New Mexico May 23, 2017
The 7 Best Backroads In New Mexico For A Long Scenic Drive
One of New Mexico’s many selling points is its lack of traffic – at least in comparison to other states. Unless you’re in the heart of an urban area, chances are you’re zipping along at a good pace, and sometimes you even have the road to yourself. While cruising through the countryside is always relaxing, doing so while gazing at gorgeous scenery is even better. So next time you’re in the mood for a long, pretty drive, check out these 7 backroads through New Mexico.
1. Highway 60
The road between Socorro and Quemado is as scenic as it is deserted. Beginning in Socorro, the route leads you past dramatic landscapes – like those found at the Box Recreation Area. After Magdalena, the drive opens up into plains hemmed in by forest. Be sure to stop at the Very Large Array and Pie Town on your journey. This 105-mile long drive takes about 1 hr and 45 minutes one-way, without stops.
Although the distance between Pecos and Cowles is a mere 19 miles, this counts as a "long" drive because there are so many tempting places to pull over that it can easily eat up a full day. This route steers you deep into the Santa Fe National Forest. Mountains rise in the distance, while the Pecos River gushes parallel to the road. We defy you to take this drive without stopping to fish, take a dip (cold, but oh so clear), or go hiking so you can see the staggering scenery up close.
3. NM-244, Highway 70, County Road 532
Think of the 58-mile drive between Cloudcroft and Ski Apache as a mountain-to-mountain route. Start in Cloudcroft, a tiny town in the Sacramento Mountains that oozes charm, then descend through a pine forest to Mescalero, where you’ll find the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort. Continue on to Ruidoso, originally a mill town and now a popular destination for outdoor-loving travelers. As you climb back up towards Ski Apache, pause at a lookout called Windy Point for unbeatable mountain vistas. This drive should take 1 hour and 49 minutes one-way.
This drive from Tucumcari to Las Vegas spans 107 miles and takes a hair under two hours. Travel across undulating landscapes featuring plains and mesas. The route takes you past Conchas Lake State Park and, if solitude is your goal, you won’t be disappointed because you’ll probably have the road to yourself.
5. Highway 180 and NM-32
Sometimes "scenic" is code for nerve-wracking, and that’s the case with this drive through the Gila National Forest. The views of mountains, forest, and wilderness make it totally worthwhile, but be aware that this is not your casual Sunday cruise. The 152-mile long journey connects Silver City to Quemado and leads to some of the most beautiful scenery in the state. The trade off for all this natural glory? Tightly curving roads and a distinct lack of guardrails! As a result, the drive takes 2 hours and 47 minutes.
6. Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway
Another great - if tortuous - drive in Southwestern New Mexico is Trail of the Mountain Spirits, an official scenic byway that begins and concludes in San Lorenzo. On this 93-mile loop, which follows the course of the Tour of the Gila bicycle race, you can visit Lake Roberts (pictured), veer off route to view the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and discover charming small towns like that of Pinos Altos. It’s a good idea to devote a full day to this drive because sections are winding and there’s plenty to see.
7. Highway 550
Driving between San Ysidro and Nageezi takes you past the vibrant red rocks of the Ojito Wilderness, by the crumbling remains of ghost towns, and through land banded with color. This 93-mile drive should take 1 hr and 26 minutes, one-way. Cuba is a great place to make a pitstop. From Highway 550, it's easy to check out
or Chaco Canyon. Taking this journey southbound eventually leads you to Albuquerque.
So what are you waiting for? Load up your cooler and hit the road. Just remember to check the weather forecast and gas up before you go – in rural New Mexico, open gas stations can be few and far between.
What’s your favorite scenic drive in the Land of Enchantment?
We’ve already covered some of New Mexico’s official scenic byways in a past article that you can read