New Mexico is a diverse state with landscapes that vary from endless desert to sky-high mountain ranges. Artists all throughout American history have made their way to New Mexico just to use its beauty as creative inspiration. So, it’s no wonder that while in New Mexico, many travelers skip the big cities and instead make their way to the outskirts.
Perhaps because of all the space they’re allotted, small town in New Mexico have all taken on a strong and unique identity. There’s a small town that named itself after a gameshow down, a town known solely for its pies, and many small towns claim Billy the Kid – a notorious outlaw, proudly as their own. At times, it can feel like anything goes in these quaint places.
Many of the small towns listed are perfect for staying for weeks or exist simply as the perfect resting stop. No matter, each is worth visiting and you’ll quickly see why.
Lets explore the best small towns to visit in New Mexico:
Set to the backdrop of the incredible Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is a small town with a thriving arts scene. So much so, that even artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams once made their way here to use the scenery as a muse. The town is rich in spiritual tradition, culture, architecture, and is even a great base to see Taos Pueble, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When not enjoying the cultural scene, you can also use Taos as a base for outdoor recreation. There are nearby ski resorts in the winter, and lakes, hiking trails, hot air ballooning, ziplining, camping, and more once the weather warms up.
2. Silver City
Silver City is one of the key players in colorful tales about the wild wild west. After all, ringleaders of the town arrested Billy the Kid, known to many as the first outlaw.
Today, Silver City has so many things to offer visitors interested in live entertainment, old west heritage, and a vibrant downtown square scene. Some top museums include the Western New Mexico University Museum and the Silver City Museum, where you can find heritage artifacts unique to America’s South West.
Outdoor enthusiasts will also love catching some sunshine at the Big Ditch Park, Chino Mine Vista Point, Penny Park, the Gila National Forest, and the Mimbres River Preserve. There are so many places to stop and relax with a packed picnic. It’s easy to see why Silver City is such a hit among locals.
Some like it hot in Chimayó, a small town near Santa Fe that’s home to the Chimayó heirloom chili. This town makes for an easy and accessible day trip from Santa Fe, where you can try delicious heavily spiced food and even try your hand at traditional weaving. Chimayó is famous for its beautiful weavings that stem from the Ortega and Trujillo families. These textiles are one of a kind artwork where each one is unique and not found anywhere else.
Another interesting fact about Chimayó is that it was once the location of a healing site and the dirt is believed to be holy. It is one of the most-visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the United States, where thousands of believers come to visit the El Santuario de Chimayó church – where some of the healing dirt is stored. People often rub dirt on their aching bodies with the hope that the dirt will one day cure them.
4. Truth or Consequences
Yes, Truth or Consequences really is the name of this New Mexico small town – though many locals simply refer to it as T&C. This town was named in 1950, after radio host of the show Truth or Consequences dared any town to take on the name. The lighthearted citizens of Truth or Consequences took up the offer and the new town name was born. The town has attracted fun-loving locals to its area ever since.
While in T&C, you can also visit a plethora of spas and hot springs that surround the area, perfect for relaxing and catching up with a good book. The town is also a great base for exploring the Elephant Butte Lake State Park, where you can fish, hike, and swim at this recreational hotspot.
Cloudcroft is a 110-year-old small town with a strong history as a pioneer village and set within stunning mountains. Many visitors come to explore the beautiful surrounding nature, but stay thanks to the fun architecture and friendly locals. During the winter, it’s easy to take advantage of all the winter sports like cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snow-mobiling, snow-shoeing, and so much more.
Life in Cloudcroft always seems to revolve around celebration. This small town – despite its small size – hosts events like the Badass Mountain Music Festival, the July Jamboree Arts and Crafts Show, winter sports festivals, and other live performances.
Rodeo is so small, it doesn’t even have a gas station. But don’t give it a pass for its small size just yet – Rodeo is one of the best small towns that truly shows old western culture and heritage. It’s between the Chiricahua and Pelencillo mountains and home the beloved Rodeo Tavern, the local watering hole that gets very social on weekends. There are also a variety of art galleries like the Chiricahua Desert Museum and Gallery, Davidson’s Mini Dreams display, and an exhibit called Sky Gypsies. When you want to get out of town, there are hiking trails that lead all throughout the region ready for you to explore.
7. Las Vegas
Las Vegas, New Mexico is a far cry from its namesake in Nevada. This small town challenges takes pride in being true, where what you see is what you get. There are so many antique shops, quirky art exhibits and museums, live music venues, and more. The town’s tagline is “Damn Authentic,” and the fact that its been chosen to be the filming location of tens of movie sets is living proof – no fake film set-up needed.
Aside from its beauty and interesting location, Las Vegas also has one of two of New Mexico’s drive-in theaters, a gang of ghosts roaming about, and once hosted the notorious characters of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and Wyatt Earp. Don’t worry, the days of gun slinging and bar brawls are over – though you might find yourself looking over your shoulder more than usual.
Aztec is a must-see small town for history buffs. Visit Aztec for its cultural sites and when you’re done exploring those, use it as a base to relax in old western beauty. At the Aztec Ruins National Monument, you can tour ancient Pueblo architecture. Some large ruins even span over 900 years and the Great House has over 400 masonry rooms! Another must-see for history lovers is the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village, where you can admire the strength the pioneers had in order to settle here, and view authentic artifacts.
There are also over 300 sandstone natural arches that will have you feeling like you’re on an entirely different planet. For more natural beauty, head to the nearby San Juan River for fishing among sandstone canyons.
Madrid was once a ghost town but is no longer. With just 300 residents, Madrid is on the tiny end of the small town spectrum. Visitors still flock to Madrid because it’s a main stop on the Turquoise Trail, a scenic trail on Highway 14 that passes through the state’s best turquoise mining areas. Even if you’re just passing through, you’d be silly to miss ordering a green chili burger from the Mine Shaft Tavern, the town’s most popular watering hole.
There are so many galleries and art shops to visit while in Madrid. Some favorites include Trading Bird, Indigo Gallery, and the Starshine Gallery, where you’re likely to grab a great deal on Turquoise handcrafted jewelry. For shoppers, there are also other antique shops and boutique clothing shops where you can find items not found anywhere else.
In the past 100 years, not much has changed architecturally in Mesilla. The plaza and village is just as beautiful as ever, and it’s easy to imagine yesteryear to the days when Billy the Kid ruled the roost. The Mesilla Plaza is even a National Historic Landmark because of its significance.
Locals mark their hospitality by decorating their homes and businesses with ristras, red chile strung together. It’s best to visit Mesilla during a cultural event, of which there are many throughout the year. Some crowd favorites include Cinco de Mayo, Dis de Los Muertos, Mariachi Festivals, Jazz Concerts, or even Christmas Eve, when the town lights up hundreds of luminarias.
This mountain town is set among over a million acres of natural beauty. Everywhere you look there are national forests, hiking and mountain biking trails, lakes, streams, and so many trees. If you visit in winter, you can easily escape to Ski Apache ski resord. Needless to say, it’s the perfect stop for travelers obsessed with outdoor adventures.
In town, Ruidoso has a thriving art scene that especially focuses on Native American styled jewelry and displays. There are also a variety of restaurants, boutique shops, and historical sites. However, when in Ruidoso, it’s best to copy the lifestyle of the locals and spend your time relaxing amidst the beauty of nature. Two words ring true here: Don’t rush.
12. Red River
No matter the season, Red River is a must-see destination for anyone visiting New Mexico, as there’s no shortage of things to do. Though Red River used to be a rough and tumble town complete with brothels, bar fights, and outlaws, it’s taken on a much tamer reputation today. There are constant community events throughout the year to look out for.
Thrill seekers can use Red River as a base for zip-lining, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, snow shoeing, and so much more. There are a variety of cozy cabins to rent and warm up at during the winter months – or to relax at when the weather is warm. If you get too overwhelmed by all of the activities on offer, simply check into one of the town’s handful of spas for a massage and a mud wrap.
13. Pie Town
Get ready for puns in Pie Town, where you can eat pies at the Pie-o-neer Pie café where all your dreams might just be a pie in the sky. In fact, this small town was indeed named after a café that served incredible apple pies in the early 1900s, though some locals claim it got its name from being “3.14 miles from nowhere.”
This makes a great resting point if you’re traveling through the Continental Divide Trail where you can grab a thick slice of world-class pie. One famous slice is the Mexican Apple Pie from Good Pie Café, where their classic apple comes with locally grown green chile and pinon. Many people come to Pie Town not only for the pie but also for the sheer remoteness of it. Many artists find it liberating to be in a true pioneer town with enough wide-open spaces to let their creativity flow freely.
The citizens of Belen have always been self-sufficient. The town started from forty families who made Belen into what it is today – a thriving community with a variety of hotels, restaurants, historic sites, and citizens who love the Rio Grande Valley. While in Belen, be sure to visit the Belen Harvey House Museum, a historical structure perfect for photos and exploring. This small town also makes a great resting point for long-distance travelers, as it’s just a short way away from the I-25 and I-40.
Clayton is known as the Town of Enchantment by those who visit with an exciting history that stems from the Dust Bowl days, when Americans moved to Clayton, New Mexico, in search of a more fulfilling life. It was the first town on the Santa Fe Trail that sprung up after a railroad was developed from Kansas. Now, you can experience Native American culture, visit the stunning views of the Rabbit Ear Mountains, and more.