Ten Scenic Drives In New Mexico

If y’all haven’t figured it out yet, we’re huge fans of a nice scenic drive. Just getting off the Interstate and taking the slower, longer route for a few hours is a great way to explore the incredibly beautiful nature that surrounds nearly any city, town, or backwater village in the country.

New Mexico, as a whole, is beautiful, so finding a scenic drive isn’t a tall order. With 6 weeks to explore the state, we saw quite a lot (compared to spending 6 weeks in the entire southeast finding scenic drives). Nonetheless, here are ten of our favorite scenic drives in New Mexico, some very short, some rather long, in no particular order.

The Jemez Mountains (NM-4)

From: Bernalillo, NM
To: Los Alamos, NM
States: NM
Length: 80 miles
Nearby Cities: Albuquerque, NM; Jemez Springs, NM
Google Maps Link

Our Valentine’s Day adventure this year was a day of driving through the Jemez and Sandia Mountains. The first part of our day was spend on the Sandia Crest Byway (coming up next!), while the second part was spent in the Jemez Mountains.

This scenic drive heads out of Bernalillo, just northeast of Albuquerque, on US-550 for 20 or so miles, then picks up NM-4 for about 50 miles of unbelievable scenery. Both US-550 and NM-4 are incredible, taking you through red rock desert, a valley between sheer cliffs, and dense pine forests.

Along the way, there are endless opportunities for recreation, whether you’re in for camping, hiking, sitting in a hot spring, or checking out monuments. The first three speak for themselves. As for the monuments, you have the Jemez State Monument (closed Mon and Tue), Valle Grande, and Bandelier National Monument.

Sandia Crest Byway (NM-536)

From: Sandia Park, NM
To: Sandia Crest
States: NM
Length: 13 miles
Nearby Cities: Albuquerque, NM
Google Maps Link

The end of the Sandia Crest Byway, Sandia Crest, sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet. The beginning, coming off of NM-14, sits at roughly 7,000 feet. Over the course of 13 miles, you’ll gain nearly 4,000 feet of elevation. This is truly a climb, and a beautiful one at that!

It’s obviously a short drive, though a great idea would be to string together a drive up NM-536 with a drive through the Jemez Mountains on NM-4 like we did. To connect them, you can pick up NM-165 on your way back down from the Crest and take it through Placitas to Bernalillo for the start of the Jemez trip.

The Turquoise Trail (NM-14)

From: Sandia Park, NM
To: Santa Fe, NM
States: NM
Length: 50 miles
Nearby Cities: Albuquerque, NM; Santa Fe, NM
Google Maps Link

When we drove from Sandia Park to Santa Fe, we opted for NM-14, otherwise known as The Turquoise Trail. This is a great little drive through some old turquoise mining towns (hence the name), including Madrid and Cerillos. For you movie buffs, Cerillos has been the filming site of numerous movies, including Young Guns and The Nine Lives Of Elfego Baca.

The High Road to Taos

From: Santa Fe, NM
To: Taos,NM
States: NM
Length: 90 miles
Nearby Cities: Santa Fe, NM; Taos, NM
Google Maps Link

Both of the ways you can go from Santa Fe to Taos are scenic and beautiful. In fact, both are on this list. But The High Road To Taos is certainly the more scenic of the two.

This drive winds you through high desert ridges and pine forests in and around Santa Fe National Forest. Along the way are small towns, breath-taking views, and even a ski slope!

The Enchanted Circle

From: Taos, NM
To: Taos, NM
States: NM
Length: 110 miles
Nearby Cities: Taos, NM
Bonus Side Trips: Taos Ski Valley, Wheeler Peak, Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Google Maps Link

The Enchanted Circle is a scenic drive through several small mountain towns around Taos, NM. Over the course of 3 or 4 hours, you’ll wind through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Carson National Forest, along with the towns of Eagle Nest, Red River, and Questa.

If you have the time, take the side trips. If you don’t have time for everything, try to fit in the side trips to Wheeler Peak and to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings (NM-15)

From: Silver City, NM
To: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
States: NM
Length: 45 miles
Nearby Cities: Silver City, NM
Google Maps Link

This isn’t a long drive, at least in terms of distance. It’s only about 45 miles from Silver City to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. But it will take you about 1.5 hours.

If you’re like us though, that’s quite alright. The journey is as beautiful as the destination, up mountain roads and through dense forests. You’ll find plenty of places to stop and take pictures or just take in the vistas. And of course, you should go ahead and see the Cliff Dwellings since you’re there.

Gila National Forest (US-180)

From: Silver City, NM
To: Springerville, AZ
States: NM, AZ
Length: 146 miles
Nearby Cities: Silver City, NM
Google Maps Link

This drive technically touches into Arizona too at the very end, but that’s okay. We’re not being sticklers here. If you want to be, you can stop at the Arizona border and turn around. US-180 runs west then north out of Silver City up through the western edge of Gila National Forest. Eventually, it crosses into Arizona and Apache National Forest before winding all the way to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.

We’ve talked about the drives through Gila National Forest several times. This one is a little different though. You come out of the mountains and spend some time in rolling grasslands before finally winding up back in the mountains and forests of Gila and Apache.

It’s definitely out of the way, but also very worth the trip to see this part of New Mexico.

NM-68 from Taos

From: Taos, NM
To: Espanola, NM
States: NM
Length: 45 miles
Nearby Cities: Taos, NM
Google Maps Link

As we mentioned, both ways to and from Taos from the south are awesome. While The High Road is more scenic, NM-68 from Taos to Espanola is also pretty incredible. It winds along the Rio Grande River, over mountains and through valleys. Along the way are numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation, including rafting or kayaking, plus several wineries, breweries, and art galleries.

Lincoln National Forest (US-82)

From: Artesia, NM
To: Alamogordo, NM
States: NM
Length: 110 miles
Nearby Cities: Carlsbad, NM; Alamogordo, NM
Google Maps Link

This was a drive that really surprised us. We were heading to Alamogordo to see where Edie’s dad was stationed while he was in the Air Force and suddenly realized “Holy cow, this is amazing!”

Aside from the standard mountain views and forests of New Mexico (standard though they may be, they are always appreciated), there were two cool features that stuck out. First is a tunnel. For some reason, tunnels are always fun, no matter how short or long. The second was an observation deck overlooking an old restored railroad bridge. The railroad ran from Alamogordo up to Cloudcroft, serving as a summer getaway from the heat of Alamogordo.

Reading the story of the railroad and seeing the tracks makes you realize just how badly people must have wanted to escape the heat. It certainly doesn’t pass as the safest transportation option, though back then it might have been.

Central New Mexico

From: Roswell, NM
To: Willard,NM
States: NM
Length: 141 miles
Nearby Cities: Albuquerque, NM; Roswell, NM
Google Maps Link

This was our first drive in New Mexico on this trip. We’d seen Gila National Forest, but outside of that, New Mexico was an unknown to us. This is probably the least exciting of the drives here, but it’s still quite nice. Instead of going up and over the mountains, this is an easy drive through the valleys.

Taking NM-247 and NM-42N, you wind through rolling hills with mountains in the distance. In the entire 90 miles (the first 50 aren’t scenic, but get you from Roswell to the turn onto NM-247), we saw a total of 6 cars. You’re just out in the middle of New Mexico, surrounded by wide open space, and you have it all to yourself.

There’s a strong possibility we’ll find ourselves in New Mexico again in the future. Which scenic drives do you recommend?