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10 Terrific Santa Fe Day Trips

Known as the City Different, Santa Fe is unlike any other city I’ve ever visited. The pueblo influenced architecture, the numerous historic sites, and the extravagant amount of art make this an unforgettable destination. 

And yet, there is so much more to be seen outside of the city. From pueblos to national monuments, and ski resorts to caves, there is a wealth of attractions to be seen. So if you’re looking for the perfect Santa Fe day trip, we’ve got you covered. Some destinations require longer drives, so if these interest you, consider making it an overnight stay.

Santa Fe Day Trips--Ski slope at Ski Santa Fe
Ski slope at Ski Santa Fe

Ski Santa Fe

By Wendy Lee of Empty Nesters Hit The Road

After a 30 year hiatus from skiing I had the chance to try it again during my recent trip to Santa  Fe. Just 16 miles northeast of town–about a 45 minute drive–you’ll find the slopes of Ski Santa Fe. This family run business makes everyone feel welcome, regardless of their age or ski experience. 

Thanks to my patient instructor, Jeri, I relearned skiing and was reminded why this sport is so much fun. I began on the bunny slopes and worked my way up a couple of levels over two days. Others in my group were much more advanced and they had equally as much fun spending their day on the advanced slopes.

Prices at Ski Santa Fe are very reasonable compared to larger resorts on the West Coast, making it especially attractive for families. So if you’re looking for Can’t Miss Winter Experiences in Santa Fe, be sure to hit the slopes.

Taos

By Sean of Living Out Lau

Situated in the northern high deserts of New Mexico, Taos is a popular Santa Fe day trip, especially since it takes less than 2.5 hours to get there. While there are many attractions in Taos, the most famous one is unquestionably the Taos Pueblo. This collection of multi-story adobe structures has been continuously habited for over 1000 years. It is the only living Native American community designated as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark in the United States.

After exploring Taos’s culture, why not explore its impressive nature? Surrounding Taos are some of the most majestic landscapes of New Mexico, and there is no better place to admire them than the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the second-highest bridge in the US. Not enough for you? Take one of the hot air balloon rides and be mesmerized by the bird’s-eye views of New Mexico’s glory.

If you want to dive deeper into the creative side of Taos, check out the Historic Taos Plaza. Here you will find the city’s best eateries, shops, galleries, and a display of Tao’s rich heritage.

And when you are done exploring the best of Taos, don’t forget to soak in one of its natural hot springs like Manby and Black Rock Hot Springs. Though you have to hike to them, the soothing waters of the hot springs are well worth the effort.

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Santa Fe Day Trips--Durango, Colorado
Durango, Colorado

Durango, Colorado

By Meg of Fox in the Forest

One of the best day trips from Santa Fe, New Mexico is Durango, Colorado. Begin with one of the town’s highlights; the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad steam train. It’s an incredible,19th century train that takes you on a ride  through the area’s many stunning mountains and awesome canyons. 

Next, head into the town center and see some of the restored planes, trains, and even a baggage car transformed into a movie theater at the Railroad Museum. 

You can also enjoy interactive exhibits about power plant science at the Powerhouse Science Center before having some delicious steak and salmon at the southwest inspired Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen.

Finally, take advantage of the area’s stunning natural beauty by conquering some of the best hikes in Durango, like Purgatory Trail, Animas River Trail, Silver Mountain, and Falls Creek Loop Trail. “

Since Durango is 212 miles away from Santa Fe–or a four hour drive–consider spending the night at Homewood Suites by Hilton Durango. It’s a fantastic, three star hotel where guests can enjoy a wide array of premium amenities including an indoor pool and complimentary breakfast. 

Santa Fe Day Trip--Albuquerque New Mexico
Albuquerque

Albuquerque

By Trijit of Budget Traveler

Located in the southwest of Santa Fe, Albuquerque is one of the most affordable places to visit in the US. Albuquerque is just 64 miles (1 hour) away from Santa Fe if you drive through I-25 S. The high desert environment of Albuquerque offers an amazing combination of Native American and Spanish cultures as well as several historic attractions in a relaxing and inviting atmosphere.

From Sandia Peak Tramway, Elena Gallegos Open Space to Albuquerque Aquarium, Rio Grande Botanical Gardens and the Rio Grande Zoo, there is no shortage of outdoor recreation places in Albuquerque.

Explore the Elena Gallegos Open Space with your families and kids. This 640-acre park is set against the Sandia Mountains. Enjoy the hiking trails and the spectacular views of the various flora, including Apache plume and soapweed yucca.

Albuquerque Museum is a must-visit place if you want to learn all about the history of the region and how it has grown through the ages. You can see classic vintage photos, fashion pieces, and old paintings. The historic Old Town of Albuquerque is filled with art galleries, museums, souvenir shops, and restaurants. It is the best way to experience Albuquerque’s diverse culture.

If you opt to extend your stay, consider spending the night at Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. The hotel features on-site dining, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, and spacious rooms with free WiFi. Budget travelers can stay at The Mother Road Hostel which is located close to Albuquerque Convention Center. Staying in hostels is one of the cheapest ways to travel across the USA.

Santa Fe Day Trips--Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

By Alex of Just Go Exploring

Located deep below the Chihuahuan Desert, in south-east New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a little further away from Santa-Fe. However, it’s definitely worth the extra effort to visit.

This enormous cave network contains over 100 chambers.  Carlsbad Caverns Big Room is the largest and best known of these.  At three quarters of a mile long and over 250 feet high, it is also the largest cave chamber in North America (by volume).

The Big Room contains some incredible “cave decorations” – giant limestone formations that were created over millions of years. One area of the Big Room is known as the Hall of the Giants, due to the 60 feet tall stalagmites that tower overhead.

As well as being extremely impressive, Carlsbad Caverns is also remarkably accessible for a cave network.  There is an elevator from the surface and a large section of the Big Room’s main trail is wheelchair accessible.

You can also hike down to the caverns from the surface via the Natural Entrance Trail. Sturdy footwear is strongly recommended.

The drive time from Santa Fe to the caverns is roughly 4 hours (300 miles).  If your time and budget permits, you may wish to spend the night in the town of Carlsbad, which is a 30 minute drive (25 miles) from the park entrance.  

In Carlsbad you will find a good selection of accommodation options.  La Quinta Inn & Suites is a decent midrange hotel.  Alternatively, try the White’s City Cavern Inn, a budget motel in White’s City, a mere 15 minutes (7.5 miles) from the park’s visitor center.

Santa Fe Day Trips--Petroglyph National Monument
Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument

By Mary of Bucket List Places

A day trip to Petroglyph National Monument offers the chance to celebrate the Southwest’s culture, history, and desert ecology all in one incredible site.

Petroglyph National Monument protects a unique landscape that hosts one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in North America. A petroglyph is a rock carving, and the estimated 24,000 petroglyphs at the monument in Albuquerque were made by ancestral Pueblo people, some nearly 3,000 years ago.

The monument is located on the western side of Albuquerque, and the drive from Santa Fe takes just over an hour. Take a rental car or bus to Albuquerque, and then head to one of the canyons that is accessible to the public.

The area includes five extinct volcanic cones and four canyons where petroglyphs adorn many trailside rocks. Boca Negra Canyon has several short walks to view petroglyphs, but Rinconada Canyon and Piedras Marcadas Canyon each have longer loops where hundreds of petroglyph images show people, animals, and symbols. 

Visitors can even explore the Volcanoes Day Use Area, hiking on the basalt and lava cliff that overlooks Albuquerque.

Whichever area you hike in, be sure to pack plenty of water as there is little shade within the park. A day at the Petroglyph National Monument is sure to help you appreciate the gorgeous volcanic landscapes and the artistic legacy of the area’s earliest residents.

Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument

By Ashlee Fechino of The Happiness Function

A visit to Santa Fe wouldn’t be complete without a day trip to Bandelier National Monument. Located about an hour north of Santa Fe near Los Alamos, this famous National Park Service Monument is home to one of the largest cliff dwellings in the USA. The cliff dwellings were once home to ancestral Puebloans and built along or within the sandstone cliffs. Bandelier National Monument protects roughly 11,000 acres of archaeological sites.

To spend the perfect day at Bandelier National Monument, plan to get to the park early. Depending on the time of year visiting, you’ll want to catch the shuttle into the main part of the park. May through October are considered the busy season.

Plan to hike the trails, view the cultural sites, explore the visitor center, and have a picnic.

If you love an adventure, hike the Main Loop Trail (Pueblo Loop) to the Alcove House. This famous hike requires a 140’ climb along wooden ladders to a ceremonial cave. Exploring the ancient cliff dwellings makes for the perfect day trip from Santa Fe!

 The park is in a rural area so be sure to pack snacks and water.

 Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

By Agnes at The Van Escape

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a fantastic nature experience, perfect as a day trip from Santa Fe.

From Santa Fe, travel south on I-25 and take exit 264 Cochiti Pueblo off I-25 to NM 16. Turn right off NM 16 to NM 22 and follow signs to Cochiti Pueblo and the National Monument. It is located about 40 miles from Santa Fe. Travel time is approximately 45-50 minutes. 

Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs.” During your visit, you can admire the cone-shaped tent cliffs that are the result of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago, leaving pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Although relatively uniform in shape, the tent rocks vary in height from a few feet to 90 feet.

Kasha-Katuwe National Monument includes two short hiking trails. The Cave Loop Trail is 1.2 miles long and easy to walk. The second Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks Hike is an approximately 3-mile loop that connects a slot canyon with cone-shaped tent rock formations. It is a fantastic, moderate hike that will take you about two hours.

After the trip, it is worth having a picnic on one of the picnic tables by the parking lot. But pack some snacks and water, because you won’t buy anything to eat on the spot. Also, wear comfortable shoes to avoid slipping on the rocks.

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Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

By Daria of The Discovery Nut

Located about 4 hours and 30 minutes north of Santa Fe, Garden of the Gods is one of the best places to visit in Colorado and makes for a perfect weekend getaway from New Mexico’s capital. 

You can get to Colorado Springs from Santa Fe vía Intertstate-70 by going north and taking an exit off the Highway toward the entrance of the area.

The scenery of this place is second to none – Garden of the Gods is called one of the most beautiful places in Colorado and many visitors from across the country come here to see its amazing red rock formations. 

This natural landmark is located at 1805 N. 30th Street in Colorado Springs, CO, 80904

You can take spectacular photos of the bright orange outcrops within the park at any spot inside the park. 

A trip to Colorado Springs can be combined with a stops at many popular places in the area such as the Great Sand Dune National Park, Pikes Peak, one of the most famous “fourteeners” in Colorado that has a paved road leading to the top, or Manitou Springs, home to many hot springs where you can soak up after a day of adventures

Santa Fe Day Trips

Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

By Umiko of Two Worlds Treasures

 Driving on Turquoise Trail Scenic Byway is an easy and enjoyable day trip from Santa Fe. This scenic byway connects Santa Fe and Albuquerque through Highway 14 for approximately 65 miles. It’s recommended that you allow a half day for this experience.

 Your journey begins at Cerillos, a place that reminds you of the Old West. In fact, it’s a film location of the Young Guns and a few other western movies. St. Joseph Church in town is fun photo opportunity.

 Then continue driving to Madrid, the main stop on the Turquoise Trail. Madrid was once a coal mining town, but now is an artist community. Art galleries and shops are dotted along the road, as well as a few restaurants and bars. Everyone looks relaxed, so take your time while visiting. If you remember the movie Wild Hogs, part of it was shot here.

 Next is a quick stop at San Francisco de Asis Church in Golden. The church was built in 1839, and it looks like somewhere in Santorini, Greece.

 Your last stop is Tinkertown Museum in Sandia Park, a unique museum that displays artist Ross Ward’s carving and collection over 40 years of work.

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