In New Mexico, driving the backroads is often the key to unlocking some of the state’s best scenery. There is no shortage of country roads here – many of them unpaved – to satisfy either those seeking adventure or simply escape. So next time you have a day off and a certain restless feeling, head out on these 9 roads less traveled. (Many of these routes involve unpaved roads and should not be attempted during bad weather.)
1. Cuba to Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness
The roughly 78-mile drive between Cuba and the Bisti Badlands features rock formations that make you think of the land as a giant concertina, folding in on itself. This impression culminates when you arrive at the Bisti Badlands. These are best explored on foot, unless you're comfortable off-roading it in a surreal environment in which it's easy to get lost. It's called "wilderness" for a reason, so bring any supplies you need with you.
Route: US 550, NM 57, CR 7610, CR 7500
The Badlands are close to Chaco Canyon. Adding this on to your drive involves a bone-jarring ride across washboarded "roads." But this cultural treasure is worth the effort.
2. Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway
This 93-mile loop through the Gila Wilderness is a solitude seeker's dream. Although the route starts in Silver City and passes through Pinos Altos, most of the journey is as gorgeous as it is remote.
Allow plenty of time - especially when visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings - because the road is often tortuous. The slower pace lets you absorb the views and Lake Roberts makes a particularly scenic picnic spot.
Route: Start in Silver City, take NM 15, continue on to the cliff dwellings then backtrack to the connection with NM 35, pick up the 152 in San Lorenzo then follow US 180 back to Silver City.
3. Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway
You could drive between Santa Fe and Albuquerque along I-25, but if you have a little extra time opt for the 52-mile Turquoise Trail instead. It offers superior scenery and the opportunity to explore several ghost towns.
Route: Highway 14
4. Raton to Capulin
Most people take Highway 87/64 when traveling between Raton and Capulin but, if great views are your goal, take the less popular route through Sugarite Canyon State Park, across a mesa to Folsom (where Folsom Man was uncovered) before ending at Capulin Volcano National Monument. The drive is about 45-miles in length.
Route: Highway 72, Highway 325
5. Shiprock to Four Corners Monument
Shiprock is an imposing sight that deserves to be on everyone's bucket list. This drive connects the iconic New Mexico rock formation with the only place in the nation where you can simultaneously be in four states. Although a lonely drive, this portion of the Colorado Plateau has its own stark beauty.
Route: US 64, US 160, NM 597
Confession: this 33-mile road trip involves a brief dip into Arizona.
6. Taos to Mora
If mountain views and crystal clear streams appeal to you, definitely explore this underrated drive that connects Taos to Mora. The route spans 48 winding miles.
Route: US 64, NM 68, NM 518
7. Guadalupe Backcountry Scenic Byway
There's more to the Carlsbad region than the Carlsbad Caverns. Tour the Chihuahuan Desert on this side of the border with this 30-mile drive into the Guadalupe Mountains. Add on a detour to Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area to appreciate one of New Mexico's best waterfalls.
Route: Queens Highway/ NM 137 (peel off onto Sitting Bull Falls Road if you want to add on this attraction).
8. Costilla to Cimarron via Valle Vidal
Cruise 69-miles through this remote section of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, next to some of the range's tallest peaks. Other highlights include Costilla Creek, the Valle Vidal Unit with its many elk, and clumps of aspen that are particularly striking in fall. If you want to linger in this stunning area, there's a rudimentary campground at McCrystal Creek.
Route: Highway 196, Forest Road 1950, Highway 64
9. Quebradas Backcountry Scenic Byway
The land along this 24-mile route in the vicinity of Socorro is saturated with color. The country road is situated between two national refuges, which increases your chances of seeing some of New Mexico's beautiful wildlife.
The route is currently open but be aware that it is being repaired. The road is unpaved so high clearance vehicles are needed for this drive.
Route: Leave I-25 at Escondida and watch out for signs to the byway, which will guide you along your drive.
It’s a little tricky to find the Quebradas Backcountry Scenic Byway. For more details, click