New Mexico is known for more than just the nuclear bomb. Here, the vast plains of the Chihuahuan desert carve their path while the Rocky Mountains tower majestically in the distance. The Land of Enchantment lives up to its nickname with its incredible history, diverse cultures, and unmatched natural beauty. It also hosts the annual Gathering of Nations event, the largest in the world. New Mexico’s collection of top-rated small towns exudes a unique charm and provides the perfect base camp for exploring. Without further ado, here are some of the best cities in New Mexico to visit over the weekend or for a well-deserved vacation.
Over the Easter weekend, the 3,000-strong population of the Chimayó village welcomes nearly 40,000 visitors on their annual pilgrimage. This holy weekend journey is the largest in the US, with The El Sanctuario de Chimayó the final destination. This sanctuary is the site of so-called ‘holy dirt.’ Some believe that when ailing person mixes the sand from the refuge with water to make mud, they can eat the mixture, apply it to their skin, and be cured.
Other than the historic pilgrimage event, visitors can experience another part of Chimayó’s history by visiting the Chimayó Museum. The museum is en route to El Santuario de Chimayó, where visitors can glimpse the awe-inspiring Santa Cruze River. Along with a central church, the El Sanctuario de Chimayó grounds comprise a children’s church called Santo Ninó Chapel.
Chimayó lies along the Cubres & Toltec Scenic Railway, a historic narrow-gauge railroad that chugs along a route snaking through the Carson National Forest. The area is perfect for hiking, biking, or simply relaxing and enjoying the tranquil atmosphere. After a fulfilling day exploring this wonderful village, Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe awaits. The lodge offers excellent New Mexican cuisine, an inviting ambiance, and handcrafted décor.
Madrid, New Mexico, has creativity in common with its Spain counterpart. Like the big city, the former mining town is an artist’s haven. This is evident by the adobe buildings splashed over with colorful murals and the streets lined with art galleries. Unlike the capital of Spain, the tiny village of Madrid is almost enclosed in a narrow canyon overlooked by the imposing Ortiz mountains.
Madrid is famous for sitting on the incredible Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway that links Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Highlights of this 50-mile trail include Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-year-old living Native American community, and the Bottomless Pit, a geological marvel in the form of a 30-foot-deep natural spring. The Turquoise Trail also passes the El Santuario de Chimayó and the Capulin Volcano National Monument.
Visitors can enjoy live music and delicious food at the legendary Mineshaft Tavern before stepping back in time at the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum. Along with modern comforts, guests can view artifacts and exhibits that chronicle Madrid’s storied past.
The small town of Taos is as historic as they come. This ancient heritage haven shelters in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with its crown jewel, the Taos Pueblo, thriving as both a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark. It is the only living Native American community in the world carrying this distinction. The Taos people have inhabited this land for more than 1,000 years, and visitors can admire their architecture, pottery, and artwork while immersing themselves in authentic Puebloan culture.
Also in Taos, the Millicent Rogers Museum holds a vast collection of Native American and Southwestern art just waiting to be discovered. Those who want a feel for the outdoors in Taos should visit the Taos Ski Valley for a memorable snowboarding or skiing adventure. The breathtaking Rio Grande Gorge is perfect for visitors to gape as they hike through the Rio Grande Gorge State Park.
The El Monte Sagrado Resort comes to life when night falls over Taos. This resort offers all the creature comforts modern guests expect against the backdrop of the desert Southwest.
The gorgeous village of Cloudcroft emanates fresh mountain air high up in the Lincoln National Forest while providing a welcoming retreat for all visitors who want to explore the Bottomless Pit up close by hiking the surrounding area. It is also the place where visitors can ascend the highest point in the Sacramento Mountains, namely Cloudcroft Peak. The mountain theme continues at Cloud Mountain Inn, where sweeping landscape views and delectable meals await. Alternatively, the Lodge at Cloudcroft offers swimming, golf, and a hot tub.
There are even more recreational trail options thanks to the New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Association, which converted abandoned railroad lines into multi-use trails. Additionally, the Rim Trail unfolds through several tree groves and provides unmatched views of the Tularosa Basin 4,000 feet below.
Those who prefer the arts over the outdoors will find joy in visiting the Cloudcroft Art Society, where local artists illustrate their creativity using a variety of mediums.
Santa Rosa may be less invested in the arts, but it is an exciting vacation option for visitors who want to drive the historic Route 66. Sitting along this route, Santa Rosa is an intoxicating combination of natural wonder and nostalgic charm. Taking to the road on this section of Route 66, visitors will happen upon the remnants of roadside diners and vintage motels.
There is also the Route 66 Auto Museum, where car enthusiasts can go gaga over old-school vehicles and memorabilia that form an integral part of the highway. Another must-visit roadside attraction is the Trail of the Forty-Niners, commemorating the alternative route taken by more than 100,000 people heading to California for riches during the Gold Rush.
Santa Rosa is also the location of the Blue Hole, a mesmerizing 30-foot-deep natural spring that beckons those unafraid of heights. And, at the end of a thrilling day, the Parador Hotel offers unparalleled hospitality in a setting that harks back to a bygone era.
Tucumcari also lies along Route 66 and offers an adventure of the Jurassic kind. The Mesalands Dinosaur Museum revels in presenting life-sized replicas of dinosaurs and fossils. And that’s not all Tucumcari is famous for. Visitors can embark on an exhilarating expedition to the mysterious and almost otherworldly Capulin Volcano National Monument. Here, a dormant volcano and stark surrounding lava fields reminisce on Earth’s fiery past. Those with a penchant for exceptional landscapes will enjoy traversing the lava tubes and marveling at the geological formations that make this monument the pride of Tucumcari.
The adventure continues at the Blue Swallow Motel, which doubles as a time capsule. Retro décor and neon signs aim to transport guests back to the heyday of Route 66 when road travel reigned.
Las Vegas, New Mexico, doesn’t replicate the glitz and glamor of its namesake in Nevada. But it is one of the most culturally welcoming places in America. This place, which lies at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, almost vibrates with Spanish, Mexican, and American influence. The heart of Las Vegas is the historic Plaza, where traditional Spanish Colonial-style buildings still stand tall.
Visitors who come for a unique experience will be satisfied. Las Vegas offers a classic drive-in, cultural events at Fiestas de las Vegas, and recreational activities at Storrie Lake State Park, which boasts one of the largest lakes in New Mexico. For accommodation, the Castaneda Hotel is a historic railroad hotel built between 1898 and 1899. Eagle-eyed guests may recognize the hotel from the 1984 film Red Dawn.
Silver City has a certain ring to it. It sounds like the Emerald City, where wonderful friends and fantastic escapades await. In real life, Silver City’s roots lie in the mining industry, and its history shines at the famous Silver City Museum. The museum chronicles the town’s transformation from a mining center to a booming arts and culture mecca.
Visitors who want to taste what Silver City is like beyond the town limits can go hiking or biking in the beautiful Gila National Forest. The forest is filled with Ponderosa pines, rugged canyons, and hidden waterfalls just waiting to surprise visitors. Moreover, the sacred Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument honors the ancient Mogollon people who inhabited cliffside dwellings more than 700 years ago. Visitors can hike the canyons and view the well-preserved homes up close. When it is time to retire for the evening, the Murray Hotel offers premier accommodation in an art-deco setting.
Red River is another Sangre de Cristo mountain town that appeals to outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Plenty of mountain trails, breathtaking views, waterfalls, and ski slopes exist. Visitors proficient in skiing and who love a challenge will delight in the Red River Ski Area, famous for world-class skiing and snowboarding opportunities. The area has natural hot springs, renowned for their therapeutic properties.
Red River forms part of the Enchanted Circle, a scenic byway in Northern New Mexico starting in Taos. Visitors can stop and enjoy a hike, mountain tubing, or fishing along this route. During the winter, winter mountain tubing is a huge draw.
Finally, the Lodge at Red River offers an inviting atmosphere and the serenity of the mountains. All meals include locally sourced ingredients, and this homey lodge prides itself on providing all the modern amenities travelers need.
These are just some of the top-rated small towns in New Mexico that offer a diverse range of incredible experiences. Whether visitors want to indulge in natural splendor, educate themselves in new cultures, or enjoy a historical road trip, these towns are the beginning of an unforgettable New Mexico escape.