As the fifth largest state in the country, New Mexico covers 121,590 square miles. You could combine the nine smallest states in the nation and New Mexico would still be bigger! There’s a lot of land to explore here and the best way to see it is by car. We hope that these 9 scenic drives will inspire you to load up your vehicle and hit the road this summer.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
The Enchanted Circle exceeds the expectations created by its name. The breathtaking scenery makes it my favorite drive of all time. This loop covers 85-miles in North Central New Mexico and goes through the towns of Taos, Eagle Nest, Red River, and Questa. The route includes Elizabethtown (now a ghost town) and panoramic vistas of some of the prettiest peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Route: US 64, Highway 38, Highway 522
2. Sunspot Scenic Byway
Stretching between Cloudcroft and Sunspot, this byway guides you through the Sacramento Mountains on a road that is 16-miles long (one-way). Highlights include views of the Tularosa Basin and the Apache Point Observatory, where visitors are allowed to wander around the grounds.
Route: Highway 130, Highway 6563
3. Billy the Kid Scenic Byway
Whether you're obsessed with the Old West or simply curious about New Mexico's most infamous outlaw, this 84-mile drive delivers. It's a loop with three spurs that require you to double back. This road trip means driving through towns such as Capitan, Ruidoso, and Lincoln. The latter gives you an excellent feel for life in the Wild West.
Route: Highway 380, Highway 48, Highway 70
4. High Road to Taos Scenic Byway
While the Low Road to Taos offers impressive scenery, the High Road is nothing short of spectacular. It runs from Santa Fe to Taos. The landscape between Santa Fe and Chimayo is filled with dramatic rock formations. After that, the route passes by the Truchas Peaks to Las Trampas (pause to admire the church), through miles of forest that continue until the descent towards Taos. This road trip is about 70 miles long.
Route: Highway 503 (off Highway 285), Highway 520, Highway 76, Highway 75, Highway 518. Keep an eye out for the signs marking the byway as it does weave quite a bit.
5. Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway
The scenery along this 33-mile drive is as unique as it is stark. This unpaved road travels through the wilderness of El Malpais, a national monument that features a volcanic landscape and lava flows.
Route: County Road 42 (accessible via NM 53 or NM 117)
Tip: Only attempt this drive in a high-clearance vehicle and when the weather is good.
6. Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway
The Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway packs an insane amount of natural beauty into its 163 miles. This trip incorporates Valles Caldera – a great place to spot wildlife – Jemez Falls, and Soda Dam. Along the way, you’ll have access to developed hot springs or, if you’re in the mood for adventure, hike to some of the area’s primitive hot springs.
Route: NM 4, US 550, NM 126
7. Route 66 National Scenic Byway
The portion of Route 66 that spans New Mexico runs alongside I-40. The Mother Road passes through kitsch-laden Tucumcari, Santa Rosa (check out the Blue Hole), Albuquerque, Grants, and Gallup (stop to admire El Rancho Hotel).
8. El Camino Real National Scenic Byway
Nowadays, the stretch of El Camino Real in New Mexico essentially follows I-25 - it branches off onto Highway 285 between Santa Fe and Espanola. This approximately 310-mile drive passes attractions such as Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Center and, of course, El Camino Real International Heritage Center.
9. Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway
This 154-mile loop trail is named after the military leader Geronimo, who called this region home. You can start the drive at either San Lorenzo (near Silver City) or Beaverhead to the north. It passes through ghost towns such as Winston, the stunning Gila Wilderness, and Truth or Consequences where you can relax with a soak at one of the town’s many hot springs resorts.
Route from San Lorenzo: Highway 152, NM 187, 181, Highway 52, Highway 59