Family Vacations in New Mexico
Brimming with lakes and rivers, parks and deserts, and ski areas and scenic byways, New Mexico offers visitors to the Land of Enchantment endless opportunities to play, to learn, and to explore diverse landscapes.
During the day, families can take advantage of New Mexico’s numerous bike trails or hiking paths or spend hours exploring one of New Mexico’s many museums or monuments. Backcountry camping is also high on the list of “best things to do” in New Mexico.
With no shortage of festivals, fiestas and world-famous cuisine, families will spend their nights learning about ancient cultures and customs, singing and dancing, and sampling unique New Mexico cuisine.
In the following article, you’ll find profiles of some of the state’s major attractions, activities, festivals, museums, and special events. Included is contact information to help you plan your trip as well as photos of each destination. Here’s a preview:
The Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico is the oldest continuously occupied structure on the continent. Dating back to a.d. 1000, its adobe walls today house about 150 Taos Native Americans who maintain the ancient traditions of their ancestors.
Carlsbad Caverns contains 113 caves. More than 30 miles of the main cavern have been explored, and the three miles of caves that are open to visitors are among the largest and most magnificent underground formations in the world.
Sante Fe, the second oldest city in the United States, is rich with excellent museums, and filled with numerous galleries that exhibit exquisite southwestern art, shops that offer the best in fashion, and sophisticated restaurants.
Hot air balloons of all shapes, sizes, and colors fill the fall sky during Albuquerque’s balloon festival, the largest of its kind in the world.
Visit New Mexico’s famous 17th century churches.
Visitors flock to Roswell’s International UFO Museum and Research Center to review the details of the bizarre events that took place in Roswell, New Mexico on July 4, 1947.
New Mexico’s many treasures, oddities, and natural wonders bring visitors throughout the year. Continue to the next page to find out about Taos Pueblo.
The Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico is the oldest continuously occupied structure on the continent. Dating back to a.d. 1000, its adobe walls today house about 150 Taos Native Americans who maintain the ancient traditions of their ancestors. The Pueblo is not a historical artifact or a re-creation; it is an actual town that offers a fascinating introduction to Native American life.
The Pueblo’s distinctive style has influenced much of the region’s architecture. It consists of two long, multistory adobe structures, one on each side of a freshwater creek. Explore on your own or take an escorted tour that recounts the Pueblo’s history, which includes occupation by Spanish conquistadors in 1540 and by Franciscan friars in the 1590s.
There’s more family fun to be had in the Taos area. You can choose among rafting trips on the Rio Grande, llama treks, and horseback riding. In the town of Taos, stop by the Kit Carson Home and Museum to learn more about this legendary scout and adventurer of the Southwest.
If you’re planning a trip to Taos Pueblo, you’ll also want to visit the Carlsbad Caverns. Continue to the next page to find out more about Carlsbad.
Address: Off US Rte. 64 and NM-68
Telephone: 505/758-1028, 800-732-TAOS
Hours of Operation: 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., daily
Admission: $10 adults; kids free
Nature’s artistic streak takes a fanciful turn in this famous and enormous cave system created by water dripping through an ancient reef made of porous limestone. More than 30 miles of the main cavern have been explored, and the three miles of caves that are open to visitors are among the largest and most magnificent underground formations in the world.
A variety of self-guided and ranger-led tours are available year-round, and high-speed elevators make the caves accessible to everyone. Visitors can independently tour parts of the biggest room in the cave complex, aptly named the Big Room, by using a state-of-the-art portable audio guide, and they can explore several other caves on guided tours.
The vast Big Room has a ceiling that arches 255 feet above the floor, and it contains a six-story stalagmite and the so-called Bottomless Pit, which is more than 700 feet deep. In the summer months bats that inhabit parts of the caverns are an additional attraction. Each evening at sunset the winged creatures swarm out of the cave’s entrance to feed on insects in the surrounding area. The event is best observed at the Bat Flight Amphitheater at the cavern entrance.
After a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, brighten up a journey through New Mexico with a visit to colorful Santa Fe. You’ll find more information on the next page.
Address: 3225 National Parks Highway
Hours of Operation: Dawn – Dusk, tours available 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: $6 adult; kids free
Santa Fe is the second oldest city in the United States. It’s a place where the merging of three cultures — Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American–can be seen in its vibrant art, architecture, and food.
The center of the town is the Plaza, which once marked the official end of the Old Santa Fe Trail. It is now lined with shade trees, famous landmarks, and museums, including the Palace of the Governors. Native American artisans display their wares on beautiful blankets in front of the Palace: You’ll see silver-and-turquoise jewelry, pottery, leatherwork, and handwoven blankets for sale.
The town is filled with numerous galleries that exhibit exquisite southwestern art, shops that offer the best in fashion, and sophisticated restaurants. For a decidedly unsophisticated culinary treat your kids will adore, stop at the Five and Dime General Store on the Plaza and order a Frito Pie: A bag of corn chips opened and piled high with chili and cheese. You can top it off with chopped onions and jalapenos if you wish; stick a fork in it, and you’re ready to enjoy this delicious Santa Fe specialty.
The town is rich with excellent museums. The Museum of International Folk Art has proved to be a children’s favorite. Among its collections are toys from all over the world, including folk dolls and figurines creatively placed in dioramas that show scenes of festivals, funerals, parties, and simple activities of daily life. There are puppets, costumes, masks, and more.
Be sure to visit the innovative Lloyd’s Treasure Chest, located in the lower level of the museum. Visitors are encouraged to peek into its storage drawers and get a behind-the-scenes look at museum collections. The museum’s lounge features books about different cultures as well as a wide assortment of toys.
On the outskirts of Santa Fe, El Rancho de las Golondrinas is a living-history museum that demonstrates life in early Spanish colonial New Mexico. Self-guided tours are an option throughout the summer, and special docent-led tours focus on the life of the American Girl character Maria Josefina Montoya, a Hispanic girl growing up on her family’s ranch in New Mexico.
Also just outside the city, you’ll find Jackalope, a zany seven-acre bazaar filled with knickknacks, pottery, and furniture, along with a petting zoo of barnyard animals and a prairie dog village.
The colorful streets of Santa Fe are nothing compared with the colors that rise into the sky each year at Balloon Festival time. Read the next page to find out more.
Address: 491 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM
Telephone: 1-800-733-6396 ext 0643
Address: Santa Fe Plaza at NM-589 and Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM
Hot air balloons of all shapes, sizes, and colors fill the fall sky during Albuquerque’s balloon festival, the largest of its kind in the world. You’ll see a string of chili peppers, a reclining chair, Chinese pagodas, and Russian dolls as they ascend into the sky.
For the best viewing, choose early morning when the majestic balloons are beginning their ascents. The sonorous hiss of hot air filling the balloons as they are prepared for their skyward journey adds to the excitement. Certain mornings have mass ascensions — a simultaneous launch of all the festival balloons. Later in the day, book your own balloon flight and take your family up into the clear New Mexico sky.
Come back in the evening for the Balloon Glow, when more than 100 balloons are lit in unison and the night sky blazes in a panorama of luminous colored globes. For two nights only, shaped balloons are featured in an event called the Glowdeo.
The beauty of the balloon festival — particularly the Glowdeo — can’t be matched, but visit the New Mexico Missions and you’ll see a different kind of beauty. Continue to the next page to learn more.
Address: Balloon Fiesta Park
Balloon Museum Dr. NE, one mile W. of I-25
Telephone: 505/821-1000, 888/422-7277
Hours of Operation: First week in Oct.
Admission: $6 adult; kids free
In 1598, Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Onate crossed the Rio Grande near the city limits of modern-day El Paso, Texas. De Onate led his party north past Franciscan missionaries along the Rio Grande’s banks to its intersection with the Chama River. Here he established the San Gabriel Mission, New Mexico’s second Spanish capital, in 1600 — a full seven years before the English settled in Jamestown, Virginia. This first Spanish mission in modern-day New Mexico set the stage for many more to come. Many of the state’s 17th-century churches are still standing, and active, to this day.
In 1610, the Spanish capital moved to Santa Fe, where San Miguel Mission, now considered the oldest operational church in the United States, was established. Another nicely preserved church from this early era is the Mission of San Jose at Laguna Pueblo (1699), 45 miles west of Albuquerque. About 25 miles to the southwest is the Mission of San Esteban del Rey at Acoma Pueblo, perched majestically on a 367-foot sandstone mesa since 1626. To the southeast are the ruins of four more 17th-century missions that were abandoned before 1700 and now comprise Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.
Perhaps its the mysticism suggested by the missions that gives New Mexico such a spiritual edge. Explore the other side of “other-worldliness” by visiting Roswell — you can read more about it on the next page.
Address: Mountainair headquarters
Ripley and Broadway
The Spanish took control of the Pueblo and organized mass Catholic conversions and the construction of the Mission of San Esteban del Rey between 1629 and 1640. Less than 50 Acomans live year-round in the pueblo today; about 3,000 more live in nearby villages
On July 4, 1947, many residents of the sleepy agricultural town of Roswell, New Mexico, reported seeing an unidentified flying object streaking across the night sky. Other locals reported a loud explosion. The next week, the local newspaper, the Roswell Daily Record, reported that the authorities at Roswell Army Air Field had found the remains of a flying saucer that crash-landed in the vicinity. The story was based on the only military or federal disclosure of a possible UFO in history. The facts, however, quickly shifted: Officials recanted the initial account within days and said it was a weather-balloon experiment gone awry.
Nevertheless, the events of July 4, 1947, have been hotly debated ever since, with scads of conspiracy theorists and skeptics dissecting the facts and eyewitness accounts. Conspiracy buffs have cried that this was a government cover-up, alleging that the spacecraft and the bodies of its extraterrestrial passengers were taken to Area 51 in Nevada for top-secret research and experimentation. The skeptics, on the other hand, say the whole thing is hooey and that the UFO in question was indeed a weather balloon. Visitors flock to Roswell’s International UFO Museum and Research Center to judge for themselves.
Address: Roswell Chamber of Commerce
131 W. 2nd St
Telephone: 505/623-5695, 877/849-7679
Get the best of HowStuffWorks by email!
Keep up to date on: Latest Buzz · Stuff Shows & Podcasts · Tours · Weird & Wacky
Family Vacations in New Mexico
Research & References of Family Vacations in New Mexico|A&C Accounting And Tax Services