The gift shop across from the town square in Mesilla, New Mexico, USA. Editorial credit: Fotoluminate LLC /

8 of the Most Overlooked Towns in New Mexico

New Mexico is a southwestern U.S. state with beautiful small-town sights and pleasures that many might overlook. With various commercial locales and natural or historical landmarks to explore around the state, there is so much to see and do in the "Land of Enchantment." These unspoiled towns all have enough variety to keep every traveler interested, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar one is with travel around the Mountain States!


Aztec Public Library in Aztec, New Mexico.

Aztec Public Library in Aztec, New Mexico.

A quirky small town with 6,062 residents, Aztec is a scenic destination for anyone who wants to witness rocky monuments and historical locales. At the Aztec Ruins National Monument, one can find preserved Chacoan structures and cultural ancestry related to the indigenous Pueblos who once inhabited the town. The Aztecan West culture can also be found at the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village, which has several exhibits dedicated to the history and churches of early downtown settlers.

For biking enthusiasts, the Alien Run Mountain Bike Trail has natural splendors for tourists who want to see high-quality scenery above high cliffs and is often overlooked by travelers who are usually more interested in museums and other historical landmarks. The Aztec Municipal Golf Course is also around for sports fans, should anyone feel the need to relax with golfing and strolls around winding paths in town. For visitors who want to experience a photographic stop that is usually not visible to outsiders, the Sandstone Arches are a great way to capture the essence of both the arid climate and the American Southwest!


Aerial photo of a mobile home residential and business district in Raton, New Mexico, USA.

Aerial photo of a mobile home residential and business district in Raton, New Mexico, USA.

A mining town with 5,864 inhabitants, Raton is guaranteed to bring tourism satisfaction as a hidden destination. For history lovers, the Raton Museum has its roots traced back to 1939 and displays collections of artifacts related to the Old West and Santa Fe Trail revivalism. The El Raton Theatre may appeal to entertainment travelers who like to watch live shows, with a medieval Spanish castle atmosphere that was originally built in the 1930s. For natural adventure, one can check out Sugarite Canyon State Park, where the historic Sugarite Coal Camp and smaller mining camps can be seen through guided tours and have upstream views of Lake Alice and Lake Maloya as well!

Travelers who love to swim may enjoy Raton Regional Aquatic Center, a mainstay for all things watersports and indoor recreation. The Solano's Boot & Western Wear is an underrated locale full of the coolest cowboy gear and western clothing that has been around since the 1950s. Candy lovers may prefer the Dulces Encantados, an easily missed candy shop that is home to lots of chocolate-dipped pomegranate varieties!


Mariachi band playing in Mesilla, New Mexico town square during the Cinco de Mayo celebration.
A mariachi band playing in Mesilla, New Mexico town square. Editorial credit: Grossinger /

Plenty of charm can be found in this small town of 1,761 residents. Mesilla is known for its community-oriented dining locales like the Andele Restaurant, an easily missed restaurant known for its antique bars and signature Mexican tacos. Travelers may also want to check out the La Posta de Mesilla, a tourist hotspot for spicy margaritas and lime juice delights that is a must-see in town! For a truly forgotten locale, the El Patio Cantina honors 1930s traditions with its saloon culture and cold brews that are reminiscent of cowboy life.

At the Basilica of San Albino, tourists can witness a primitive Catholic parish that has been in existence since 1850 and is an excellent stop for anyone who likes to hear 19th-century bells ringing throughout the town plaza. Tourists may enjoy the Gadsden Museum for a tribal history of the town, such as the Billy the Kid Jail, Santero and Wild West artworks, and delicate Native American arrowheads and pottery creations. While exploring Old Mesilla, tourists can pay a visit to the Taylor-Mesilla History Property, a heritage locale that is also a colonial landmark based on southern New Mexican artworks and textiles.


Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

A vibrant small town on Route 66 with 5,045 residents, Tucumcari is a hidden gem for museum tourism. The Mesalands Dinosaur Museum and Natural Sciences Laboratory is one of many great landmarks that allow travelers to witness 40-foot skeleton displays and prehistoric findings from various periods. The Tucumcari Historical Museum is also nearby, with its antique wagons, firehouse memorabilia, and basements full of crazy military and cowboy uniforms!

For a quick and convenient stop around town, the Route 66 Monument has commercial vibrance and highway fantasy that would appeal to anyone who enjoys vintage-era motel signs. Hungry tourists can eat at Watson's BBQ, a perfect place for homestyle cuisine and rustic patio sights; it also has a cute gift shop inside! One heavily unspoiled spot in town is Motel Safari, a classical resort where nostalgic motor court themes and guest rooms full of fluffy towels and colorful linens are part of the rural New Mexican experience.


Church Rock in Gallup, New Mexico, USA, with shallow depth of field, along Route 66.

Church Rock in Gallup, New Mexico, USA, has a shallow depth of field along Route 66.

A small town with 19,870 inhabitants, Gallup is another Route 66 destination with pretty outdoor landmarks and vintage Native lifestyles. The 640-acre Red Rock Park is one highlight with its red sandstone cliffs and rodeo campgrounds that have been around for over 280 million years! The adjacent Red Rock Park Museum can satisfy history buffs with its Anasazi and Navajo artifacts, as well as Native American jewelry and ethnic rugs that make it easy to find solace here. For those seeking even more natural thrills, the High Desert Trail System has over 22 miles of biking trails suitable for beautiful interstate views of Gallup North Hogback Trail and the Zuni Mountains, an overlooked 25-mile desert trail within Cibola National Forest.

Tourists who want to explore indoor locales can check out Gallup Cultural Center, where Native Indian forums, lectures, and workshops related to tribal heritage come to life. Anyone with a penchant for film history may like El Rancho Hotel, a historic motel with immersive 1930s pool decks and age-old trinkets. At Tanner's Indian Arts, one can find Southwest Indian artworks and the prettiest turquoise jewelry in town!


The historical old town along US Highway 82 in Cloudcroft Town, Otero County, New Mexico, USA.
The historical old town along US Highway 82 in Cloudcroft Town, NM, USA. Editorial credit: Purplexsu /

Cloudcroft is a hidden village town within the Lincoln National Forest that has only 768 locals. There are plenty of recreational locales, and local history stops to check out, such as the Trestle Depot Recreation Area, a trailhead that allows for railroad bridge visits, shady picnics, and beautiful scenery of deer that hikers may often miss out on. The Rim Trail is also an option for travelers, and it includes Native American walking paths, loghouse guided tours, and lovely views of the Tularosa Basin, which is just 4,000 feet below elevation.

At the Sacramento Mountains Museum, one can find pioneer settlement artifacts and photography dating back to when Mescalero Apaches were the first settlers in town. Visitors of Burro Street Trading Post can shop for artistic and handmade New Mexican jewelry. At the same time, Noisy Water Winery is an unspoiled locale with unique wine-tasting activities for newcomers in town. For thrill-seekers, Ski Cloudcroft offers the finest skiing lessons and mountain knowledge for anyone who craves snowy adventures!

Las Vegas

The historic Plaza Hotel, built in 1881 in Italianate style, known as "The Belle of the Southwest," in Las Vegas, New Mexico, USA.
The historic Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, NM, USA. Editorial credit: Underawesternsky /

A hidden cultural town with 12,793 residents, Las Vegas is a must-see for its museums and antique stores. At the Castaneda Hotel, group tours of historic bedrooms and American Southwest culture are expected, while visitors can also choose to check in at the hotel during their trip. Plaza Antiques offers some of the finest architecture and beautiful overlooks of a Santa Fe Trail district while travelers shop for exotic trinkets.

Montezuma Pond offers natural beauty for travelers with its steep mountainsides and frozen pond observation points. Storrie Lake State Park is another nature alternative, with its bird-watching and windsurfing spots perfect for people who like simple pleasures in town. At Fort Union Drive-In, tourists can experience single-screen film enjoyment with old-fashioned popcorn and pink skies; it is also the last drive-in theater to still exist in the entire state! For candy fans, the Ulibarri Farm Candy Shoppe has a lot of sugary sweets and salted caramel treats that cannot be forgotten.


Highway 38 running into the mountain town of Questa, near Taos in northeast New Mexico, USA.
Highway 38 runs into the mountain town of Questa, in New Mexico, USA. Editorial credit: Nolichuckyjake /

Another village town worth exploring, Questa is home to 1,778 inhabitants and is easily undiscovered by many. It is home to the Cebolla Mesa Campground, a gorgeous canyon rim filled with picnic tables, riverside hikers, and gravel road viewpoints. At St. Anthony Catholic Church, visitors can explore stained glass windows and parish adobes that are special to both modern locals and pilgrims from the past. More than 20,000 acres of high-country forestry at Latir Peak Wilderness Area are sure to bring memories and smiles to anyone who loves remote wilderness gems.

For unique shopping finds, one can check out Jay's Unique Thrift Shop, an excellent stop for treasures and trinkets that pay tribute to local history. Hungry visitors can satisfy hamburger cravings at The Wildcat's Den, a family-owned restaurant that has been quite welcoming since 1980. For artistic minds, ArtQuesta hosts handcrafted pottery workshops and sells quality teapots and dinnerware meant for the journey home.

New Mexico's Hidden Highlights

All of these hidden small towns provide so much beauty within their respective locales and landmarks. For any traveler looking to get outdoors and experience a whole new state or territory, New Mexico has all there is to offer. With so much nature and history linked together, this state has a beautiful mixture of places to make the trip more pleasant within a continental climate. Having this list in hand makes adventures in this Mountain State more fulfilling!

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