Boasting one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, the Land of Enchantment more than lives up to its moniker. The snow-capped southern tail of the Rocky Mountains soar thousands of feet into the sky, while lush green pastures, technicolor wildflower fields and bright white gypsum dunes stretch beneath your feet. History snakes it way through ancient Indian pueblos, where campers can explore Native American adobes and art-filled churches.
To say there’s a lot going on in the northern half of New Mexico is an understatement. For starters, there’s the stunning Pecos National Historical Park, lined with colorful aspen trees, scenic mountain trails, cascading waterfalls and the stunning blue Pecos River.
Whitewater rafting along the Rio Grande is bucket list stuff for the paddling set, and guided excursions range from beginner trips to super challenging, oh-my-god-what-have-I-signed-up-for rapids. On a quirkier tip, you can ride a llama in the Taos area, where outfitters take hikers on scenic day trips paired with gourmet food; or descend into the mouth of the non-active Capulin Volcano National Monument, near Raton. Hikers and fishermen love the rocky trails through Santa Fe National Forest, filled with thick forests and fly fishing streams.
Just the mention of Bisti Badlands (technically the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness) is enough to feel like you’ve stepped into a Mad Max movie. The remote, 45,000-acre high desert wilderness, located just south of Farmington, is home to some of the most unique rock formations on earth. This is one of the best-preserved records of a pre-historic swamp, filled with spires, hoodoos, and arches.
Scuba divers flock in from all over the country to find their way to Blue Hole, a famous artesian spring with pristine, electric blue waters offering 100 feet of visibility. The artesian well pumps out more than 3,000 gallons of water per minute — ensuring a steady 62 degrees and a continual rush of water.
An absolute highlight of southern New Mexico is the White Sands National Monument, where you can trek, sled or sand board across the largest gypsum dune field in the world. The glistening white dunes range in elevation from 3890' to 4116' above sea level. The world’s most famous cave system, Carlsbad Caverns, also calls this region home. Vast underground chambers soar up to 250 feet in some areas, and are filled with awe-inspiring stalagmites, stalactites and speleothems (mesmerizing cave decorations formed by calcite).
About 80 miles south of Albuquerque, you’ll find Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation's finest refuges. In winter, volumes of birds take respite here, and seeing the masses fly together in the morning and evening hours is an unforgettable spectacle.
Ancient Native American city ruins and cliff dwellings abound in Western New Mexico. Wild West buffs can visit Butch Cassidy's former headquarters in Mogollon, or Billy the Kid’s hometown of Silver City. Got stargazing on the mind? You won’t find much better than Gila’s Cosmic Campground in Gila National Forest, which was the first U.S. Dark Sky Sanctuary anointed by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
This desert region is home to all kinds of dramatic rock formations, but the super fun City of Rocks State Park is worth a special excursion. Wind your way through passageways between enormous boulders, some as tall as 40 feet. These natural “skyscrapers” were formed by a volcanic explosion about 35 million years ago, and the area can be explored by bike or foot.