Frye's Old Town complex in Red River, New Mexico. Image credit Nolichuckyjake via Shutterstock

8 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in New Mexico

New Mexico, often referred to as the "Land of Enchantment," blends Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo traditions, evident in its art, architecture, and local customs. The state's landscape is equally varied, encompassing high deserts, wooded mountain ranges, and vast plains. New Mexico's capital, Santa Fe, is the oldest state capital in the United States, founded in 1610, and is known for its Pueblo-style architecture and vibrant arts scene. Albuquerque, the largest city, hosts the International Balloon Fiesta, the world's largest hot-air balloon festival.

Beyond its cities, New Mexico is also home to charming small towns that give a more intimate look at the state's rich history and cultural heritage. These eight should be at the top of your bucket list.


Taos Pueblo, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Taos Pueblo, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Taos, New Mexico, is located in the high desert at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The town has long been a crossroads of the Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures and is perhaps best known for its historic adobe architecture. Taos has been a magnet for artists and writers since the early 20th century, drawn by its dramatic landscapes and light. Towering mountains provide a backdrop for the town.

Taos Pueblo is a must-visit, showing off the living history and culture of the Native American community that has resided there for millennia. The adobe structures and the community's practices are a way of life preserved through the ages. Another site is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, one of the highest bridges in the United States. It spans the deep canyon carved by the Rio Grande and has views of the gorge. Additionally, a visit to Earthship Biotecture is an eye-opening look at sustainable living. This community of off-grid homes, built from natural and recycled materials, showcases innovative designs that minimize ecological impact and are adapted to the harsh desert environment.


Historic downtown in Cimarron, New Mexico
Historic downtown in Cimarron, New Mexico. Image credit Traveller70 via Shutterstock

Cimarron is in the northeastern part of New Mexico, and its name is derived from the Spanish word for "wild" or "untamed." The town was once a frontier of conflict and commerce, frequented by notable figures such as Kit Carson and the infamous outlaw, "Black Jack" Ketchum. The surrounding area comprises rolling prairies broken by volcanic rocks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west.

Cimarron Canyon State Park has dramatic rocky cliffs and river scenery ideal for fishing, hiking, and camping. The park's ecosystems and accessible trails allow visitors to closely experience New Mexico wilderness. The Palisades Sill, located within the state park, is an impressive geological feature composed of vertical columns of cooled volcanic ash, ideal for photography and nature walks. Additionally, the historic Chase Ranch is home to well-preserved 19th-century ranch buildings and is still operational. This ranch offers educational tours that highlight traditional ranching practices.

Jemez Springs

House in Jemez Springs.
House in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Image credit Cathy from USA - Jemez SpringsUploaded by PDTillman, CC BY-SA 2.0, File:House in Jemez Springs.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Jemez Springs, New Mexico, is a village in the Jemez Mountains. Known for its natural hot springs, Jemez Springs is located in the Jemez National Recreation Area, rich in geological features including vast caldera and rugged basalt cliffs. Historically, the area has been the homeland of the Jemez Pueblo people, who have resided there for centuries.

The Jemez Historic Site has ruins of the 17th-century San José de los Jemez church and several ancient pueblo dwellings. This site gives an important perspective on the Spanish colonial history and the ancient traditions of the Native American people of the region. The Valles Caldera National Preserve is another attraction. It was formed by volcanic activity that can be explored through hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing in one of the largest calderas in the United States. Additionally, Spence Hot Springs is a relaxing and scenic experience, where visitors can soak in natural thermal pools surrounded by the Jemez Mountains.


Beautiful green park with fountains and water lake, Ruidoso, New Mexico
Beautiful green park with fountains and water lake, Ruidoso, New Mexico.

Ruidoso is a mountain resort town in the Sierra Blanca range. This charming village, sitting at an elevation of approximately 6,900 feet, has a cool, mild climate and abundant pine forests. Historically, Ruidoso began as a small logging town. The area's history is also marked by its proximity to the Lincoln County War sites, which were central to the conflict involving figures like Billy the Kid.

Lincoln National Forest surrounds Ruidoso and is excellent for hiking, camping, and horseback riding, with trails and vistas that cater to all levels. Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area is another notable attraction as one of the longest cave systems in New Mexico. Visitors can participate in guided tours of the caves to see its natural underground formations. Grindstone Lake is a more relaxed setting for fishing, hiking, and picnicking, with additional options for boating and water sports during the summer months. The lake area also includes a trail system for mountain biking and hiking.


El Santuario de Chimayo in Chimayo, New Mexico.
El Santuario de Chimayo in Chimayo, New Mexico.

Chimayó, New Mexico, is a small, culturally rich village in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the north-central part of the state. This region is known for its Native American roots and the influence of Spanish colonial settlers who arrived in the late 17th century. Chimayó is particularly famed for its religious heritage, deeply rooted in the local Catholic community, which contributes to its reputation as a place of pilgrimage.

El Santuario de Chimayó, one of the most revered holy sites in the United States, attracts thousands of pilgrims annually, especially during Holy Week. This historic church is famed for its healing dirt and religious folk art. Ortega’s Weaving Shop is another must-visit location, where visitors can observe traditional Spanish weaving techniques and purchase handwoven textiles that reflect the rich weaving heritage of Chimayó. Finally, Rancho de Chimayó serves traditional New Mexican cuisine in a century-old adobe home. This restaurant lets visitors witness the traditional lifestyle and hospitality integral to Chimayó's charm.


Quaint Roadside Shop in Madrid New Mexico.
Quaint roadside shop in Madrid, New Mexico.

Madrid is in the Ortiz Mountains along the scenic Turquoise Trail. The town flourished due to the demand for coal. Madrid's coal mines were among the most productive in the state until the decline of coal use in the mid-20th century, which led to the town's temporary abandonment. In the 1970s, Madrid was revitalized by artists and entrepreneurs who transformed the abandoned homes and shops into galleries, boutiques, and cafes.

The Mine Shaft Tavern has a rustic, historical ambiance and serves as a community hub where visitors can enjoy live music, local cuisine, and a variety of beverages. The Old Coal Town Museum further explores Madrid's mining era through artifacts, photographs, and stories from its coal mining days. Additionally, the Madrid Christmas Parade is an annual highlight, displaying the town's quirky and artistic spirit. This festive event includes colorful floats, performances, and holiday cheer.


Tourist looking at the ristras hanging in front of the store in Mesilla, New Mexico.
Tourist looking at the ristras hanging in front of the store in Mesilla, New Mexico. Image credit Grossinger via Shutterstock

Mesilla, New Mexico, is a town in the southern part of the state, near Las Cruces and just a short distance from the Rio Grande. Founded in the mid-19th century, Mesilla was significant in the area's transition from Mexican to US governance following the Gadsden Purchase in 1854. The town's plaza and surrounding buildings are examples of traditional Spanish colonial architecture. Mesilla has been a crossroads of cultures for centuries.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park has trails for walking and bird watching along the Rio Grande. The park is a relatively new addition to New Mexico's state park system and aims to preserve and restore the floodplain of the Rio Grande. The Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the area, stands proudly on the historic Mesilla Plaza. It educates visitors on the religious history of the region. For entertainment, the Fountain Theatre, operated by the Mesilla Valley Film Society, is the oldest movie theater in New Mexico and shows independent and foreign films.

Red River

Timbers Restaurant, a steakhouse on W Main St in downtown Red River, New Mexico.
Timbers Restaurant in downtown Red River, New Mexico. Image credit PICTOR PICTURES via

Red River is a mountain town within the high peaks of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountain range in the Rockies. Founded in the late 19th century as a mining camp, the town was originally a hotspot for gold, silver, and copper miners. As the mining industry dwindled in the early 20th century, Red River transformed into a resort destination, capitalizing on its alpine setting, with lush forests and clear streams.

The Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area has extensive trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter in snow-covered hills and forests. It is an excellent place for families and individuals. The Goose Lake Trail is a hiking destination, known for its challenging yet rewarding hike that leads to Goose Lake. This trail is ideal for those looking to explore the more remote areas of the surrounding mountains. For the more adventurous, the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area presents an opportunity to explore New Mexico’s highest peaks, with hiking trails to lookouts of the surrounding valleys and rugged terrain.

New Mexico's charming small towns are windows into the state's diverse culture and natural beauty. From the historical depth and artistic spirit of Taos to the quiet allure of Jemez Springs with its soothing hot springs and native history, these towns exemplify the unique character of the "Land of Enchantment." Ruidoso and Chimayó further showcase the state's appeal, offering a blend of recreational activities and spiritual heritage that draws visitors year-round. Each of these towns contributes to the rich mosaic of experiences that New Mexico offers, making them essential destinations for anyone seeking to explore beyond the more frequented urban centers.

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