10 Best New Mexico Outdoor Activities
The range of activities and adventures available in New Mexico is one of the reasons it has earned the name The Land of Enchantment. We wouldn’t presume to tell you what to do or where to visit with your precious free time this summer, but what follows is our educated take on the 10 outdoor things you really must do in New Mexico. So whether it’s this summer or further into the future, we strongly suggest you put these adventures on your to-do list.
Angel Fire Resort | 10 Miller, Angel Fire, 575.377.4320; $119; angelfireresort.com
Throwing yourself off platforms and across canyons at speeds approaching 40 mph and at elevations in excess of 10,000 feet might not seem like the sanest activity. But who said you must always be sane? Angel Fire Resort’s zipline, built in 2012, is billed as the highest-elevation zipline in the U.S. The various runs on the tour range from a 120-foot training line to a 1,600-foot dual zipline that soars 200 feet above the forest floor. The harnesses, helmets, and clips give a strong sense of security, as does the pre-tour safety training, which is called “flight school.”
505.672.3861; $6, $12 per carload; nps.gov/band
An immense wall of rock dotted with depressions and cavities — both natural and man-made — loom above you, while 33,000 acres of forest and wilderness surround you. As you reach the halfway point of the main trail, a decision must be made: Go back to the visitor center and call it a day, or continue for another half mile up four wooden ladders and stone stairs to reach the Alcove House and witness a spectacular view. Bandelier National Monument boasts more than 70 miles of trails to trek and explore. Experience for yourself how the ancestral pueblo people lived over 11,000 years ago.
White’s City, 27 miles from Carlsbad; $10, kids 15 and younger free; nps.gov/cave
When sulfuric acid met the rocky limestone heart of the Carlsbad Caverns millions of years ago, it left a vast array of underground chambers and passageways — 119 known caves in all — each filled to the brink with natural treasures like unusual rock formations and large populations of cave swallows and bats. The caves can be accessed through hiking paths or the park elevators. Ranger-guided tours of the caverns are available by reservation and offer the chance to experience the caverns’ most interesting underground spaces. Self-guided cave tours are also welcomed throughout summer. No matter how many times you visit this park, each time the experience is unique.
White Sands National Monument
Highway US 70, between Alamogordo and Las Cruces; $3, kids 15 and younger free; nps.gov/whsa
Have you ever wanted to walk on the moon? White Sands National Monument offers a topography that will transport you to another planet. Experience the downy sand and mountainous dunes as you wander through the breathtaking expanse, watching the sunset paint the hills or hiking beneath the smiling face of a full moon. Children especially enjoy sledding down the monumental crests of the park’s desert snow. This fantastical landscape acts as an outdoor spa experience, soothing and inspiring all who take a moment to breathe in the soft landscape beneath the majestic New Mexican sky.
Spanning a whopping 558,014 acres in southwest New Mexico, the Gila National Forest is the nation’s largest and oldest designated Wilderness Area. The Gila is composed of distinct portions — pinion and juniper collide with high mesas and deep canyons, towering mountains reach elevations of 10,895 feet, and the Gila River is outlined by ponderosa pine and sheer cliffs. This diverse terrain welcomes everyone from hardcore backpack adrenaline junkies to families just looking to get out of the house and into some nature.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
1808 Country Rd. 7950, Nageezi; $4, $8 per carload; nps.gov/chcu
Chaco Canyon will transport you in time. Known as the center of an ancient world, Chaco Culture National Historical Park was once home to the ancestral pueblo peoples. The buildings of Chaco Canyon are unlike any in the Southwest, engineered with precision stonework and aligned with annual celestial events. If you prefer just relaxing and taking in the scenery on your own, Chaco has many hiking and biking trails. Chaco Canyon’s renowned Night Sky Program can also be enjoyed this summer, allowing the rare chance to experience astronomy in the natural darkness of this beautiful New Mexican site in all its star-lit glory.
Tent Rocks National Monument
New Mexico 22, Cochiti Pueblo; $5 per carload
Kasha Katuwe on the Pajarito Plateau is a mouth-full of adventure. “Kasha Katuwe” means “white cliffs” in the language of Cochiti Pueblo, and it describes the beautiful mountains of Tent Rocks National Monument. The astounding landscapes are far more than just white cliffs, however, encompassing shades of beige, peachy-pinks and stormy grays, and including peculiar cone-shaped rock formations that poke the sky in this area about an hour northwest of Albuquerque. Recreational trails are open for exploration. The main trail is only a two-mile (albeit steep up and down) round trip, making this a very doable half-day excursion.
Mountain Bike Adventure
South Boundary Trail — Angel Fire to Taos; newmexico.org/nm-adventures-biking
The stunning mountain scenery of North Central New Mexico is the lure of this all-day 23-mile ride from Angel Fire to Taos. Requiring an intermediate skill level, it starts with a strenuous four-mile climb near Black Lake and follows Carson National Forest Trail No. 164 through spruce and aspen forests. With an elevation variation from 8,700 feet to 10,800 feet and dramatic panoramas from the Paradise Park overlook, if you are looking for the signature New Mexico mountain bike ride, this might be it.
Very Large Array
50 miles west of Socorro, 575.835.7000; Free tours; public.nrao.edu
Mapping black holes, young stars, and complex gas motions around the Milky Way, all while probing space to find out just how big it really is — this is merely a day’s work at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array. Composed of 27 antennas at an impressive 82 feet in diameter each, these giant dishes gather information electronically so scientists and astronomers can study the infinite mystery we know as space. Explore exhibits to learn more about radio astronomy, and watch a 20-minute video that explains what these antennas are and how they work. Finish your tour by experiencing one of these 230-ton antennas up close and personal.
Rio Grande Gorge, near Taos
In a land where water is sparse, there’s surprising power and force to the spring flows of the Rio Grande River through the basalt canyons known as the Taos Box. With 60 rapids, 13 of which are rated Class Three or above, this 17-mile rafting adventure starts north of Taos and runs all day long. It’s true wilderness — you’re quite likely to see bighorn sheep on the banks or eagles and hawks overhead. And with whitewater runs with names like “Boat Reamer” and “Enema,” it’s an adventure that will leave a lasting impression.