The beautiful town of Chimayo, New Mexico.

7 Picture-Perfect Towns in New Mexico

New Mexico has always served as a meeting place for cultures, peoples, and ideas. Once a Spanish colonial territory, the region earned US statehood in (only) 1912 and has continued to blossom as a historic and photogenic center of travel and tourism from the United States, its southern neighbor Mexico, and elsewhere. Beyond the state's larger cities like AlbuquerqueLas Cruces, and the capital, Sante Fe, small towns like those here provide visitors a look at the state's authentic, sometimes out-of-the-way charms. With a heritage of Native American settlements, modern art, and some of the greatest of the great American outdoors, New Mexico's smaller towns are well worth a detour — and a few photos, too.


Downtown Rudioso,  New Mexico.
Downtown Rudioso,  New Mexico. Image credit: Beatnik Photos via

The high-altitude town of Ruidoso, population 7,800, has beckoned outdoors fans for generations. Found in the state's south-central zone, in an unusually verdant region for New Mexico, Ruidoso sits inside the Lincoln National Forest. Hikers and skiers will enjoy Sierra Blanca Peak, also called White Peak, a nearly 12,000-foot mountain west of town. The Ski Apache resort is owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache tribe. The town takes its name from the Rio Ruidoso, which translates from Spanish as "noisy river," which is, in fact, a stream running through the center of town. 

Less outdoorsy types will enjoy the Inn of the Mountain Gods, a combination casino, hotel, golf course, and arcade, which the Mescalero Apache run also. Boating fans can hit the water at Grindstone Lake, south of town, or from the Inn of the Mountain Gods, given its proximity to Mescalero Lake. 


Sign of a motel in Tucumari, New Mexico.
Sign of a motel in Tucumari, New Mexico. Image credit: Mobilus In Mobili via

The historic district of northeastern Tucumcari, with 5,100 inhabitants, has attracted tourists for generations. Founded in 1901, the place should be of particular interest to history fans. Its Main Street boasts buildings still in use, like the Tucumcari Railroad Museum, housed in a former rail station first built in 1926, and the Odeon Theatre, completed in 1937. Today, the town is a cattle-raising hub with two major ranches. The T4 Cattle Company is based here, while the Bell Ranch celebrates 200 years of business in 2024. Both ranches claim to be among the largest in the United States. 

For hikers and walkers, Tucumcari Mountain will interest active types of all fitness levels. The Mesalands Dinosaur Museum is an obvious draw for families traveling with children. And not least, for the wanderer in all of us, Tucumcari's Route 66 Monument stands as a noble tribute to what it calls the "Mother Road" of the American West.  

Silver City

A historic building in Silver City, New Mexico.
A historic building in Silver City, New Mexico.

The southwest town of Silver City, with 9,500 inhabitants, gets its name from the mining frenzy that brought thousands to New Mexico in the 1870s. The town's Silco Theater, from 1923, completed renovation and has operated as a movie house since 2016. The town remains a center of culture for the Apache and other Native American communities. Silver City's downtown also includes the Grant County Art Guild Gallery, a venue focused on local artists, and the Silver City Museum.

Nature fans will enjoy Gila National Forest, a gigantic preserve with hiking, scenic overlooks, and waterfalls. Like Ruidoso and Tucumcari, hikers love Silver City, especially for the Market Street Trailhead and the Boston Hills Open Space, both just outside town. The eighteen holes at Scott Park Golf Links, which is the home course for Western New Mexico University, will keep golfers busy, too.  


El Santuario De Chimayo historic Church in New Mexico
El Santuario De Chimayo historic Church in New Mexico.

Few New Mexico towns reflect the state's Spanish and Catholic heritage, like north-central Chimayo. Its population is a modest 3,200, and the town has long drawn Catholic and other religious pilgrims. Some call Chimayo the "Lourdes of America," referring to the French town and major pilgrimage site of the same name. The town is notable for its Spanish-colonial plazas, also called placitas, including El Portrero de Chimayo and the Plaza del Cerro, translated respectively as "Pasture Plaza" and "Hill Plaza." The first plaza hosts El Santuario de Chimayo, a chapel that, according to tradition, has healing powers for its faithful visitors. For a break from town, try camping at Overlook Campground or North Lake Campground. The latter allows for fishing and boating. 


Chaves County Courthouse in downtown Roswell, New Mexico
Chaves County Courthouse in downtown Roswell, New Mexico.

The southeastern Roswell, a larger town of 47,400 residents, is famous among paranormal enthusiasts or anyone who has ever wondered about alien life forms. The town has welcomed truth-seekers ever since the 1947 'Roswell Incident,' when, according to the story, an extraterrestrial spaceship crashed outside town. Roswell's alien- and space-related tourism industry has swelled since then, as indicated by the International UFO Museum and Research Center here. 

Roswell is close to some of the best natural areas in the US Southwest. These include Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, with access to the Pecos River, as well as Bottomless Lakes State Park. For something family-friendly and closer to town, Berrendo Park has grassy fields, a cookout area, and a playground. 

Los Alamos

Scenic view of Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Los Alamos, New Mexico
Scenic view of Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Los Alamos, population 19,200, owes its founding to the twentieth-century nuclear arms industry. The town was reimagined in the 2023 film "Oppenheimer," which portrays J. Robert Oppenheimer, the US scientist who pioneered the construction of the first-ever atomic bomb in this place. Interested visitors can learn more at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the Los Alamos History Museum, and the Bradley Science Museum to see how the stories of the atomic bomb and Los Alamos run together. 

Hiking enthusiasts might make Los Alamos a base for exploring the Bandelier National Monument, which offers breathtaking canyon views and shares research on 11,000-year-old human settlements nearby. Near to Los Alamos is the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera Natural Preserve, which marks ten years in the United States National Park System in 2024. It has a circular, thirteen-mile-wide meadow ("valle," in Spanish), a geographical anomaly that is full of local wildlife. The park also provides ideal streams for fly fishing. 


Taos Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico.
Taos Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico.

Taos, a north-central town with 6,400 inhabitants, offers an unbeatable slice of New Mexico's artistic history. Art lovers should go to the Taos Art Museum at Fechim House and the Harwood Museum of Art, both local favorites. The American painter Georgia O'Keeffe, who some remember as the "Mother of American Modernism," took many trips to Taos to live, paint, and play alongside other artists here. More than twenty of Taos' buildings appear on the National Register of Historic Places. 

For more local history, the town also offers the Taos Pueblo, a Native American architectural complex with unique adobe constructions. The location has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. Nature fans should make for the Sangre de Cristo mountains to Taos's east or Carson National Forest to the northeast.

New Mexico's Sees-and-Dos Are Picture-Perfect

The smaller, picturesque towns of New Mexico offer a great menu of choice for travelers in the Southwest. From Spanish-colonial heritage and architecture to artistic traditions that live on today, the state invites visitors with abundant points of interest. Add to that real or debatable UFO lore in Roswell and the all-too-real advancement of major modern weapons in Los Alamos, and the state of New Mexico has enough to warrant several return visits. But the state's hiking and natural areas, from Lincoln National Forest to the Valles Caldera Natural Preserve, maybe what captures New Mexico at its best and most beautiful. The traveler's question may not be whether to visit the state but how soon. 

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