Set along the rocky parts of the southwestern United States, New Mexico is truly blessed with Native American galleries, ancient beams, magnificent adobe monuments, and gourmet restaurants.
New Mexico is full of wonders, from spectacular natural rock formations to majestic wildlife. Exploring some of the national parks and monuments in the state is a sure way to experience the standout sights while making unforgettable memories in natural habitats.
Read on and discover the ten best national parks to visit in New Mexico, from the extensive gypsum and dunes at White Sands to the deep rocky canyons at Carlsbad Caverns.
1. White Sands National Park
|White Sands National Park|
|Animal to See||Bobcat|
|Attraction to See||Dunefield|
Fans of the “Star Wars” movie may most likely recognize White Sands National Park because some parts of the film were shot in this park. Several movies, including “Tank Girl,” “Young Guns,” and “Mad Love,” were also filmed at White Sands.
Set in the southern region of New Mexico, White Sands National Park is as spectacular as it appears in the photos. Visit the park to see one of the largest gypsum dune fields in the world, along with plants and animals in the park. One of the interesting facts about the dunes at White Sands is that they don’t absorb much heat like the typical sand, meaning you can’t get burned while walking on them.
2. City of Rocks State Park
|City of Rocks State Park|
|Animal to See||Mule Deer|
|Attraction to See||Sculptured Rock Formations|
City of Rocks State Park is among the best places to visit in New Mexico. The park is characterized by natural springs and unique volcanic rock formations; that’s why it’s called the “City of Rocks.”
There are plenty of ways to explore City of Rocks, so how you do it is entirely up to you. The park has endless opportunities for hiking, birding, driving, biking, photography, horseback riding, fishing, and a lot of other things to do in the winter.
You may spot mule deer, golden-mantled chipmunks, yellow-bellied marmots, and mountain cottontails in the park. Coyotes, mountain lions, elks, and bobcats also inhabit the City of Rocks, though they are very elusive.
3. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
|Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument|
|Animal to See||Black Bear|
|Attraction to See||Mogollon Cliff Dwellings|
Visit Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument to learn the history of the Mogollon people who lived on the site hundreds of years ago. While at the monument, you will come across incredible cliff dwellings and historic caves, which the Mogollon people abandoned for unknown reasons.
The monument is also home to diverse species of animals. Catch a glimpse of wild turkeys, bighorn sheep, antelopes, mountain lions, and black bears while traversing the forested areas of Gila Cliff Dwellings.
4. Bosque del Apache National Monument
|Bosque del Apache National Monument|
|Animal to See||Crane|
|Attraction to See||Rio Grande|
As a National Wildlife Refuge site, Bosque del Apache National Monument is a perfect place to watch the migration of sandhill cranes, which happens in the fall. Around 340 species of birds live in this monument. They include ducks, bald eagles, sage sparrows, hawks, and geese. Visit the wetlands to view sandhill cranes taking off in small groups from one place to another, making a spectacular show.
Explore the park to view the famous Rio Grande River that extends through Big Bend National Park. Besides the birds and wildlife, Bosque del Apache also has breathtaking views of marshlands and flooded forests.
5. Four Corners Monument
|Four Corners Monument|
|Animal to See||Raven & Small Lizards|
|Attraction to See||Ski Kachina Peak|
It’s called Four Corners Monument because it’s where the four states, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado, meet at a single point. Besides its steeply sloped Mittens, the monument also features eroded badlands and a spectacular scenic view with colorful ridges and hoodoos.
Four Corners Monument is an easy side trip from other parks in different states, like Canyonlands and Arches in Utah or Mesa Verde in Colorado. It is a perfect place for historians who want to learn about the native cultures of the region.
6. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
|Chaco Culture National Historical Park|
|Animal to See||Bobcat|
|Attraction to See||Pueblo Bonito|
Situated between Farmington and Albuquerque, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is among the major tourist attraction sites in America. Apart from preserving the history of the Puebloan people, this historical park has some lovely nature to explore along with the distinctive architecture that makes the place beautiful.
There are plenty of sites to traverse throughout this remote canyon. You can visit Fajada Butte, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo del Arroyo, among many others. While walking or driving along the trails, keep an eye out for snakes, badgers, bobcats, rabbits, elks, and deer.
7. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
|Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument|
|Animal to See||Coyote|
|Attraction to See||Painted Cave & Cochiti Dam|
Located in the southwest region of New Mexico, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a hiker’s paradise. It has around four hiking trails that lead to fantastic views of the unique geological formations, also known as tent rocks.
Take a scenic drive or hike from Albuquerque to some of the famous spots in the park to observe and study the tent rocks. You may spot wild turkeys on the highest elevations of the monument. Coyotes, ground squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks also inhabit the surrounding areas of tent rocks.
However, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks remains closed due to COVID-19. The virus was the initial reason for the closure, but currently, the Bureau of Land Management continues to keep the monument closed until the reopening plans have been established.
8. Aztec Ruins National Monument
|Aztec Ruins National Monument|
|Animal to See||Eastern Collared Lizard|
|Attraction to See||Salmon Ruins Museum|
Set on the western bank of the Animas River, Aztec Ruins National Monument is a nice place to visit if you want to learn about the ancient people who lived in the area and how they constructed their houses in the desert.
There is more to the Aztec Ruins than just the ancestral Puebloan people. Expect to see diverse species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Aztec Ruins is a haven for Gambel’s quails, eastern collared lizards, gopher snakes, and prairie rattlesnakes.
9. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
|Carlsbad Caverns National Park|
|Animal to See||Cougar|
|Attraction to See||Bat Flight Amphitheater|
Prepare to lay your eyes on more than 100 caves situated at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The areas inside the caverns are not restricted, meaning you can enjoy the sights at your own pace. Join a ranger-guided tour if you want a more wild cave exploration.
There are around eight hiking trails, but the Big Room and Natural Entrance trails are the most popular. Each trail offers a unique experience, so most visitors choose to make both trails.
During your exploration, watch out for cougars, skunks, wolves, foxes, otters, bobcats, and shrews. Bats are the most common mammals in the park. Join a ranger to watch thousands of bats return to Carlsbad Caverns at the crack of dawn.
10. Bandelier National Monument
|Bandelier National Monument|
|Animal to See||Mule Deer|
|Attraction to See||Alcove House|
Bandelier National Monument is another interesting historical site of the Ancestral Puebloans. Take a walk along the Santa Fe and Falls Trails to see evidence of human existence, which dates back thousands of years ago. Some of these features include cliff dwellings, cavates, and petroglyphs.
There are a lot of things to explore, including wildlife viewing. Bandelier National Monument has a pervasive ecosystem, making it a perfect home for different species of animals. Lizards, Albert’s squirrels, mule deer, and various birds live in the monument.
Spend your night at Bandelier and enjoy the stunning night skies from the monument. Night sky programs and evening campfire programs are available at Bandelier starting in July.