Uncommon Day Trips from Albuquerque

Uncommon Day Trips from Albuquerque

Got an extra day in Albuquerque and already taken care of your bucket list of sites to see? There's nothing like a quick New Mexico day trip to explore the spectacular scenery we're surrounded by in the Duke City. Whether you're looking for culture, history, or just plain fun, you'll find it in all directions from Albuquerque. The city serves as an excellent hub for hiking, biking, escorted tours, and self-guided adventures. 

West of Albuquerque

El Malpais National Monument outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico 

El Malpais

New Mexico is home to 11 national monuments, and several are an easy drive from ABQ. While much of New Mexico is at altitude, it's what's high AND low that makes El Malpais National Monument special (pictured above). The park, 72 miles west of ABQ near Grants, has big cliffs and sweeping vistas. It's best known for its lava tubes and lava flows created millions of years ago. There are three exits off of I-40 that take you to different parts of the park; Highway 117 takes you to the cliffs overlooking black basalt lava flows, while Highway 53 out of Grants takes you to lava tubes and park headquarters, where you can obtain a mandatory, but free, cave permit.

Just outside the park is the privately owned ice cave and 800-foot deep Bandera volcano. The "ice cave" is a collapsed lava tube whose inside temperature doesn't rise above 31 degrees. Admission is $12, $6 for children 6-12. Tours are seven days a week, starting at 8:30 a.m. with the last tour at 3:30 p.m.

Acoma Sky City Pueblo

Planted atop a sheer-walled 367-foot mesa, the Acoma Pueblo's Sky City is the longest-habitated city in North America, dating back to 1150. Protected from invaders by its lofty location and narrow access, it was eventually conquered by the Spanish, who started construction of the San Esteban del Rey Mission in 1629. Both the Mission and Acoma Pueblo are Registered National Historical Landmarks and are on the National Register of Historic Places. The Acoma people are famous for their pottery, and on a tour you'll get to meets the artists and purchase their work.

Sky City can be accessed only by 1.5-hour guided educational tours, which start at the cultural center, and a permit must be purchased for photography, which is restricted. Tour fees are $23 for adults, $20 for seniors, military and students, and family rates also are available. Camera permit is $13 (prices as of June 2015).

About 55 minutes west of Albuquerque, take Exit 102 and follow the signs for Acomita/Rest Area and continue on to the Sky City Cultural Center and Haaku Museum, about 15 miles south of I-40.

Petroglyph National Monument

On the western edge of Albuquerque, a historical treasure hunt awaits. Petroglyph National Monument, sprawling across multiple sections on the west mesa of the city, contains thousands of images carved into the basalt rocks between 400 to 700 years ago by both Native Americans and early Spanish explorers. Walking off the access trails and up into the rocks turns into a great treasure hunt as the drawings on the rocks come into view. 

Start your visit at the visitor center, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at Unser and Western Trail, pick up a map and head out to one of several trailheads. One of my favorites is Piedras Marcadas Canyon off Golf Course Road, because while it's a bit trickier to get to, it's a quick hike (1.5 miles) with 500 petroglyphs that's perfect way to introduce visitors to the area. Others include Boca Negra Canyon (three trails, 100 petroglyphs, $1 parking from City of Albuquerque, $2 on weekends) and Rinconada Canyon (2.2-mile trail, 300 petroglyphs).

On the far western side of the monument, off Atrisco Vista, is access to the Volcanoes Day Use Area, within sight of five ancient cinder cone volcanoes.

Be sure to take water! As we move into summer, it's going to get hot out there.


North of Albuquerque

Tent Rocks National Monument outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

The otherworldly sights of Tent Rocks (pictured right) are an easy day trip from ABQ. They're one of the first things I visited when I moved to New Mexico; my friends talked about them all the time.

Another product of the area's volcanic activity 6 to 7 million years ago, the balanced cap rocks of Tent Rocks were created by erosion, leaving the harder basalt balanced atop the eroded sticks of softer stone, known as hoodoos. Bits of volcanic glass can be found on the ground, and are known as "Apache tears." Leave them for others to enjoy.

To get there, head north on I-25, then take the Highway 22 exit toward Cochiti Reservoir. Follow the signs to Cochiti Pueblo and the monument. Vehicle entry fee is $5.

You can drive to an overview of the rocks, or for a more interesting and interactive journey, park at the lower lot and wiggle your way through the narrow slot canyons on a hike up through the balanced rocks themselves. If you're there in the summer, start early to avoid the hottest part of the day, and take water. 

Valles Caldera

This ancient supervolcano is 13.7 miles wide and holds hot springs, streams, fumaroles and other volcanic features. The Valles Caldera (main post photo above) sits at 11,000 feet, west and uphill from Los Alamos. It can be reached from Albuquerque by going north on I-25 to Santa Fe, to the Santa Fe bypass to Española and then following the signs to Los Alamos and 18 miles beyond to the caldera. For a more scenic route, take Highway 550 out of Bernallilo, turn on Highway 4 north, buy yourself some fry bread at stands backdropped by the stunning red rocks of Jemez Pueblo, stop again at the soda dam north of Jemez Springs, then proceed to the caldera 22 miles beyond.

The vehicle entry fee into the park is $20, good for seven days, with no per-person fee. So load up the car with friends and family.

Once at the caldera, there's hiking, wildlife viewing including elk, mountain biking, ranger-guided tours and horseback riding, if you bring your own steed. There are a few limited camping spots. 

Bandelier National Monument

On the way to Valles Caldera, before you get to Los Alamos on Highway 4, is a slice of ancient Native culture in the form of Bandelier National Monument. The 33,000-acre site includes a long steep-walled canyon that holds remnants of Native culture dating back 11,000 years in the form of petroglyphs, walls, reconstructed kivas, viga holes and areas accessible via ladders.

Shuttles run from the White Rock Visitors Center in Los Alamos to the visitor center within Bandelier. Once there, a 1.2-mile loop trails starts at the visitor center. Other trails include the 3-mile Falls Trail to the Upper Falls that includes a view of the ancestral "Long House" pueblo.

There are more than 70 miles of trails in the monument, but some features were erased in a 2011 fire and in subsequent flooding.

Vehicle entry fee is $12 for a seven day pass, and the park closes at sunset. 

For more trip ideas in northern New Mexico, click here


East of Albuquerque

Madrid, New Mexico, outside of Albuquerque along the Turquoise Trail 


Prounounced "MAD-rid," after New Madrid, MO, the funky village was the scene for the movie "Wild Hogs." Whether you're straddling a motorcycle like the good guys in the movie or merely steering your car toward it, Madrid is reached by taking I-40 east of Albuquerque to Tijeras, then north on Highway 14, aka the "Turquoise Trail" that is a back way to Santa Fe.

Madrid, a thriving company coal town in the mid-1800s that had the first lighted baseball field in the West, was headed for ghost town status in the 1970s before the sole owner of the townsite, Joe Huber, started to rent out portions. Since then, it has evolved into its current funky artist colony, hippie-southwest vibe with everything from art boutiques to coffee shops to a gypsy festival and a fourth of July parade.

Part of the fun is the winding road heading north from I-40; you can continue through the Old West town of Cerrillos and its mining museum and trading post, looping back via I-25. If you have time, a side trip early in your journey can take you on a winding climb to Sandia Crest past Tinkertown Museum.

For more day trip ideas just outside of Albuquerque, click here


South of Albuquerque

It's a snow goose kinda morning.

Posted by Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday, January 23, 2014


Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

About an hour south of Albuquerque, you'll discover walking trails, world-renowned birding, and spectacular photography opportunities at Bosque del Apache (see video above). Try going in November, when the refuge hosts their annual festival to coinside with the sandhill crane migration.

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument 

In Mountainair, about 45 minutes south of Albuquerque, numerous pueblo, kiva, and mission ruins await you at the Salinas National Monument. The abandoned site eerily echoes the early encounters between pueblo peoples and the Spanish colonizers and are open for exploration (and photo ops) daily.

For more information on what to do in southern New Mexico, click here.

See below for a map outlining the mentioned sites. Bosque del Apache is just off of the map to the south of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. It would take 13 hours and 15 minutes to visit all of the sites!

Map of day trips from Albuquerque 

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Roy Neese is a newly minted Albuquerque resident, coming to New Mexico to warm up after 16 years in Alaska, including the last three promoting Alaska tourism as a content/social media specialist and photographer for Visit Anchorage. An avid cyclist, he is rapidly adjusting to cycling without using studded tires.
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