16 Best Day Trips From Santa Fe, New Mexico

day trips from santa fe

The state capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe, has a long history that dates back to the days of Spanish conquest in 1610. One of the largest cities in the state, it is home to a thriving art scene and is famed for its culture and the rich past of the native American peoples in the area. Such wide diversity has earned it the moniker “The City Different”, and it’s easy to see why. Read on for some of the best day trips from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

1. Rio Grande rafting (from USD 115.0)

Adrenaline-junkies eager to enjoy some wet and wild boating action will love this next option. Rio Grande is a popular rafting adventure destination, with tours taking people through some of the thrilling rapids. Some of these day-long experiences are catered towards first-timers and families, so even if you’ve never lifted a paddle in your life you won’t have to miss out. Sights you can enjoy include the scenic likes of Orilla Verde in the Lower Gorge area, and even take on the challenge of several miles of class 2 and 3 rapids. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for the area’s wildlife - which can range from everything from birds of prey to mule deer.

Rio Grande Gorge Full Day

Duration: 6 hours 30 minutes

136 reviews

2. Old Santa Fe Trail

San Miguel Chapel, 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM, USA - panoramio (1)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user MARELBU used under CC BY 3.0

This key 19th-century route linked Franklin in Missouri with Santa Fe and was first established almost exactly 200 years ago. Those who visit and walk parts of the route will be following in the footsteps of countless pioneers and even military expeditions - the route having been used by the US army during its invasion of New Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Those who visit Fort Union National Monument - one of the ruined forts constructed by the military during the push west - will also be able to see the ruts of the wagons which once tackled the trail and learn more about the route at the on-site visitor centre.

3. Ghost Ranch

Entrance to Ghost Ranch Off Highway 84 (NM) 2013
Source: Photo by user Ron Cogswell used under CC BY 2.0

The evocatively titled Ghost Ranch will likely be familiar to you even if you’ve never visited before. The desert landscape has proven irresistible to film-makers down the years - and has been used in everything from Oscar-winning 90s comedy hit City Slickers to the recent Coen Brothers Netflix exclusive, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The 21,000 acre (8,500 hectare) site was also a source of inspiration for celebrated artist Georgia O'Keeffe, whose works often drew on the landscape. Those who visit the ranch can enjoy tours of the landscape to see locales she painted. The ranch, an “Education and Retreat Center” also runs archaeology tours and activities centred around the landscape’s rich fossil beds.

4. Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo (NM) -- North Side Structure 2013
Source: Photo by user Ron Cogswell used under CC BY 2.0

This celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site is another pueblo created by the indigenous population in antiquity - and one of the oldest continuously occupied communities in the entire country. Located on the fringes of the modern city, Taos, the pueblo’s northern flanks have proven an inspiration to many an artist and photographer down through the ages. Today, efforts are also ongoing to ensure this historic wonder continues to flourish into the future - a preservation programme is teaching local participants traditional construction techniques to guarantee that the skills which have long-maintained the site are not lost to the ages.

5. Jemez Springs

San José de los Jémez, Jemez Springs, NM - panoramio (2)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Aaron Zhu used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Jemez Springs’ healing hot springs have attracted many a traveller for centuries. But there is much more to the community than just its enticing waters. It is also home to another superbly preserved pueblo, Jemez, which will almost certainly prove enticing to the photographers among you. Nestled amid the Jemez Mountains, and within the Santa Fe National Forest, the area is also home to a number of walking options - from easy all the way up to challenging - which include trails that include picturesque waterfalls and further hot springs close to Soda Dam and Battleship Rock. Those who’d rather minimise the exertion of a hike will also be able to enjoy one of Jemez Springs’ commercial spas.

6. Turquoise Trail

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<i>Turquoise Trail - The Long Road</i>
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Unknown author or... used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Those who’d rather leave the hiking to one side, but still crave stunning scenery, may wish to hop into the car and tackle the Turquoise Trail. This national scenic byway runs for 52 miles (84 kilometers) between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and combines stunning views at the likes of Sandia Crest with a number of historic towns that owe their existence to former mining operations and are bustling with a myriad of crafts, eateries, and museums for you to enjoy. Other attractions include the ghost town of Cerrillos, which has played host to numerous movies through the years - including Young Guns.

7. Sandia Peak Tramway

Sandia peak tramway albuquerque
Source: Photo by user https://www.flick... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Those with a head for heights will almost certainly feel the need to visit this stunning tramway, which extends from the edge of Albuquerque up into the mountains. During the 15-minute journey you’ll be transported from the urban bustle to the tranquillity of the 10,378 feet (3,163 metre) summit in the local Sandia Mountains. Everything about this attraction is epic - from the stunning New Mexico landscape unfurling beneath your cable car cab, to the record-breaking construction itself, which is the longest aerial tramway in the USA. And, once you reach the top, you can enjoy stunning vistas while tucking into a meal at the summit restaurant or take in the open air with one of the local hikes.

8. Ojo Caliente Springs

Ojo Caliente mineral springs and resort (14500688944)
Source: Photo by user KimonBerlin used under CC BY-SA 2.0

If a day of pampering sounds like holiday heaven, then you’re in luck. Ojo Caliente Springs is a spa resort which makes excellent use of the area’s ancient hot springs. The associated spa offers a wide range of treatments to ease away the stresses of the outside world, and there are a number of casual dining options on site. The resort may make a big thing of its soothing experiences but those who simply cannot resist the chance to exert themselves a little will also not miss out. The wider 1,100-acre (445 hectares) site is home a number of biking trails and hiking routes, from which you can explore the New Mexican landscape to your heart’s content.

9. Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera, New Mexico (7262060918)
Source: Photo by user Thomas Shahan used under CC BY 2.0

Welcome to the supervolcano which fuels the hot springs that are so popular. Also the newest National Preserve in the USA, the beautiful landscape features a number of lush mountain meadows - such as the Valle Grande - as well as a number of features that owe their existence to the huge forces beneath our feet, such as the resurgent dome of Redondo Peak. The site is also home to all manner of wildlife - from elk and prairie dogs, to black bears, golden eagles, and coyotes. The meandering rivers are also a popular fly fishing destination. A range of biking, hiking, and horseback riding opportunities can also be enjoyed - the park service even offers guided tours.

10. Very Large Array

Source: Photo by user user:Hajor used under CC BY-SA 3.0

From a natural wonder to a manmade one now, Very Large Array is a series of 28 massive radio telescope dishes which are helping to explore the furthest flung reaches of the universe. Famous around the world, the VLA has appeared in a host of Hollywood movies down the years - including sci-fi epics like 2010:The Year We Made Contact, Contact and Terminator: Salvation. Although it is still very much a working facility, the site is also open to visitors and features a visitor centre and accompanying theatre and museum which highlight its activities. There are also occasional special tours behind the scenes, as well as a self-guided walk that takes visitors around this fascinating location.

11. Albuquerque

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2011
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mav used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The largest city in the state, Albuquerque naturally features a host of attractions - and may even warrant a longer trip. As well as the aforementioned Sandia Peak Tramway, the city is also home to the prehistoric art of the Petroglyph National Monument, as well as a number of fascinating museums - such as Old Town Albuquerque and Albuquerque Biological Park. Time your visit just right and you’ll enjoy a never-to-be-forgotten sight - the International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place at the start of every October and is the largest balloon festival in the world. And I do mean largest - some 500 hot air balloons visit every year. All this, and you still won’t have scratched the surface of what’s on offer.

12. Black Mesa

Black Mesa, New Mexico
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Em-jay-es used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Straddling three state borders, the Black Mesa is made of ancient volcanic deposits that withstood the weathering that removed the softer rock surrounding it. It runs for more than 28 miles (45 kilometres) and, in New Mexico, rises to a height of more than 5,200 feet (1,500 metres). The Mesa is also the site of nature preserves and state parks, and features a range of hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. Naturally, its protected nature also makes it a haven for wildlife, with golden eagles, mountain lions, Texas horned lizards, and red-tailed hawks among the wildlife you might spot on your travels.

13. White Mesa

White Mesa, Arizona, S.R. 98
Source: Photo by Flickr user Ken Lund used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Located close to Albuquerque, the White Mesa owes its name to the pale gypsum from which its rock formations are formed. Particularly popular with mountain biking enthusiasts - but also used by hikers - the area’s rugged and scenic landscape is home to a number of trails. There’s even one that can be used by horse-riding fans. The landscape is also noted for its range of fossil-bearing rocks - indeed, the longest dinosaur skeleton ever unearthed, the so-called Seismosaurus, was unearthed in the nearby Ojito Wilderness, just a few miles west.

14. Madrid

Old Boarding House Mercantile 189
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Elisa.rolle used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Noted for its flourishing artists’ community and the array of galleries which line the local stretch of the Turquoise Trail, Madrid may be small, but you’ll find many things to do here. As well as the aforementioned artistic delights, the town’s roots as a mining community are remembered at Coal Mine Museum and Mineshaft Tavern. The wider area is also home to Cerrillos Hills State Park, which boasts a number of hiking trails and a visitor centre exploring the area’s past. Its location along the Turquoise Trail also makes it a possible stopping off point during your exploration of the route.

15. Bandelier National Park (from USD 152.0)

Bandelier National Park extends across tens of thousands of acres and preserves stunning canyon landscapes and vitally important native history. Indeed the homes and cave complexes of Ancestral Puebloans dating back as far 1150 can be visited by those who head into the wild landscape, and there are some 11,000 years of human history preserved in the park. Those who visit will find a wide mix of trails to enjoy - including some shorter and easier routes that will appeal to all ages and visit a range of key archaeological sites - such as Big Kiva, Long House and Tyuonyi. Other attractions include the visitor centre, which is home a museum exploring the lives of the canyon’s past inhabitants.

From Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument Tour with Guide

Duration: 5 hours

5 reviews

16. Pecos National History Park (from USD 114.0)

Pecos National History Park is home to all manner of historic marvels - from American Civil War battlefields and the 19th century ranches of the old west to much older native American buildings and ruins. Perhaps the finest example of this is the Pecos Pueblo, from which the park gets its name. Pecos Pueblo was once a thriving community of upwards of 2000 people and includes a range of rock-and-mud buildings. Their beautiful crafts are also preserved. Elsewhere, the park is also home to stretches of the important Sante Fe wagon trail, through which many settlers travelled while colonising the west, as well as the partially-preserved civil war battlefield of Glorieta Pass.

Pecos National Historical Park

Duration: 3 hours

Where to start?

From stunning cable car journeys and the jaw-dropping sight of massed hot air balloons, to ancient native American settlements and world heritage sights - there’s a great deal to see during a day trip out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Keep this list handy and have an out-of-this-world holiday with Santa Fe as your base.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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I'm a writer and photographer based in the heart of the beautiful Scottish Highlands. A professional journalist by trade, I have written for and edited several newspapers, magazines and websites....Read more

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