A Guide to New Mexico’s National Parks
Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.
Most travelers imagine New Mexico as a state of stark desert, cactus, and saguaro trees. But Bandelier National Monument superintendent Jason Lott told Travel + Leisure that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We call New Mexico the ‘Land of Enchantment,’ and it’s true. We have Ponderosa pine, rushing creeks, rivers: It’s actually a very green state.”
And when it comes to national parks, it’s rich in those, too.
Santa Fe, the irresistible state capital (and a burgeoning epicurean destination), is within a two hour drive to several New Mexican national parks and monuments, making places like Bandelier National Monument and Valles Caldera perfect for a day trip.
New Mexico’s incredible diversity—ski slopes and hot springs, sugar white sand dunes and wildflower-filled meadows—makes it one of the best places to explore the National Park Service’s treasures.
Bandelier National Monument
Spanning 32,000 acres, with a mile in elevation change, Bandelier National Monument welcomes day visitors of all kinds. Start by tackling the mile-long Main Loop Trail, which leads you straight to Alcove House, in the heart of the park. This ancient human cave is perched at the top of a 140-foot ladder, and provides breathtaking views of Frijoles Canyon and the Rio Grande below. It’s also an example of the hundreds of impeccably-preserved cliff dwellings that are scattered throughout the park.
In total, there are more than 3,000 sites—including large ruin complexes, petroglyph panels, and prehistoric trails—spread across 70 miles of accessible trails.
“Human history at Bandelier goes back 10,000 years,” explained Lott. And uncovering all those archeological treasures is part of the excitement: “We won’t necessarily tell you where all those sites are. They’re for you to discover and explore on your own.”
To get off the beaten path, Lott recommended a solitary hike through Tsankawi. The remote, 1.5-mile mesa trail is punctuated with additional cave features, as well as the preserved footprints of prehistoric residents. There are no tour guides here—just an open, empty landscape which visitors can enjoy at their leisure. Look out for pottery shards and mystical symbols etched into the rock.