New Mexico August 19, 2017
Most People Don’t Know You Can Visit These Seven National Parks In New Mexico For Free
Who doesn’t love things that are free, especially if those things involve a bit of a road trip? Our national park system has just the thing. Each year, about six times per year, selected parks throw open their doors and welcome all comers. This makes for a budget-friendly adventure, fit for families and adult travelers alike.
Below are some of the national parks in New Mexico that offer free entrance days.
1. Aztec Ruins National Monument (Aztec)
Here live the roots of the Pueblo people. This monument, in the Four Corners area, lets visitors explore the ruins of a walled city built by the Ancestral Pueblo people in the 1100s. Though a "ruin," the site is remarkably well-preserved. Completely walled, the settlement has more than 400 rooms and a dozen kivas.
The completely restored "Great Kiva" is the oldest and largest reconstructed kiva in North America. The self-guided trail around the site is about a half-mile long.
Just 14 miles from Farmington, the Aztec monument is easy to reach by car. Find it at 725 Ruins Road, in Aztec.
2. Bandelier National Monument (Los Alamos)
Bandelier National Monument is most well known for the cave dwellings dug into cliffs. Almost resembling an apartment building, the caves were dug from the volcanic tuff cliffs by the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived at Bandelier in the 12th Century.
The monument spans 33,000 acres, but there is no way you can see it all. For the best ruins, take the trail into Frijoles Canyon. Also, climb the four wooden ladders to reach the Alcove House, a petroglyph-covered cave with a reconstructed kiva. Read more about
exploring these ruins up close
. Bandelier National Monument is located at 15 Entrance Road, Los Alamos.
3. Capulin Volcano National Monument (Capulin)
Capulin Volcano rises almost 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape. However, don't worry, it is long extinct. If you have ever wanted to explore a volcano up close, here is your chance. You can drive right up the side and park at the rim. From there, a trail leads to the bottom of the crater.
Aside from the majesty of the volcano itself, catching the scenic vistas is the "to-do" thing at Capulin. You can also check out the visitor center for ranger-led programs and a short film about the volcano.
The monument is located on State Highway 325, 3 miles north of U.S. Highway 64/87.
4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Carlsbad)
Go underground at Carlsbad Caverns for an other-worldly view. This is another New Mexico must-do experience. The Big Room is the grandest cave of the 119-cave system. It is big enough to hold more than six football fields. Many consider it the most visually interesting, with features like the Bottomless Pit and Painted Grotto.
Pro Tip: Hang out until dusk and catch the Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the cave in masse, in search of their evening meal. Before you go, check out more information about this
beautiful, underground attraction
. Carlsbad is located in the southeast part of the state at 727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway, in Carlsbad.
5. Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Nageezi)
It's a little tough to get to Chaco Canyon. It's 70 miles from any town and the drive involves a long bumpy ride down a washboard road. Just chalk it up to part of the experience. Though remote by today's standards, Chaco was once a center for Puebloan culture.
The ancient inhabitants had complex engineering and architectural skills. The excavated ruins on this site prove this out, with Chacoan "great houses," kivas, roads, and a mystifying geometric layout. If the history thing bums you out, this park also has hiking, biking, and even night sky programs. Learn more about these
incredible ancient ruins
. Reach the Chaco site at 1808 County Road 7950, in Nageezi.
6. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (Silver City)
Gila is another national site that takes a little planning to get to. It's in the Gila National forest, at the edge of the Gila Wilderness. The 553-acre site contains the ruins of cave dwellings built by the Mogollon peoples between 1275 and 1300 AD. The dwellings are interlinked and built across five cliff alcoves.
After you're done exploring the cliffs, look for hot springs in the area, too. The Lightfeather spring is easy to reach. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to from the visitor's center.
At Gila, be sure to
hike to this aboveground cave
. Find the Gila Cliff Dwellings at milemarker 43, New Mexico Highway 15 (43 miles north of Silver City).
7. White Sands National Monument (Near Alamogordo)
Since sand shifts with the wind, White Sands National Monument is never the same. Here, pure white gypsum covers 275 square miles, making it the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Unlike other types of sand, the gypsum crystals at White Sands don't get hot.
The park opens early and stays open past sunset. White Sands is always breathtaking but the light at dusk and dawn amplifies the beauty.
Check out some
spectacular video footage
of White Sands. The visitor center is located about 15 miles (24 km) west of Alamogordo on the north side of US 70.
Look for free entrance days around holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day and Veterans Day. The National Parks Service also celebrates its birthday and National Public Lands Day with free park entrances.
Keep in mind, not all parks participate in every free-admission day.
Be sure to call the park before you plan your free trip. For more information, visit the National Park Service Free Entrance Day information web page.
Have you taken advantage of any of the free entrance days at New Mexico Parks? Tell us about your experiences.