New Mexico is an interesting destination year round, thanks to its desert landscapes, Mexican and Native influences, and artsy reverence. But, when the cooler months roll around, New Mexico’s diverse array of activities truly shines, offering everything from skiing to hot springs and more. Here’s 8 unmissable places to enjoy New Mexico in winter.
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Why should I plan to visit New Mexico in winter?
New Mexico in the winter is kind of the best of both worlds.
If you’re looking for a winter wonderland, this state’s got you covered. The Rocky Mountains dominate the northern half of the state and, thanks to their stunning elevations, see epic amounts of powder each winter. Accordingly, destinations, like Taos or Angel Fire, have become meccas for snow lovers, with endless opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Looking instead to escape the winter chill? New Mexico’s lower elevation areas, typically found in the southern parts of the state, offer beautiful desert landscapes and, best of all, average daily highs in excess of 50 degrees in the coldest months of the year. Whether you’re looking for a bustling city or prefer outdoor adventure, you can find lots to keep you busy- and warm!- during the winter in New Mexico.
Where to Visit New Mexico in Winter
Located in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in northern New Mexico is the small town of Taos. Whether you enjoy skiing, hot air ballooning, hiking, or soaking in a natural hot spring, Taos in winter is perfect for travelers who enjoy stepping a bit off the beaten path.
Skiers will love hitting the slopes in the Taos Ski Valley, located about 40 minutes from the center of Taos. This resort is part of the beloved IKON Pass program and has been described to me, by many ski bros that I’ve bumped into along the road, as “totally sick”.
Not into that sick downhill skiing life? Strap on some snowshoes instead (my husband has these and I have these) and take on any number of snowshoeing trails, like the Columbine Canyon trails and Yerba Canyon Trail.
After all of those winter sports, Taos, which has become something of a New Age-y epicenter, has plenty of options to relax and recharge, from getting a holistic healer massage for a bit of a self-care break to relaxing in one of its nearby natural hot springs, like Black Rock or Manby.
To cap off your trip to Taos in winter, consider going on a hot air balloon tour, like this one or this one (which comes with champagne!), to take in the snowy alpine scenery from above.
If it wasn’t obvious from all the talk about snow sports, Taos is pretty chilly in the winter, with average highs in the low 40s and lows around 10°F. So you’ll want to bring along plenty of warm layers and waterproof outerwear for playing in the snow!
To get to Taos, the city has a small regional airport, but most people will instead fly into the nearby city of Santa Fe. Alternatively, Taos is a little more than 5 hours south of Denver, Colorado. As a homebase during your stay, the Dreamcatcher B&B, located just a few blocks from the central Taos Plaza, is super cozy, with a fireplace in each room, hot cookies upon check-in, and homemade breakfast each morning made with locally grown ingredients.
Recommended by Amber of Amber Everywhere
2. Las Cruces
If you’re seeking warmer weather in New Mexico in winter, Las Cruces, the second largest city in the state, may just be what you’re looking for. Sitting beside the Chihuahuan Desert and at the foot of the Organ Mountains, you’ll find plenty of outdoor adventures, plus arts, culture, and history, in this underrated city.
Las Cruces was founded in 1848 after the Mexican-American War- you can learn about its fascinating history at the Old Mesilla Village, which looks pretty much exactly as it did one hundred years ago. Even if you’re not quite a history buff, you’ll almost certainly find something that piques your interest here, from eclectic boutiques to local wineries.
Alternatively, the Zuhl Museum provides more context about the natural history in the area, with a variety of interesting artifacts, like an impressive collection (of over 1,800 pieces!!) of petrified wood, including a piece of a giant sequoia weighing 30,000 pounds, and the fossils of a creature that’s 100 million years older than dinosaurs!
If you’re, instead, trying to soak up Las Cruces’ warmer temperatures, there’s tons of places to get outside and enjoy the desert landscape, including nine state parks all within 90 minutes of the city. Some stand-outs in the area include Dripping Springs Natural Area, which is an excellent place to spot desert mule deer, and Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, for a beautiful stroll along the Rio Grande.
The average daily highs in Las Cruces in winter is in the upper 50s or lower 60s, offering the perfect temperatures for hiking, biking, or other outdoor activities. It’s still a good idea to bring along some warm layers, though- occasionally, the desert will even get a light dusting of snow, which makes the surrounding mountains look that much more magical!
Las Cruces has its own tiny airport, but it’s generally more affordable to get here by flying into El Paso, Texas and making the drive an hour north. For an excellent bang-for-your-buck stay, Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces provides many of the amenities of an upscale resort, like an onsite spa and manicured pool (and, more importantly for the winter, hot tub!) area, with reasonable prices.
3. Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a perfect place for a winter holiday, whether you’re into snow sports or are more interested in arts and culture.
The city enjoys an average of 283 days of sunshine each year, so the weather is generally clear and dry, even in the coldest of months. The average daily highs in this part of New Mexico in winter are in the 40s, with a dusting of snow on the ground. Head into the mountains around Santa Fe, though, and you’ll be met with much colder temperatures and up to 300 inches of snow each year!
There’s plenty of things to do in Santa Fe, a quirky city brimming with amazing food and impressive arts. During your visit, be sure to carve out some time to learn about the city’s rich Native American culture. For example, head to the city’s Museum Hill, where you can easily walk between the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (in addition to two other art museums within a stone’s throw).
Alternatively, if you prefer modern art, Santa Fe has something special for you – the eclectic Meow Wolf, which is like if an art museum and a performance art installation had a very psychedelic lovechild. In fact, you enter the museum through a refrigerator, if that tells you anything about the experience!
Santa Fe also has incredible history and is actually America’s oldest capital, founded in 1610. You can stroll around the streets of the city and soak up over 400 years of history at sites like Santa Fe Plaza, The Palace of the Governors, and the regal Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Along the way, you’ll pass the stunning variety of excellent restaurants, galleries, and crafts shops that Santa Fe has to offer.
For a different kind of adventure, Ski Santa Fe is the perfect place for a family ski trip. With a base elevation of an eye-popping 10,350 feet, Ski Santa Fe is actually one of the highest ski resorts in the country, with a summit elevation of 12,075 feet and a vertical drop of 1,725 feet. It also has seven lifts and 77 runs for skiers of all levels.
To reach Santa Fe, you can fly into Albuquerque, which is just a one hour and 15 minute drive south of the city. Once you reach Santa Fe, make the Inn on the Alameda your homebase for your stay- not only does it have charming adobe-style architecture and cozy accents, like a huge fireplace in the lobby, but it also serves up an incredible New Mexican-style breakfast spread each morning.
Recommended by Agnes at The Van Escape
Cloudcroft is a small village, tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, and was established over 100 years ago. Located in the Lincoln National Forest at an altitude of 8,676 ft, Cloudcroft is the perfect destination for a snowy getaway in New Mexico in winter.
When I say that Cloudcroft is small, I mean small- in fact, there’s only about 700 residents in town. Nonetheless, it’s become something of an offbeat destination, thanks to its beautiful outdoor landscapes and downtown area, full of buildings with wooden, Wild Western-y facades. So despite its small population, you’ll find plenty of cute shops, great restaurants, and historic landmarks in town (be sure to check out the railroad museum).
One of the most popular things to do in Cloudcroft in winter is snowshoeing through its National Forest, like to the frozen Bridal Veil Falls or the Osha Trail, where you can actually see White Sands National Park off in the distance!
Once you’re back in town, warm up with a steaming cup of coffee at any of the cute coffee shops, like Black Bear Coffee, and consider trying your hand at any of the other winter sports in the area, like ice skating at the Cloudcroft Ice Rink or tubing at the Ski Cloudcroft ski area.
Because of the high elevation, it’s usually pretty chilly in Cloudcroft, with average winter temperatures in the 30s. Accordingly, be sure to bring plenty of layers and, if you plan on having outdoor adventures, some snow gear to keep warm and dry.
To reach Cloudcroft, fly into El Paso, Texas and make the hour and 50 minute drive north. Once you’re in the city, The Lodge at Cloudcroft offers comfortable accommodations mixed with Victorian-style elegance. In fact, while the Lodge retains much of its historic charm, its original building burned down at the turn of the 19th century and the hotel is now believed to be quite haunted! If you’re not into spirits in your hotel room, there’s still plenty of reasons to love the Lodge, like a cozy outdoor hot tub.
Recommended by Sabrina of Shades of Summr
5. White Sands National Park
New Mexico is home to one of the most unique natural wonders in the United States- over two hundred square miles of glistening white sand dunes, now known as White Sands National Park.
These dunes are composed of teeny gypsum crystals, which are remnants of minerals that were once washed down from the nearby mountains to the current basin during the Ice Age, over 11,000 years ago. And cooler yet (Ice Age pun!), White Sands is the largest gypsum dunefield on the entire planet!
The best way to explore the sand dunes is on foot- there’s five hiking trails in the park, which vary from an ADA-accessible boardwalk to a 5-mile slog up and down the rolling sand dunes. Alternatively, consider biking along the park’s roadways- it’s the only place on the planet where you can bike on a hard-packed gypsum sand road through an enormous dunefield!
Another fun way to experience the park is sledding down some of its massive dunes- you can bring along your own saucer, like this one (be sure to get wax so that your saucer actually flies down the hills!), or alternatively, you can purchase one in the park’s gift shops.
The weather in this part of New Mexico in winter is perfect for some sand dune fun, with highs in the low 60s and clear skies. Just be aware that White Sands National Park also happens to be completely surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, so the park is intermittently closed- often without warning- for military testing purposes (it’s probably for the best- I doubt you want your visit to correspond with missile testing!).
The closest airport to White Sands is El Paso, about an hour and a half south of the park. The Classic Desert Aire Hotel, in the nearby town of Alamogordo, feels like a vintage roadside motel, with clean rooms, friendly staff, and incredible, made-to-order breakfasts!
6. Carlsbad Caverns
If you’re looking for a getaway in New Mexico in winter, Carlsbad Caverns should definitely be a contender. In fact, the weather outside makes no difference here- when you’re 700 feet below the earth’s surface, the weather’s always a cool and damp 56 degrees!
Perhaps New Mexico’s most well known public land, more than a thousand people visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park every day. While the park has hiking trails and campgrounds that are worth exploring on their own, most visitors come here for one thing- to explore the cave itself!
Carlsbad is a sprawling and massive complex, with 120 caverns in all that span over 30 miles. Visitors are only allowed to explore one of these caverns, which will still take you well over an hour, thanks to its dizzying maze of stalagmites, stalactites, and other rock formations.
You’ll enter the cavern one of two ways- either on an elevator from the Visitor Center or along the one-mile natural entrance trail. If you can swing it, I’d highly recommend trying the natural entrance, where you really get a feel for how deep into the earth you’re dropping, switchback by switchback.
Due to the caverns’ popularity, you’ll want to book your entrance ticket well ahead of your visit. Reservations for a self-guided tour can be purchased online up to one month in advance for $1. When you check in at the Visitor Center, you pay your actual entrance fee of $15- or, if you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you (plus your three closest friends) will get in for freeee!
One of the most popular things to do at Carlsbad Caverns is to watch thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats that inhabit the cave fly out of the cave every night to do their nocturnal foraging. Sadly, the bats head to Mexico during the winter months, so you’ll just have to come back in the summertime to observe this batty delight!
While the National Park is the most popular thing to do in Carlsbad, there’s still other activities to keep you busy in town, like trying a locally made brew at Guadalupe Mountain Brewing Company, perusing artifacts at Carlsbad Museum and Art Center, or exploring any of the dozens of hiking trails in the area.
To reach Carlsbad, fly into El Paso and make the two hour drive to Carlsbad. While you’re in Carlsbad, book a stay at the Post Time Inn, a no-nonsense motel with spacious rooms, a friendly staff, and free breakfast.
Recommended by Ada of Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
If you’re like me and like all things kitschy, Roswell is surely on your bucket list.
Roswell is really on the map for one thing- in the summer of 1947, a rancher discovered the debris of an unidentified object in his pastures. While the local Air Force base maintained the debris was from a crashed weather balloon, many people believe that it was instead the remains of an Unidentified Flying Object. Ever since then, alien enthusiasts and curiosity seekers alike have been flocking to this tiny desert town.
If quirky attractions are up your alley, you’ll love the eye-popping number of alien-themed businesses in Roswell. For example, no trip to Roswell is complete without a stop at the International UFO Museum and Research Center, which largely focuses on the 1947 crash and offers a handful of other outer space exhibits. Alien Zone is a mixture of a souvenir shop and selfie museum, with lots of alien-themed dioramas to take goofy photos with. Even downtown Roswell has several colorful murals with UFOs and extraterrestrial creatures to get into that Area 51 spirit.
If you want to make your visit a bit more well-rounded, there’s some cool green spaces to explore in and around Roswell, like the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, that’s home to over 350 species of migratory birds, or Mescalero Sand Dunes, which offers 90+ foot tall dunes just begging to be ATVed on. And you’ll likely have lovely weather to do it- the daily highs in Roswell in the winter are in the lower 60s!
If you’re having trouble catching a ride via UFO to Roswell, you can either fly into its own teeny airport or instead, fly into El Paso and make the three and a half hour drive northeast to the city. While you’re crashing in Roswell (should I stop with the alien jokes yet?), the Roswell Inn offers budget accommodations with lots of cheeky nods to Roswell’s extraterrestrial lure.
New Mexico’s largest city offers a diverse array of activities in the winter, from cultural centers to learn about the city’s Native American roots to skiing at over 10,000 feet of elevation!
The city has awesome weather in the winter, with daily highs in the upper 40s and 50s and clear, sunny skies. So take advantage of it, with the plentiful outdoor activities that you can enjoy in and around the city.
For example, take a 15-minute ride via the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the summit of a 10,378-foot mountain peak. If you’re visiting during a particularly cold or snowy winter, the Sandia Peak Ski Area offers 35 runs for all types of skier, as well as snowshoeing or other winter sports. And if there doesn’t happen to be that sweet powder during your visit, there’s still plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails to get your heartbeat up in the Sandia Mountains.
If you’re, instead, looking to soak in the city’s culture, not to worry- Albuquerque is home to a staggering 19 museums. Some of the most unique offerings include the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, with everything you ever need to know about hot air balloons, to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, which dives into the entire history of the development of nuclear technology and weapons starting from the Manhattan Project.
After a full day of museum hopping, indulge in Albuquerque’s culinary scene, which is best known for its unique mixture of Native American foods with European and Mexican influences. And the city is a hidden gem of microbreweries- in fact, Outside Online just ranked it as one of the top unexpected brewery cities in the United States. High and Dry Brewing is one of our favorites, with quirky brews (think a chocolate-y stout with a hint of New Mexico’s signature ingredient, the red chile) and has a rotating roster of food trucks, dishing up killer eats.
If you’re looking for something a bit more low-brow than museums and are a Breaking Bad fan like me, try to squeeze in a tour of the show’s locations. I’m totally bookmarking this tour of the show’s shooting locations for the next time I’m in town, where you’re carted around in an RV, just like Walter’s—ahem—“kitchen” on the show!
Albuquerque conveniently has its very own international airport, making it a breeze to get here. While you’re here, stay in the Old Town, which boasts several buildings that date back to the 1700s. Hotel Chaco is an excellent option, offering luxurious accommodations with lots of artwork created by local- and almost exclusively Native- artists adorning its walls.
I hope you’ve found the perfect getaway to New Mexico in the winter. Did I miss any hidden gems? Let me know in the comments below!
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