including Young Guns. New life here hasn’t detracted from its ghost town feel, and the Black Bird Saloon and Cerrillos Station mercantile store and gallery have joined longtime businesses like the Casa Grande Trading Post, Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum and the Cerrillos Petting Zoo. Cerrillos Hills State Park has information about the area’s Native American turquoise mining and has hiking trails through the rolling Ortiz Mountains. From Cerrillos, Santa Fe is just a few miles north. The entire trip from Tijeras to Santa Fe is only 60 miles, but give yourself plenty of time to explore.
How to get to the Turquoise Trail: From Albuquerque, travel I-40 east to Exit 175 at Tijeras, then take NM 14 north toward Santa Fe.
Take the train to Santa Fe
Santa Fe is an hour-and-a-half drive north of Albuquerque via I-25 but a more scenic, fun and environmentally friendly option is to take the New Mexico Rail Runner Express train. The train departs from several stations throughout Albuquerque and follows the Rio Grande corridor to the Santa Fe Depot Station. Local cafes, restaurants, breweries and boutiques have popped up around the historic depot, creating a destination itself in the Santa Fe Railyard District. Explore Santa Fe’s newest neighborhood, then enjoy a pleasant 15-minute walk east to the Santa Fe Plaza. Known for its fine-art galleries, Canyon Road is another half-mile stroll east of the plaza. The interactive art funhouse Meow Wolf has become a must-see destination, and you can hail a ride service from the depot for the 4-mile trip.
How to get to Santa Fe via train: Visit the New Mexico Rail Runner Express website for schedules. Parking is available at stations throughout the Albuquerque area, including the Alvarado Transit Station in downtown Albuquerque.
Explore Chaco Culture National Historical Park
A journey to remote Chaco Culture National Historical Park pushes the limits for a road trip from Albuquerque at three hours one-way, but it’s well worth the beautiful drive on US 550 for anyone interested in Native American culture, history, archaeology and desert hiking. Called Chaco Canyon locally, this park protects the remains of large structures called Great Houses built by ancestral Puebloans from roughly 700 to 1100 CE. These impressive buildings are aligned with astronomical events to mark the seasons, and it is thought the area served as a religious and governmental capital with trade routes that extended throughout North America. A small museum displays an array of artifacts including turquoise jewelry, copper bells and macaw feathers from Mexico, and beautiful pottery and jewelry excavated from Great Houses. A paved loop allows visitors to drive to many of the Great Houses, and backcountry hiking trails extend to more ruins overlooking the high desert landscape that is little changed from 1000 years ago. Services are few here so make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks, and top off the gas tank before adventuring to this World Heritage destination.
How to get to Chaco Culture National Historical Park: Take I-25 to US 550 at Bernalillo, then travel US 550 for 133 miles and follow park signs. The last 16 miles into the park are unpaved and can be impassable after rain or snow.
Journey to Acoma Pueblo (Sky City)
The Pueblo of Acoma is one of the 19 Pueblo nations that have been in New Mexico since time immemorial, and its village of Sky City is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. Respectful visitors can learn about the history, culture and traditions of Sky City, which was built upon a towering mesa top 365ft above the desert floor. Tours lead visitors up the mesa and through the ancient streets and alleyways lacing between adobe homes that have served many generations. Guides explain the history and day-to-day traditional living at Sky City such as baking bread in domed ovens and collecting rainwater. At the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum, learn more about Acoma culture and history through exhibits, purchase pottery and jewelry at the Gaits’i gallery, and enjoy Pueblo favorites such as blue corn enchiladas and contemporary dishes at the Yaak’a Cafe.
How to get to Acoma Pueblo: Take I-40 west for 100 miles to Exit 102, then follow signs to the Sky City Cultural Center.
Enjoy country living in Corrales
Located just minutes north of Albuquerque, quiet Corrales is a rural farming village along the west bank of the Rio Grande. Walking trails weave through the cottonwoods lining the river in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, and wildlife including Canada geese and sandhill cranes is frequently seen. Local shops offer everything from horse tack to fine art, and restaurants like the Indigo Crow and Perea’s Tijuana Bar offer a range of meals and patio dining. Ex Novo Brewery, Corrales Bistro and other watering holes serve New Mexico craft beer, and guests are welcome to stroll the vineyards of Corrales’ three wineries. Casa San Ysidro Museum, an extension of the Albuquerque Museum, is housed in a 19th-century ranch home and interprets life in New Mexico pre-statehood. Driving from Albuquerque north along Rio Grande Boulevard to Corrales, you’ll pass through the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque where Casa Rondeña Winery and Los Poblanos Inn and Organic Farm are well worth a visit.
How to get to Corrales: Take Rio Grande Boulevard north to Alameda Boulevard, then travel west on Alameda to Corrales Road/New Mexico 448 and turn north.
Go for a soak in Jemez Springs
The Village of Jemez Springs an hour northwest of Albuquerque is known for its hot springs, the result of the Jemez (pronounced Hey-mez) Mountains’ volcanic past. Enjoy a hot soak at any of several inns and bathhouses here with mountain views including Jemez Hot Springs and the historic Jemez Springs Bath House. Jemez Springs’ tiny downtown has the local-favorite Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon and a few shops and galleries, and the nearby Jemez Historic Site preserves the ruins of a 17th-century pueblo village and Spanish mission. At about an hour from Albuquerque Jemez Springs makes for a fun destination, or include it on a longer road trip as part of the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway that eventually loops back to Albuquerque via Santa Fe. On the drive to Jemez Springs, make sure to stop at the Pueblo of Jemez’s Walatowa Visitor Center and picturesque Red Rock Canyon to learn about the area’s first inhabitants.
How to get to Jemez Springs: Head north on I-25 to Bernalillo, where you’ll take US 550 northwest for 25 miles to San Ysidro, then take New Mexico 4 north for 17 miles.
Hike through surreal tent rocks
An hour north of Albuquerque, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument contains surreal cone-shaped rock formations capped by balanced boulders, delighting hikers and photographers 7 million years after their formation. This whole area was buried under volcanic ash when a supervolcano, now Valles Caldera National Preserve, erupted and covered northern New Mexico under hundreds of feet of ash and debris. Boulders compressed and hardened the ash creating the cone shapes while the noncompressed ash weathered away, leaving these formations that can be as tall as 90ft. Three hiking trails pass through this otherworldly landscape, climbing through slot canyons to an overlook that surveys some of the largest formations and the Jemez, Sandia and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges beyond.
How to get to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: Drive north on I-25 to Exit 259 onto New Mexico 22. Drive 14.5 miles to the turn at Indian Service Rte 92, and follow signs to the monument. The route to the monument passes through Cochiti Pueblo land and is subject to Tribal closures. Visit the website to verify access first.