The area surrounding the Taos Junction Bridge in Pilar, Taos County, New Mexico.

7 Most Charming River Towns in New Mexico to Visit in 2024

New Mexico, for those that haven’t been, is often mistakenly thought of as a barren, windswept desert. Nothing could be further from the truth. The diverse landscapes of New Mexico from its high desert, Southern Rocky Mountains, lush valleys, and dramatic rushing rivers, is a land of immense natural beauty. Bordered by the states of Texas, Utah, and Colorado, the towns of Red River and Chama are a haven for fly fishing and outdoor enthusiasts. Jemez Springs, with its mineral hot springs, has been a place of spiritual renewal and healing for centuries. Pilar has whitewater rafting. Arroyo Seco is a gateway to the Taos ski resorts. Bernalillo and Corrales offer views of the Rio Grande.

The state of New Mexico has been touched by Native American cultures, Spain, and Mexico. There are so many outdoor adventures to be had and historical sites to explore. Embark on a journey in 2024 to the charming river towns of the state, and one will quickly discover the vibrant culture, art scenes, and commercial attractions that are New Mexico.

Red River

Aerial view of Red River, New Mexico.
Overlooking Red River, New Mexico.

The town of Red River is in Taos County in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Surrounded by mountain views and dense pine forests, the vibes of peacefulness and serenity abound. Yet there is an adventure waiting around every corner. The Red River, for which the town is named, runs through the heart of the village and is a haven for those who love fly fishing and outdoor activities. The 19th century town has its roots in mining, and there are many silver, copper, and gold decommissioned mines that can be toured. Red River was also once a center for logging.

Today, the town’s economy is mostly based on tourism. Visitors enjoy the local skiing, fishing, hiking, and biking. The quaint downtown’s wooden storefronts have a rustic, western style. Red River Community House is an early 20th-century building that was originally a former schoolhouse and is now a community center. Two commercial attractions in the area are the Red River Ski Area and the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area (located just outside of town).


Landscape near Chama, New Mexico.
Landscape near Chama, New Mexico. Image credit Gestalt Imagery via Shutterstock

When visiting Chama, one will find themselves enveloped by lush forests, verdant valleys, the San Juan Mountains, and exquisite views of the Chama River. Located a short distance from the Colorado border, the town offers hiking trails, fishing, and water activities in this nature lover’s domain. Chama’s downtown features historical adobe-style architecture paired with a charming plaza.

A railroad town, Chama serves as the hub for the Rio Grande Western Railroad, which was a catalyst for the region’s trade and transportation in the 19th century. Historical landmarks and commercial attractions worth visiting are the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, the Chama Valley Heritage Museum, and the Chama Church of Christ (a historic church).

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco Mercantile, Arroyo Seco New Mexico
Arroyo Seco Mercantile, Arroyo Seco New Mexico. Image credit John Phelan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The 200-year-old village of Arroyo Seco is full of natural beauties from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to its quaint downtown, rolling hills, and expansive meadows. The Taos Ski Valley is a popular attraction for visitors in the winter months. The Rio Grande River and Gorge are spectacular to view from the ground or the air.

The town has attracted an artistic community. Many painters come to paint the landscapes and rivers. Nearby historical landmarks are the San Francisco de Asis Church (a 1772-1815 adobe church), the Martínez Hacienda (a 19th-century adobe home), and Arroyo Seco Mercantile (a unique shopping experience).


Rafting on the Rio Grande near Pilar, New Mexico
Rafting on the Rio Grande near Pilar, New Mexico.

Known as a top whitewater rafting location in northern New Mexico, Pilar is located along the Rio Grande at the point where the river leaves the Orilla Verde Valley. The town has a vibrant artistic community with Hispanic roots. Pilar was previously named Cieneguilla because the town was built on swamp land. The views of the Rio Grande Gorge from the town are second to none. The landscape is marked by dramatic cliffs and high desert terrain. The Rio Grande provides plenty of opportunities for water activities and fishing.

The town dates to Native American settlements, and the river has facilitated trade and cross-cultural activity. Historical landmarks include The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (completed in 1965). One might also consider a visit to the Orilla Verde Recreation Area for hiking, fishing, and birding.


View of Sandia mountains from Corrales, New Mexico
Sandia Mountains from Corrales, New Mexico.

Corrales is another Rio Grande River town that has a rich history. The village was settled by Spanish farmers in the 18th century. Prehistoric sites in the Corrales Valley date to 500 CE, when distant ancestors of the Pueblo Indians made this area their home. Many other people groups settled here including Hispanic, European, and American families.

The area was conducive for growing apples and grapes and for cattle ranching. Corrales is known for its vineyards, orchards, and horse ranches, and is home to Corrales Winery. The rolling hills and agricultural fields are bounded by the river, providing a dramatic backdrop, ideal for a weekend getaway. Nearby historical landmarks include the San Felipe de Neri Church (in nearby Albuquerque), built in 1793.


Sandia Mountains from the Bosque near Bernalillo, New Mexico
Sandia Mountains from the Bosque near Bernalillo, New Mexico.

Nested along the Rio Grande, the town of Bernalillo is surrounded by the Sandia Mountains and the fertile river valley. The area is famous for its dramatic sunsets that cast a glow over the landscape. The bosque cottonwood forest lies along the riverbanks with the rising mountains in the background. The downtown is home to the iconic Our Lady of Sorrows Church, which is a historical landmark to not miss.

The town was a center for trade and agriculture during the Spanish colonial period. Be sure to check out Bernalillo Historic Railroad Depot, the place to explore the town's railroad past.

Jemez Springs

Beautiful landscape of Battleship Rock at Jemez Springs, New Mexico
Beautiful landscape of Battleship Rock at Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

The Jemez River flows to the south through the Cañon de San Diego, between the Jemez Mountains and the Nacimiento Mountains, and to the town of Jemez Springs. Jemez Springs has been a center for healing and culture for centuries, with its mineral hot springs. These hot springs were considered sacred by the Pueblo people. Spanish explorers later discovered the springs and established the town. The tall Ponderosa pines, the backdrop of the mountains, and the serenity of the river make Jemez Springs a wonderful resort destination. The relaxation of the hot springs, rocky terrain, and dense forest, coupled with the downtown’s charm, is a real tourist draw.

Historical landmarks include the Jemez Historic Site, Battleship Rock (a rock formation that resembles a battleship), and the Jemez Springs Bath House (an early 1900s historical gem). Don’t miss the Valles Caldera National Preserve with its ancient volcanic crater.

New Mexico River Towns

These charming river towns of New Mexico will steal one’s heart. From the rugged mountains to the lush valleys to the stunning river vistas that run through and along these towns. Visitors are enchanted by the magic of New Mexico and its natural beauties. When planning a trip in 2024, consider all that New Mexico has to offer, with its water activities of fishing and whitewater rafting. There is so much geographical diversity in the state, from the high desert to the fertile valleys, rivers lined with towering pines, and historical and natural wonders to explore.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 7 Most Charming River Towns in New Mexico to Visit in 2024

More in Places