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After living in New Mexico for the past several years, I have had the opportunity to visit many unique towns that are filled with quirky personalities and southwestern charm. Beyond the large and popular tourist destinations of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, you can learn a lot about the state and experience incredible food, art, and stories by getting off the interstates and exploring the backroads.
To inspire your adventures in the place I call home, here are some of the best small towns to visit in New Mexico.
Red River, New Mexico is a prime place for winter recreation since the area typically gets over 200 inches of snow each year. This is a top small town to visit if you love skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. The mountain town is also a lovely place to visit when the weather is warm if you enjoy outdoor recreation like fishing, hiking, and biking. It is in the north-central part of the state and is also home to seasonal events and live music performances. For example, you can check out the bluegrass festival in August and the annual songwriters’ festival in January. But no matter when you visit, Red River is perfect for a romantic getaway with someone special or a family vacation with non-stop fun.
The small village of Corrales, New Mexico is just outside of Albuquerque and the large suburb of Rio Rancho. It has a quaint vibe and agricultural heritage that celebrates all things local. People live a rural lifestyle in Corrales (think horseback riding along the main road through town) even though it is so close to metropolitan areas, which provides a breath of fresh air when you want to slow down your pace of travel. When you visit Corrales, you can check out the local shops with handmade treasures, numerous wineries and breweries, farm-to-table cuisine restaurants, and impressive art galleries that celebrate the spirit of the Southwest.
This is perhaps the New Mexico small town with the most bizarre name, but it is certainly worth visiting if you enjoy quirky destinations and hippie vibes. Truth or Consequences has a bustling Main Street lined with boutique stores, coffee shops, and an excellent brewery with food and live music. Check out the Geronimo Springs Museum, walk around Veterans Memorial Park, and soak at La Paloma Hot Springs & Spa during your trip. The area is known for its hot springs and nearby recreation too, including Elephant Butte State Park, Caballo Lake State Park, and Percha Dam State Park. The town is situated just off Interstate 25, making it a perfect place to explore as a break on a road trip or preferably longer.
Ruidoso is a New Mexico mountain town known for its outdoor adventure and beautiful scenery. This is a small town people visit to see wildlife, go camping, hike in the Lincoln National Forest, and browse local shops. Popular things to do here include hiking, biking, fishing, and paddling. Visit the Midtown area for arts, shopping, and dining. The Ruidoso Downs Race Track is open in the summer and home to horseracing excitement, while Ski Apache is the local ski resort for a winter trip.
Silver City is considered to be the gateway town to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but there is plenty to do right in town as well before and after your trip to the national park. Silver City is located at the foothills of the Pinos Altos Mountains and enjoys four gentle seasons with fresh air and plenty of sunshine. Silver City is a little off the beaten path and one of those places that you make a point to visit rather than just stumbling upon it while traveling somewhere else. It’s in the rugged southwestern region of the state and an old mining town where you can learn about mining history, Native American art, and the great outdoors. To keep families entertained, Silver City has a bowling alley, museums, golf, and souvenir shops.
Jemez Springs is a popular spot among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in New Mexico. In this part of the state, you will find hot springs (which are actually more warm than hot) where you can take a dip and soak in the soothing waters. Jemez Springs is about an hour from both Albuquerque and Santa Fe along a scenic drive route. During a trip here, you can explore ancient ruins, dine at local establishments, and head out further into the wilderness of the Santa Fe National Forest and Valles Caldera Preserve.
Best known for being the home of Aztec Ruins National Monument, the town of Aztec, New Mexico is a unique place to visit and a great home base for exploring the broader region. The national monument features ruins that were once a Native American gathering place and thriving cultural capital. There are natural arches in this area that provide impressive photo ops on your hikes. In town, check out the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village, as well as the Aztec Speedway if an event is going on during your trip. Chaco Culture National Historic Park is about 74 miles from Aztec but definitely worth the drive to see some of the most impressive Puebloan community ruins in the world.
Situated along the Turquoise Trail scenic drive, Madrid is an artsy town in a narrow canyon of the Ortiz Mountains. Madrid was once a mining town but has transformed into a creative community with dozens of shops, eateries, a museum, and a spa. This small town is an excellent day trip destination from either Albuquerque or Santa Fe because it is along Highway 14, which connects the larger cities. While you are here, make a point to also visit the small town of Cerillos, which has a state park and opportunities for horseback riding.
Chimayó is a Catholic pilgrimage site that is an important place in New Mexico history and culture. Even if you aren’t Catholic or religious at all, it is fun to take a day trip from Santa Fe to Chimayó, which is just about 40 minutes away. You’ll travel along the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway and see views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. On a trip to Chimayó, you will see El Santuario de Chimayó, which is the pilgrimage center with a dirt floor that is believed to have healing powers. Also, check out the weaving shop, art galleries, and Santa Cruz Lake nearby.
The small town of Tucumcari is known for its Route 66 history and is a popular road trip stop. It is home to nostalgic murals, neon signs, roadside motels, diners, and museums. Tucumcari is one of the oldest towns in the state and has an interesting history to learn about. It is right off Interstate 40, so you will likely pass right by it while traveling from east to west through the state.
Santa Rosa’s big claim to fame is the Blue Hole, a natural artesian spring that is 81 feet deep and an unexpected scuba diving destination. The spring is typically at a temperature of 62 degrees year-round, which means you can take a dive down deep below even in the winter. Located in northeastern New Mexico, Santa Rosa has a Main Street worth checking out. Park Lake is a nice place to rent a pedal boat and walk along the trails. You will pass right by Santa Rosa while driving between Albuquerque and Amarillo.
The tiny town of Mountainair has a friendly vibe that feels like taking a step back in time. The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is in this area, but the town itself offers accommodation in hotels and campgrounds. Walk down Main Street to see the works of resident artists in the galleries and murals. There is an annual Sunflower Festival in August and rodeos in the summertime too.
Sitting at a high elevation of 9,000 feet, Cloudcroft is a New Mexico town in the southeast region of the state. Outdoor enthusiasts love it here because of the great access to mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, and camping. Because of the high elevation, the weather typically stays cool in the 70s, making it a perfect place to beat the New Mexico summer heat that will have you sweating in most other places. In the winter, you can spend your days having fun with inner-tubing, skiing, and ice skating.
Like many small New Mexico towns, Raton is known for its outdoor recreation. It is the highest point of the Historic Santa Fe Trail/Raton Pass and is tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. The town is at the crossroads of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, so you may find yourself passing by the area on a road trip. It’s nestled among the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and along Interstate 25, amidst breathtaking scenery and with a vibrant art scene to explore in town as well.
Nevada isn’t the only state to have a Las Vegas worth visiting! Las Vegas, New Mexico is a town in the northeastern part of the state that has historic homes, modern amenities, and easy access to outdoor recreation. There is a university and community college located here, plus quaint shops, business chains, and plenty of amenities to help you feel right at home. There are more than 900 buildings listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Las Vegas is just minutes from two national forests, and many campgrounds set up along the Gallinas River. Storrie Lake State Park is a few miles away as well and offers opportunities for fishing, boating, hiking, and tent and RV camping.