Santa Fe is a hotbed of cultural activities, highly-rated restaurants, and outdoor excursions. Activities within the city alone could fill your itinerary, but the city’s location in the heart of northern New Mexico makes it the perfect jumping off point for day trips. Explore New Mexico’s Native American heritage, national forests, and artsy towns—all within a two-hour drive of the city. No matter which direction you decide to take, you’re sure to find an adventure.
Taos, New Mexico: Pueblo Culture and Art Haven
The town of Taos is perhaps best known for Taos Pueblo, a Native American village just outside Taos proper. This living village is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a stacked, multi-dwelling adobe building stands as one of the longest inhabited villages in North America. The Taos Society of Artists staked the town's claim as an art colony in the early 20th century, and to this day, you can explore the galleries around the plaza and shop local art.
Getting There: Taos is an hour and a half drive outside of Santa Fe; you can reach it via U.S. 84 toward Española and N.M. 68 to Taos. A shuttle called the Taos Express connects from the Santa Fe Depot for $5 one way.
Travel Tip: Heritage Inspirations LLC offers guided trips to see just about everything in the Taos area, from Taos Pueblo to hiking excursions and wine tastings. Each tour has a different departure time, length, and price point.
This village and resort in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is just 35 minutes outside of Taos. The steep-and-deep terrain of Taos Ski Valley makes it a go-to destination for adventurous skiers, with the Kachina Peak lift delivering you to runs beginning at more than 12,000 feet. In the summer, you can take hiking trails from the resort and climb to high alpine lakes.
Getting There: You can reach Taos by car via U.S. 84 toward Española and N.M. 68 to Taos. Continue to Taos Ski Valley via N.M. 522 and N.M. 150. The North Central Regional Transit District offers free shuttle buses to Taos Ski Valley from two locations in Taos.
Travel Tip: If you visit during winter, don’t miss having lunch at The Bavarian restaurant for a taste of the alps in New Mexico.
Las Vegas: Railroad History
It’s not that Las Vegas. The New Mexico version trades in the neon-lit glam of Sin City for historic buildings. This former railroad town welcomed settlers from the East Coast in droves during the mid- to late-1880s. Much of the town’s architecture dates to that period, with more than 900 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Castañeda Hotel is a jewel among them; the former Harvey House (so named for hospitality magnate Fred Harvey) was restored and reopened in 2019. If you can’t stay overnight, grab a green chile cheeseburger at the restaurant—it won the state’s annual smackdown in 2019.
Getting There: Travel to Las Vegas via car via I-25.
Travel Tip: Hit the highlights with Southwest Detours guided outings.
North of Santa Fe, the town of Ojo Caliente has become synonymous with its popular resort: Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Native Americans soaked here hundreds of years ago, with the pools becoming part of the nation’s first health resort more than a century ago. The resort is home to four different varieties of mineral pools—each of which is said to have unique healing properties—as well as an inn, restaurant, and spa.
Getting There: Drive to Ojo Caliente by taking U.S. 84.
Travel Tip: Book a spa treatment in advance at the resort.
Los Alamos: Manhattan Project History
During World War II, Los Alamos was a branch of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to build the world’s first atomic bomb. Sites connected to this clandestine history are now protected as the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Although many of these are off limits to the public because they are within the boundaries of the current Los Alamos National Laboratory, you can visit historical locales not officially connected to the park downtown. These include the Bradbury Science Museum, the post office, and a stretch of homes known as Bathtub Row. Grab a walking tour map and explore.
Getting There: Los Alamos is a 45-minute drive away from Santa Fe. You can reach it by taking U.S. 84 and N.M. 502.
Travel Tip: If you’d like to take a guided trip to see everything, book a tour with Atomic City Tours.
Valles Caldera National Preserve and Jemez Springs: Scenery and Natural Mineral Springs
This day trip lives up to the saying that the journey is the destination. Slithering through the Jemez Mountains northwest of Santa Fe, a scenic drive takes you to the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a wildlife preserve in the middle of a volcanic crater. Even if you never get out of the car, the pine-studded mountains and grassy meadows are beautiful; stopping rewards you with hikes. Continue on to the town of Jemez Springs, which is home to natural mineral springs in the mountains and two rugged-but-more-refined bath houses in town.
Getting There: Follow N.M. 84, and N.M. 502/501 to N.M. 4. It’s an hour to the preserve and an hour and forty minutes to Jemez Springs.
Travel Tip: Plan time to soak at Jemez Hot Springs. The open air pools with turquoise waters will be a trip highlight.
High Road to Taos: Art Towns
Drivers looking for a scenic route from Santa Fe to Taos can opt for the High Road to Taos. Beyond the route’s picturesque settings—think mountain passes and stark mesas—it leads to a handful of Spanish colonial era villages with outsized art scenes. Chief among these is Truchas, home to the High Road Marketplace cooperative and the contemporary Hand Artes Gallery.
Getting There: Without stops, this route takes two and a half hours to drive. The route goes from N.M. 68 to N.M. 76, to N.M. 75, to N.M. 68.
Travel Tip: As you pull into Taos, don’t miss the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church. The adobe church’s wide buttresses have made it one of the most photographed destinations in the state.
Chimayo: El Santuario de Chimayo
Dozens of mission churches crop up in northern New Mexico’s villages, but El Santuario de Chimayo has been raised to landmark status. Inside the adobe walls of the Roman Catholic church, you'll find a pocito, a small hole in the earthen floor that allegedly—miraculously—fills itself with dirt every evening. The soil is said to have healing properties as the many items in the shrine (including crutches and photos) attest.
Getting There: The drive from Santa Fe takes 40 minutes via U.S. 84 and N.M. 503.
Travel Tip: If you travel this way during Holy Week, you’ll see the faithful pilgrimaging to Chimayo. Some walk more than a hundred miles to visit the holy site.
Ancestors of today’s Native American Pueblo people once resided in cliffside dwellings carved into northern New Mexico's volcanic mesas. You can visit one of these sites, Puye Cliff Dwellings, owned and operated by Santa Clara Pueblo. Pueblo members will guide you up the steep hillside to see where their ancestors once lived.
Getting There: To drive to Puye Cliff Dwellings, follow U.S. 84 to N.M. 502 to N.M. 30.
Travel Tip: Because the pueblo administers the site, it may close for religious observances and ceremonies. Be sure to call ahead before you visit to ensure the site is open to visitors.
Abiquiú: Georgia O’Keeffe Country
Modern artist Georgia O’Keeffe fell in love with the striking red mesas and alabaster rock formations soon after she moved to New Mexico in the early 20th century. Many of the landscapes appear in her paintings, along with large flowers and cow skulls. Visitors can see the desert scapes that inspired her work at Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center, as well as tour the artist’s former home and studio.
Getting There: Abiquiú lies an hour north of Santa Fe along U.S. 84.
Travel Tip: With Ghost Ranch, you can take in the Georgia O'Keeffe landscape by foot, bus, or horseback.