15 Best Day Trips from Albuquerque

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

Located in the rugged wilds of the state of New Mexico, Albuquerque is already widely recognised as an artistic and cultural hub, full of museums and restaurants and cultural attractions thanks to its rich history.

It also happens to be perfectly located between a vast array of awe-inspiring destinations that are easily reachable from the city and are perfect for a day trip to either escape the fast pace of life or visit somewhere new and wildly different.

From enormous wildlife refuges to ancient settlements, you’re never far from adventure when you’re in New Mexico and Albuquerque is a stone’s throw away from some of the very best.

Let’s have a look at the best day trips from Albuquerque:

1. Acoma Pueblo

Acoma PuebloSource: Bill Florence / shutterstock
Acoma Pueblo

Sitting atop a nearly 400 foot tall mesa in the middle of the desert, you’ll find the small town of Acoma, famous for being the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the whole of North America.

This mind-blowing feat is matched by the views from the pueblo itself, with a panoramic vista across the rocky expanse of land below.

The Acoma people have been living here for nearly 800 years and you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about them and their home on a 90-minute guided walking tour of the town.

To discover the fascinating art and culture of the people here, be sure to visit the Haak’u Museum, whilst the Sky City Cultural Centre offers exhibits and activities concerning Acoma Pueblo itself.

2. Jemez Springs

Jemez SpringsSource: Gary L. Brewer / shutterstock
Jemez Springs

A trip to Jemez Springs will have you feeling like you’ve just stepped into the true Wild West, surrounded by red rock formations and dusty grasslands that are reminiscent of some of the world’s favourite Westerns.

The highlight of the area is undoubtedly the beautiful network of hot springs that you can visit and spend the day relaxing in.

If you’re looking to do something a little more active, there are also numerous hikes and trails that’ll take you to some truly stunning viewpoints, or to get a feel for the town you can stroll around exploring its many shops, restaurants and galleries.

3. Salinas Pueblo Missions

Salinas Pueblo MissionsSource: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / shutterstock
Salinas Pueblo Missions

The Salinas mission is part of a group of missions in the same area that are preserved and run by the National Park Service.

The buildings you’ll find here form part of the fascinating story of Franciscan missionaries that visited the Native American communities that once thrived there.

Expect to be amazed by the various ruins of monasteries and churches built into the rugged desert-scape of the Mountainair region of New Mexico.

If you’re looking to visit a few of these in a single day trip then you can also explore the Quarai, Abo and Gran Quivira ruins which can be found nearby and are just as intriguing.

4. Madrid

Madrid, New MexicoSource: Bas van den Heuvel / shutterstock
Madrid, New Mexico

With a jaded but fascinating past as a former coal boomtown, then a diminishing ghost town, Madrid is experiencing a comeback as an artist’s enclave unknown to most but growing in popularity.

Close to Albuquerque and found on the road to Santa Fe, the tiny town is located in the picturesque settings of the Oritz Mountains, snuggled comfortably into a canyon.

Spend a couple of hours getting to know Madrid’s thriving art scene at one of the many galleries and artisanal exhibits and stalls, or learn more about the town’s history with a visit to the informative and sometimes raucous Mine Shaft Tavern.

5. Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera National PreserveSource: sumikophoto / shutterstock
Valles Caldera National Preserve

One of the most beautiful city escapes in the entire state is the volcanic caldera that forms over 900,000 acres of stunning countryside known as the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Here you’ll discover the untold beauty of the Jemez Mountains that are surrounded by desert, grasslands and lakes.

As you’d expect, there are various world-class hiking trails here, not to mention fly-fishing and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing when there’s snowfall.

The perfect place to get back to nature, the Valles Caldera National Preserve is an enchanting place for a day trip or a few days camping if you’ve got the time.

6. White Sands National Monument

White Sands National MonumentSource: Margaret.W / shutterstock
White Sands National Monument

The ever shifting, surreal landscape of White Sands National Monument is as mesmerising as it is impressive.

Known to be one of the most beautiful vistas in the whole state, the area lies in the Tularosa Basin, surrounded by rugged mountains and constantly changing.

The dunes themselves are made up of white gypsum sand and can reach up to 60 foot in length and are the perfect place to go on a sandy adventure, just be sure to remember to pack plenty of water and sun-screen.

7. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National ParkSource: Doug Meek / shutterstock
Carlsbad Caverns National Park

An almost polar opposite to White Sands, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is nearly completely underground, giving you an idea of its sheer size and why people flock to explore its many subterranean wonders.

The limestone caverns number almost 120 and there are many more yet to be discovered.

On the list of activities here are bat tours, cave walks through alien-like landscapes or self-guided audio tours.

If you get tired of the underground scenery, the National Park also has a number of hiking and backpacking trails above the surface, meaning there’s something for everyone on this outlandish day trip.

8. Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National MonumentSource: Zack Frank / shutterstock
Bandelier National Monument

One of the most intriguing and beautiful insights into the land and lives of the ancient people who lived here, the Bandelier National Monument boasts trails, boating and some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country.

With archaeological sites of native settlements carved into the canyon walls themselves and volcanic formations surrounding the area, it’s impossible not to be stunned by the jaw-dropping scenery.

Be sure to visit the various museums to learn about the Pueblo people who lived here and if you’re passing through in October, stop by the Fall Festival to get a chance to get to know the community that lives there today.

9. Cumbres-Toltec Scenic Railway

Cumbres-Toltec Scenic RailwaySource: Sue Stokes / shutterstock
Cumbres-Toltec Scenic Railway

For an all encapsulating journey through the desert and mountainscapes of New Mexico and further afield, one of the best day trips to take is along the Cumbres-Toltec Railway.

Step back in time as you board the steam locomotive and enjoy the plush, comfortable interior and soak up the views outside.

Built in 1880, the train travels through the enormous Cumbres Pass and traverses the majestic Toltec Gorge, both incredibly beautiful and straight out of the nation’s favourite Western movies.

10. Tent Rocks National Monument

Tent Rocks National MonumentSource: Margaret.W / shutterstock
Tent Rocks National Monument

Formed over millions of years of geological processes, the Tent Rocks National Monument is made up of bizarre rock formations that have the appearance of tents and tipis.

Sat on top of the Pajarito Plateau, the monument is the perfect place to go hiking and is full of stunning photo opportunities, particularly at sunrise or sunset when the conical rocks cast majestic shadows across the ground.

For the best elevated view, be sure to hike through Slot Canyon.

11. Taos

Taos, New MexicoSource: Sopotnicki / shutterstock

Famously named as one of the World’s Prettiest Mountain Towns, Taos is a beautiful little settlement located in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and is bursting with history and culture.

The source of inspiration for a number of artists over the years on account of its beauty, Taos hosts frequent art fairs and is home to the prestigious Taos Art Museum, making it a veritable haven for artists from all over the country.

12. Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge

Bosque Del Apache Wildlife RefugeSource: Martha Marks / shutterstock
Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge

Home to one of the nation’s most breathtaking natural phenomena, the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge contains a wild stretch of the Rio Grande and has an abundance of wildlife, particularly migratory water birds.

Each year, thousands of these birds migrate to the refuge during winter, causing a spectacle quite unlike anything most people have ever seen and drawing in crowds from all over the country.

Do your best to visit during the winter months but between the hiking trails and awesome landscapes you’re sure to enjoy your visit at any time of the year.

13. El Malpais National Conservation Area

El Malpais National Conservation AreaSource: Zack Frank / shutterstock
El Malpais National Conservation Area

Coined by Spanish explorers as the “bad country”, El Malpais was once the scene of a volcanic eruption that left a vast expanse of black volcanic rock covering a huge area of land.

The resulting lava field and geological formations left behind now form the Malpais National Conservation Area, a starkly beautiful and fascinating place, bursting with stories of the people that attempted to settle there.

Discover the petroglyphs and wall remnants that they left behind and take advantage of the excellent hikes around El Calderon Cinder Cone that give rise to spectacular views at the summit.

14. Very Large Array

Very Large ArraySource: William Cushman / shutterstock
Very Large Array

Just over two hours away from Albuquerque you’ll find one of the world’s most impressive feats of technological ingenuity otherwise known as the Very Large Array.

One of the leading astronomical observatories on the planet, the array contains 27 radio antennas that have been responsible for shedding light on groundbreaking celestial activity that would’ve been otherwise imperceptible.

You can get up close and personal with the huge satellite dishes on self-guided tours and you can learn more about the observatory at the Visitor Center.

15. Santa Fe

Santa Fe, NMSource: Frank Romeo / shutterstock
Santa Fe

One of the oldest cities in the United States, Santa Fe is both gorgeous and positively steeped in history.

A former Spanish colony, you can find all manner of fascinating sites here.

From the Palace of Governors to the Georgia O’Keefe Art Museum, the city is the ideal place for those looking to find a bit of everything.

Whether you’re into churches and basilicas or folk-art and traditional ranchos, Santa Fe is one of those places with something new to discover around every corner.

15 Best Day Trips from Albuquerque:

  • Acoma Pueblo
  • Jemez Springs
  • Salinas Pueblo Missions
  • Madrid
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve
  • White Sands National Monument
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • Bandelier National Monument
  • Cumbres-Toltec Scenic Railway
  • Tent Rocks National Monument
  • Taos
  • Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge
  • El Malpais National Conservation Area
  • Very Large Array
  • Santa Fe