One of the joys of this time of year is seeing the blaze of fall colors sweep across New Mexico. There are few sights as beautiful as a mountainside transformed by vibrant yellow aspens. According to predictions by the Farmers’ Almanac, in New Mexico, the leaves will be at their most stunning between September 28
th and October 9 th this year. You know what that means? Road trip! We’ve combined several of the state’s most scenic drives into a trip that’ll give you an incredible leaf-peeping experience. This drive begins (or ends) in Santa Fe. It covers 296 miles and the drive time is 7 hours, without stops. Here is the map.
1. Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway
Every year, the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway wows locals and visitors alike. This drive is 16 miles each way and it’s extremely popular in fall because of the incredible views of the aspens.
The twisting drive up Hyde Park Road (also called NM-475) culminates at the Santa Fe Ski Basin. Be sure to pause at the aptly named Aspen Vista on the way up (pictured).
There are plenty of other potential stops for hiking, along with a scenic overlook that offers panoramic views.
On the map, you’ll notice the end destination is marked as the Winsor Trailhead. If you’re using GPS, we recommend inputting that rather than Ski Santa Fe, which often shows up incorrectly.
2. El Santuario de Chimayó
Now it’s time to gas up and leave Santa Fe. You’re embarking on a journey through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the infamous High Road to Taos. Drive along the US-285/84, enjoying views of the mountains to your right and rock formations, mostly on the left. Make a right onto NM-503 and continue to NM-76. This part of the route does weave a little but just keep an eye out for the helpful signs that mark the High Road.
Stop to admire El Santuario de Chimayó, which is especially pretty at this time of year, and to collect some of the sacred earth that draws pilgrims here.
3. Continue along the High Road to Taos. En route, you’ll pass through the mountain towns of Truchas...
Wikimedia Commons/Bobak Ha'Eri
…and the Carson National Forest.
4. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
Now that you’ve reached Taos, transition to another of New Mexico’s scenic drives: The Enchanted Circle. This 83-mile drive is as bewitching as it sounds. It forms a loop joining the towns of Taos, Eagle Nest, Red River, and Questa.
5. Cimarron Canyon State Park
Mid-way round the circle, leave the official route to visit Cimarron Canyon State Park. The Cimarron River gushes through this canyon, which is popular with fishermen and camping enthusiasts. The rocky cliffs make the scenery dramatic.
Inside this state park, you'll find Palisades Sill. It's 300-feet high and 40 million years old!
6. Eagle Nest State Park
As you return to the Enchanted Circle, visit Eagle Nest State Park. You’re now at an elevation of 8300 feet so the lake water is bracing if you’re brave enough to stick a toe in. This is a great spot for a picnic or a little wildlife watching.
Okay, you’re not actually going to scale Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico at 13,161 feet (unless you want to), but this mountain is in the center of the Enchanted Circle. Its presence contributes to the gorgeous landscapes. This is a view from the top.
7. Red River
Stretch your legs and soak in the natural beauty of Red River. Start with the Red River Nature Trail, which follows the path of the river. It's easy enough for almost anyone to enjoy.
You can also explore Red River Canyon...
...Or try a more challenging hike. There are enough trails in this area to keep you walking for months!
8. Tres Piedras
Work your way around the Enchanted Circle then head west along US-64. You’ll spend much of this section of the drive in another section of the Carson National Forest. This road is tranquil, leaving you time to gaze at the foliage.
9. Tierra Amarilla
On the way to Tierra Amarilla, US-64 reaches an elevation of 10,507 feet. Definitely stop at the pull offs, which provide views of the Brazos Cliffs. If it’s been wet, you may spy a seasonal waterfall tumbling down the rock face.
Optional add on: Heron Lake State Park, which is 12 miles from Tierra Amarilla.
Arrive in Chama, where your drive comes to an end. As you can see, this area is spectacular in fall.
Chama is also where you’ll find the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.
This was recently voted as the country’s
best train ride.
The train runs between Chama in New Mexico and Antonito in Southern Colorado.
This is an ideal way to conclude a fall foliage tour of New Mexico.