The drive from Denver to Albuquerque is around seven hours—but, fortunately, southern Colorado and northern New Mexico are both filled with destinations that are just about as dynamic and enticing as they come. From dazzling geography to captivating museums, this road trip will take you through the region’s best attractions and points of interest. Stunning scenery, intriguing history, and bustling social centers are only a few of the things that you’ll find on the way from Denver to Albuquerque… Let’s hit the road!
Slightly over an hour south of Denver, Colorado Springs is a mountainside city with a bit of everything: outdoor recreation, gorgeous views, local heritage, and a wide range of attractions. Some of the most popular places to go in the city include Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, America the Beautiful Fantasy Playground, and the National Museum of World War II Aviation. Like most Colorado cities, Colorado Springs is surrounded by sweeping wilderness that’s practically begging to be explored—and, if you’re looking to see something truly spectacular, one of the best spots to visit is Garden of the Gods, northwest of Downtown Colorado Springs.
Named for its striking red rock formations, Garden of the Gods encompasses more than 1,300 acres and attracts an estimated six million visitors every year. Before you head into the park itself, don’t forget to stop by Gardens of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, where you’ll informational exhibits, brochures, souvenirs, tips for navigating the park, and a glass-enclosed cafe that specializes in healthy (yet delicious) dishes. Hiking, biking, and climbing can all be enjoyed inside the park, and the visitor center also offers segway, trolley, and Jeep tours. And if you’re interested in getting some professional insight into the area and its unique environment, you can even attend a free walking tour that’s led by a park volunteer. (These free guided walking tours depart daily at 10 am and 2 pm from the visitor center.)
Pueblo, Colorado, is about two-and-a-half hours south of Denver, and it’s a lovely riverfront town that makes for another unforgettable stop on the way to Alburquerque. A few of its biggest attractions are the Pueblo Zoo, El Pueblo History Museum, Mineral Palace Park, and Lake Pueblo State Park. But, if you’re looking to really get to know the city, there’s no better place to go than the Pueblo Riverwalk along the Arkansas River Channel.
From food and shopping to art and history, the Pueblo Riverwalk—also known as the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk—will take you through all of Downtown Pueblo’s can’t-miss hotspots, like CoLLECTiVE Artisan & Boutique Market, Table 67, Blue Ocean Sushi Bar, and Gateway Park. The Riverwalk also has over 50 pieces of artwork positioned across its 32 acres, and if you want to learn more about this part of town’s history, the city offers excursion boat rides from May through September, during which a tour guide will narrate the events leading up to the creation of the Riverwalk. (Gondola rides, pedal boats, and private boat tours are also available for seasonal rent and purchase.)
Around four hours south of Denver, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is a southern Colorado staple that you don’t want to miss when driving to Albuquerque. The area was made a national monument in 1932 by President Herbert Hoover, and it achieved national park and preserve status in 2004. Many places in the park were once part of the Old Spanish Trail, a national historic trail that was a popular route in the 1800s for settlers migrating West. Great Sand Dunes’ titular dunes field—which contains the tallest dunes on the continent—spans 30 square miles, and the surface temperature of the dunes ranges from 150 degrees Fahrenheit to negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to the dunes, the park also features alpine lakes and streams, grasslands, desert scrub, wetlands, alpine tundra, and plenty of wildlife—including pikas, marmots, bighorn sheep, mule deer, bison, black bears, lizards, falcons, burrowing owls, eagles, and much, much more. Hiking, backpacking, sandboarding, sand sledding, and photography are all popular activities to enjoy in the park, but it’s recommended that visitors take weather conditions into account before planning a trip to Great Sand Dunes.
About two-and-a-half hours northeast of Albuquerque, Taos, New Mexico, is a small but mighty town that’s known for its long-celebrated art colony, historically and culturally significant landmarks, and well-known ski resort (Taos Ski Valley). Among the most-visited places in Taos are the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, the Millicent Rogers Museum, Taos Pueblo, and San Francisco de Asis Mission Church. On point of interest that you definitely don’t want to skip when driving through this part of New Mexico, however, is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is around 20 minutes northwest of Taos.
Towering 650 feet above the Rio Grande, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the fifth-highest bridge in the country, and it stretches over 1,200 feet. Whether you walk or drive across the bridge, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding area, including the legendary Rio Grande. Completed in 1965 and the 1966 winner of the American Institute of Steel Construction “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” award, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is a national icon and has been featured in a number of films, most notably, perhaps, Natural Born Killers (1994) and Terminator Salvation (2009).
The capital city of New Mexico, Santa Fe is around an hour northeast of Albuquerque, and it’s well worth a stop as you continue making your way south. Nicknamed “The City Different,” Santa Fe is an exciting travel destination that boasts a long list of compelling attractions, like Canyon Road, the New Mexico Museum of Art, San Miguel Chapel (the oldest church in the continental United States!), the Museum of International Folk Art, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, and, of course, the New Mexico State Capitol. As you can see, Santa Fe is a city that’s infused with a great deal of art and history, and another headlining attraction to visit while you’re in town is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where you can get an intimate look at one of the most influential American artists in the modern era.
Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm (with extended hours until 7 pm on Fridays), the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Downtown Santa Fe has more than 3,000 works by its namesake artist. Oil paintings, drawings, pastels, and watercolors by O’Keeffe are showcased throughout the museum, as are photographs and some of O’Keeffe’s personal artifacts. General admission is $13 for adults, $11 for students over the age of 18, and free for guests 17 and under.
Pecos National Historical Park is about 30 minutes southeast of Santa Fe, but trust us when we say that it warrants a detour on the way to Albuquerque. Aside from being in an already breathtaking area of New Mexico, the park holds several structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as the land that it protects was once inhabited by Pueblo Indians and, later, Spanish settlers. Today, you can see preserved ruins of the village, including pueblos, a church, and a convento.
Before you start exploring the park, be sure to stop by the E. E. Fogelson Visitor, where you can watch a short introductory film and learn everything that you need to know about the backstory behind the area. Hiking, sightseeing, and photography are the main activities that most park-goers engage in when visiting Pecos National Historical Park, and there are a couple of different trails that you’ll have to choose from while you’re there. (Guided tours led by park rangers are also regularly scheduled, so check the website for updated times!)
We’ve almost made it to Albuquerque—but there’s one last place we want to cover that you’ll find on the northeast outskirts of the city, about 30 minutes from Downtown: the Sandia Peak Tramway, a cable car that will take you high above the city, presenting you with unrivaled aerial views as you go. The tramway has the longest span of any aerial tramway in the Americas and the third-longest span in the world, making it a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience.
A ride one way is about 11 minutes long, and once you’re at the top, you’ll be greeted with a panoramic view of 11,000 square miles.
Apart from the views, Sandia Peak has a subset of attractions—including food, shops, hiking, and skiing. The restaurants that you’ll find are Ten 3, an upscale dining establishment, and Sandiago’s Grill, a casual eatery. And, while you’re at the top of the mountain, don’t forget to go to the Sandia Tram Gift Shop, the best place to get souvenirs, decor, jewelry, and other New-Mexico-themed treasures!
Nicknamed “Albu-Quirky” for its vibrant energy and eclectic range of attractions, Albuquerque is a top-rated travel destination in the American Southwest that’s sure to give you the time of your life. It might be in the middle of the desert, but Alburquerque is anything but dry—some of its highlights include the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, ABQ BioPark (which has a zoo, aquarium, and botanic garden), Historic Old Town, and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.
One of the events that the city is most famous for is the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, which takes place every year in October. But, if you’re not in town for the festival, don’t worry: You can learn all about Alburqueque’s history with hot air balloons—as well as the history of ballooning in general—at the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. Enjoy your stay in Burque, but don’t forget to have some fun on the way there, too!