On the Road Again: How to Spend Seven Days in New Mexico

While it might be surprising to some, New Mexico is packed with noteworthy nature and history, making it difficult to narrow its highlights down to just a seven-day itinerary. Here’s how to spend a week in New Mexico, also referred to as the “Land of Enchantment.”

Day 1: Arrive in Santa Fe

To see the most out of New Mexico, I suggest flying into Santa Fe Regional Airport (SAF) and arranging a one-way rental car for a departure out of Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), a clever play on words given New Mexico’s desert climate. Santa Fe is an art-enthusiast’s best friend, as downtown Santa Fe is home to numerous art galleries, as well as art festivals. There is also no shortage of top-of-the-line authentic Mexican food in the downtown area, which is where you’re likely to get the best feel for the city’s culture.

Day 2: Bandelier National Monument

Around 46 miles west of Santa Fe is Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Bandelier National Monument preserves the homes and settlements of the Ancestral Puebloans, with humans believed to have settled in the area 10,000 years ago. Visitors can view ancestral pueblo homes and petroglyphs, along with choosing between a plethora of long and short trails to hike. Many trails include ladder climbs that add an exhilarating challenge for families. It is ideal to visit Bandelier in the spring or fall, when New Mexico temperatures are not as extreme.

Day 3: Drive to Ruidoso

Wake up early and drive three hours south to the village of Ruidoso in the Sierra Blanca mountains, notorious for its summer horse races at Ruidoso Downs Race Track. Quaint Ruidoso has a fair share of nature mixed in with unique local cafes and restaurants. Stop by Noisy Water Winery for a wine tasting, or grab lunch at The Village Buttery for soup, salads, sandwiches, and a slice of their famous buttermilk pie.

Day 4: Tour Fort Stanton Historic Site

An interesting historic site 30 minutes outside of Ruidoso is Fort Stanton Historic Site, which served as an internment site for German merchant seamen during the Great Depression. With some buildings throughout the site dating back to 1855 and the American Civil War, the camp that initially housed German war prisoners and Japanese internees was later used by mob-threatened Japanese-American families as a place of refuge during WWII. From 1960 to 1995, Fort Stanton was transformed into a low security women’s prison, as well as the State Hospital for the Developmentally Handicapped. General admission is currently free for children and only $7.00 for adults, making it an affordable day trip from Ruidoso.

Day 5: White Sands National Park

One of New Mexico’s biggest tourist attractions is White Sands National Park, sitting a little over an hour south of Ruidoso. What makes White Sands a stunning nature-lover’s destination is its rare gypsum sand dunes that can often be mistaken for snow by the naked eye. The dunes cover 275 miles of New Mexico’s desert in the Tularosa Basin, and are excellent for sledding down their powdery white sand in plastic snow saucers. Perfect for families with children of all ages, White Sands can be hiked, driven and picnicked by, or ridden by horseback with proper permits.

Day 6: Drive to Albuquerque

Ahead of your flight home the next day, drive from Ruidoso nearly three hours north to the large city of Albuquerque to spend the night. It’s hard to be bored in New Mexico’s largest city packed with Native American history, the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, and nearby Petroglyph National Monument. Another family-friendly activity is riding the Sandia Peak Tramway, which transports passengers to the top of Sandia Peak via a 2.7 mile tram ride. At the top, riders are subject to stunning mountain views, trailheads, skiing during the colder months, and dining with a view.

Day 7: Fly home from ABQ

After spending the night in Albuquerque, return your rental car at ABQ ahead of your flight home. Grab a latte at Black Mesa Coffee Company after clearing security in Concourse A, or fill up on green chile chicken soup at USA Today-featured Comida Buena before boarding your flight home.

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