Best Day Trips From Santa Fe, New Mexico

Looking out from a cavate, Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos, New Mexico
Looking out from a cavate, Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos, New Mexico | © Dan Leeth / Alamy Stock Photo
Ildiko Hetesi

Santa Fe is like a great book that you don’t want to finish. Even after going back a couple of times, there are always new things to explore and try. It is also a great base to start some further discoveries into New Mexico. Here are a few ideas.

1. Road-tripping on the High Road to Taos

Architectural Landmark

Only 67mi (198km) and 1.5 hours of driving away from Santa Fe lies mystic Taos, home to one of the highest densities of artists in the Southwest and the longest continuously inhabited pueblo. Taos – encompassing the villages Fernando de Taos, San Geronimo and the Ranchos de Taos– was established around 1615, following the Spanish occupation of the Taos Indian villages by Geneva Vigil. Today’s Taos is small, laid back and artsy. If you only have one day, the absolute must-do items on our list are the Taos Pueblo, the more than 300-year-old adobe San Francisco de Asis Church, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (the 10th-highest bridge in the USA) and the Harwood Museum of Art. With a good amount of time on hand, take the High Road to Taos. This route is a five-hour drive without stopping, but it is a nice trip through New Mexico’s back country and reveals a lot more than the highway ride. One good historical stop is Chimayo with the chapel of El Santuario de Chimayo.

2. Los Cerrillos, Madrid, Turquoise Trail and Sandia Crest Scenic Byways

Architectural Landmark

The Turquoise Trail scenic byway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque
© Tristan Brynildsen / Alamy Stock Photo

New Mexico State Road 14 connects Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and is part of the Turquoise Trail so named because of the long-standing mining of the mineral in the region. Turquoise is also a symbol of New Mexico. This day trip explores the Sangre de Cristo foothills in the shadows of Placer Mountain, south of Santa Fe. Los Cerrillos is one of the oldest mining districts in New Mexico. The turquoise and lead deposits were important in providing native jewelry makers with raw material for centuries – but gold, silver and zinc also attracted enough prospectors to make it a contender for the capital of New Mexico in the 19th century. Only a couple of miles away on Route 14 lies Madrid, which was founded on coal mining at the beginning of the 1890s. Today Madrid is the home to a thriving artists’ community. For those who are brave at heart, another thrill on this trip is the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway. To reach it, take NM 536 westbound from NM 14 by San Antonito. After 7mi (11km) of mountainous driving, the scenic byway will be on your left. The byway is paved and it can be done all-year round. The elevation rises to 10,000ft (3.048m) high through the Cibola National Forest.

3. Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch

Architectural Landmark

A stormy winter day at Ghost Ranch near the village of Abiquiu in northern New Mexico.
© Charles Mann / Alamy Stock Photo

The small town of Abiquiu sits in Rio Arriba County in the Chama River Valley, about an hour northwest from Santa Fe. Rather than just driving through on the way to the famed Ghost Ranch, stop at Penitente Morada (a former gathering place of the Spanish Penitente Brotherhood) and the Echo Amphitheatre with its great acoustics and gruesome legend, some 17mi (27km) from Abiquiu. Ghost Ranch and Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio have a visitor center, museum and trails. The famous American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who loved the mesmerizing New Mexican landscape of the high desert, lived here seasonally. She was inspired by stunning red rock cliffs surrounding this historic 21,000-acre (8,500ha) ranch, which is now an educational retreat center. Reserve tickets for the O’Keeffe’s house and studio well ahead of time, as spots sell out quickly. Other attractions include a paleontology museum and a 3mi (5km) out-and-back hiking trail to towering Chimney Rock.

4. Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument and Jemez Springs

Architectural Landmark

This day trip investigates the landscape northwest of Santa Fe. The itinerary is great for history and science buffs, families and anyone who is curious. Highway 4, which goes through the entire Valle Caldera National Preserve between Los Alamos and Jemez Pueblo, is a national scenic byway. A 45-minute ride on NM State Road 502 takes you to Los Alamos and the White Rock Visitor Center. White Rock Canyon offers great hikes just outside of the town. The White Rock Canyon Rim Trail is an easy 2.8mi (4.5km) in-and-out hike for anyone who is reasonably fit. From Los Alamos, the ride to Bandelier National Monument is about 30 minutes and takes visitors through canyon and mesa country. The national monument preserves traces of ancient pueblo people. Register and pick up a trail map at the visitors’ center, leave about 1.5 hours for the main trail and up to four hours to wander if you are interested in pre-Columbian history. Further southwest, the Jemez Mountains give way to the more desert-like landscape of the Jemez Indian Reservation. Jemez Springs in Ojito Canyon offers safe and relaxing bathing possibilities.

5. Santa Fe museum district, Botanical Gardens and Journey’s End Monument

Museum

Journeys End, bronze sculpture by Reynaldo Sonny Rivera at Museum Hill, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
© Witold Skrypczak / Alamy Stock Photo

Start early to cover this rewarding section of town south of the Historical Eastside, with the Old Santa Fe Trail running through it. Four outstanding, world-class museums are located here and there is no wrong pick when deciding which one to see. The Museum of International Folk Art features a huge collection of dolls, toys, masks, puppets and miniatures of villages and markets from over 100 countries. The Museum of Indian Art and Culture has permanent and temporary exhibits of pottery, textiles, jewelry, basketry and contemporary art created by native peoples of the Southwest. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the outstanding Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian are also nearby. If you start early enough, you can cover all four in a day and gain a priceless insight into some of the different cultural roots of Santa Fe. The Journey’s End sculpture monument by sculptor Reynaldo “Sonny” Rivera commemorates the times of horse-drawn carriages and the painstaking journey it took the prospectors to get to the West in the 19th century.

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