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The 8 Best Mountain Towns in New Mexico

The 8 Best Mountain Towns in New Mexico

People unfamiliar with New Mexico may be surprised by how mountainous the state is. But it is actually the eighth most mountainous state in the U.S. and there are several amazing mountain towns in New Mexico to explore.

With a rich cultural heritage, thriving art scenes, and outdoor recreation opportunities, these mountain towns have drawn in visitors and locals alike for fantastic getaways and exciting adventures. Here are some of our favorites.

Discover our favorite things to do in New Mexico with kids.

The Best Mountain Towns in New Mexico to Visit

Taos

Taos is one of the best mountain towns in New Mexico

Amidst the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico, Taos is a striking and eclectic destination that has a rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking natural beauty. Most visitors to Taos come for the amazing skiing at Taos Ski Valley, the Historic Taos Pueblo, the thriving art scene, or the many outdoor adventures the area offers. 

Taos Pueblo is one of America’s oldest continuously inhabited communities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pueblo community continues to uphold its ancestral traditions and way of life; notably, their multi-storied adobe buildings that have been constructed using traditional techniques passed down through generations.

Visitors can immerse themselves in Native American customs and traditions through the art galleries housing traditional crafts, guided tours led by tribal members, and cultural events like Feast days that celebrate the Patron Saints of the Catholic religion that were introduced to the community during Spanish colonization. Feast Days are open to the public, but there is a strict no-recording devices policy. 

Winter sports enthusiasts will love Taos Ski Valley. It offers an exceptional skiing and snowboarding experience and a breathtaking natural beauty. Taos Ski Valley has maintained its reputation as one of North America’s premier ski destinations, with over 1,200 acres of skiable terrain and an average annual snowfall of 305 inches (7.75 meters). The resort has  opportunities for both beginners and expert skiers.

Taos also offers plenty of outdoor activities beyond winter sports. Popular hiking spots include Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico; Williams Lake Trail, which offers stunning alpine scenery, and La Junta Canyon Trail, which leads to a majestic waterfall. 

Mountain biking is also popular, with the South Boundary Trail being a must-ride for experienced bikers with its challenging terrain and incredible views.

Beginners might want to choose the Rift Valley Rim Trail or Horsethief Mesa Loop. Visitors can also get their adrenaline rush while navigating the whitewater rapids on the Rio Grande River. Various outfitters in town offer guided rafting trips suitable for all skill levels. 

When in town, be sure to check out Taos Mesa Brewing for fantastic tacos and craft beer, Michael’s Kitchen for home-cooked New Mexican favorites, The Love Apple for New Mexican cuisine and a specialty Oaxacan-style mole, or Martyrs for an elegant experience in a 1920s-style dining area.

To explore the artist community in Taos, the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, in the former home of Russian-American painter Nicolai Fechin, exhibits an impressive collection of his works and pieces from other regional artists.

Another must-visit gallery is the David Anthony Fine Art Gallery on Kit Carson Road. This sophisticated space showcases contemporary realism by nationally recognized artists specializing in still lifes, landscapes, figurative works, and more. 

Stay here: The Historic Taos Inn is located in the heart of Taos and is pet friendly so you can bring your four-legged family members along.

Ruidoso

Sierra Blanca Peak in New Mexico
Sierra Blanca Peak by Jonathan Cutrer

In the Sierra Blanca range about three hours southwest of Albuquerque, Ruidoso offers plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, art lovers, and those seeking relaxation. Ruidoso is renowned for its natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities. 

The numerous hiking trails, like the Grindstone Lake Trail or Cedar Creek Trail, allow you to encounter wildlife while enjoying the beautiful landscape.

Ruidoso is also a great place for fishing due to its abundance of lakes and rivers full of trout and other fish species. Cast your line at Alto Lake or Grindstone Reservoir, where you can enjoy peaceful surroundings while waiting for your catch-of-the-day moment.

Ski Apache and Ruidoso Winter Park are where to be in the winter months. Ski Apache boasts exhilarating slopes suitable for all skill levels while offering breathtaking panoramic views of Sierra Blanca Peak—the highest point in southern New Mexico. Alternatively, if you’re looking for family-friendly fun, check out Ruidoso Winter Park’s tubing lanes and snow play areas.

Like many mountain towns in New Mexico, the artistic community thrives in Ruidoso. Check out their local galleries, such as Gallery 408 or Enchanted Lands Trading Company to admire unique artwork ranging from paintings to sculptures by talented regional artists.

And don’t miss Hubbard Museum of American West, where you can learn about Western heritage through captivating exhibits showcasing Native American history and cowboy culture.

Ruidoso’s midtown shopping district is walkable, allowing you to check out their clothing, art, and hand-crafted Native American jewelry, as well as their dining options. The Ranchers Steak & Seafood offers, you guessed it, unforgettable steak or seafood dinners.

Michael J’s Restaurant & Pizzeria has delicious pizzas baked in wood-fired ovens, as well as, pasta dishes, sandwiches, and salads. The Rio Grande Grill & Tap Room has Southwestern cuisine with a modern twist. Enjoy live music performances while savoring their renowned green chile sauce.

Stay here: The MCM Elegante Lodge & Suites Ruidoso has great rooms, an indoor pool and hot tub, a playground for the kiddos, a dog park for your pups, and even a golf course!

Cloudcroft

Cloudcroft Mexican Canyon Trestle

About an hour south of Ruidoso and just a short drive from Alamogordo is the enchanting small town of Cloudcroft. The town itself has less than 1,000 residents but has 480,000 acres of open forest that draw in thousands of people each year looking for adventure and scenic fun. 

Found within the Lincoln National Forest, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Trestle Recreation Area offers a view of a restored 323-foot-long Mexican Canyon Trestle for the Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway, as well as panoramic views of the Tularosa Basin.

The Osha Trail loop is a great hike for beginners and experienced hikers. More adventurous hikers may want to head to Dog Canyon Trail at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park for an 11-mile out-and-back trip with a steep climb. 

If you visit during winter, Ski Cloudcroft offers slopes suitable for all skill levels and boasts a family-friendly atmosphere. It provides an unforgettable experience for all skiers. With an elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level and an average annual snowfall of over 100 inches, Ski Cloudcroft offers some of the best snow conditions in the region. 

The Sunspot Solar Observatory, located just outside of Cloudcroft, is a must-visit destination for astronomy enthusiasts. You can attend educational programs or simply gaze at stars through their powerful telescopes during public viewing nights. 

In the compact downtown area, you can find shops, lively bars, and cafes with whimsical Old West storefronts on Burro Avenue. The Noisy Water Winery offers local wine tastings.

Rebecca’s, in the historic Lodge Resort and Spa, offers high-end delicacies with a New Mexico twist (like their baked escargot with a roasted green chile sauce). You can also head to Mad Jack’s Mountaintop Barbecue, Cloudcroft Brewing Company, or find a sweet treat at Burro Street Bakery.

Stay here: There are several amazing log vacation homes in Cloudcroft on VRBO. Find the right size for your group!

Red River

Red River New Mexico

Not far from Taos is Red River, a charming mountain town that offers activities and attractions catering to outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, and those seeking relaxation.

Red River is known for its excellent skiing at the Red River Ski Area. With over 60 trails across three mountains, this destination provides an ideal setting for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. As it’s so close to Taos, many avid skiers love hopping from Taos to Red River and even to Angel Fire to experience all the winter fun that Northern New Mexico has to offer. 

For those who want a less snowy adventure, head out on a hike in the Carson National Forest or head to the nearby rivers and streams for fishing opportunities. The clear waters of the Red River or Eagle Nest Lake make for great places to start. 

If you prefer to stay in the car, the Enchanted Circle driving tour takes you from Red River to Eagle’s Nest, Angel Fire, Taos, and Questa for a scenic drive that circles Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico.

Red River is also known throughout the area for its diverse live music scene and special events. There are chuckwagon dinner shows, an American Westfest in July, an annual songwriter’s festival, an annual Bluegrass Festival, Mardi Gras in the Mountains, Spring Break Beach Weeks, and Oktoberfest. 

Stay here: I have my eye on this riverfront vacation home in the heart of town.

Jemez Springs

Valles Caldera National Preserve
Valles Caldera National Preserve

Jemez Springs is an alluring small town located not far from Santa Fe in the Jemez Mountains. Surrounded by natural beauty and rich in history, it offers visitors a variety of activities and attractions.

Explore the Valles Caldera National Preserve, just outside of Jemez Springs, to see expansive meadows, lush forests, and volcanic landscapes. You can hike, fish, view wildlife, or marvel at the three-mile-wide circular depression in the earth created by a volcanic eruption more than 1.2 million years ago. 

Another natural wonder of the area is Soda Dam, a unique geological formation created by mineral deposits from natural hot springs over thousands of years ago. Take a short hike along Soda Dam Road to witness this majestic rock structure up close. 

Visitors can also visit the Jemez Historic Site to be immersed in history at this archaeological site that was once home to an ancient pueblo village dating back to the 14th century. Explore ruins, learn about Native American culture through interpretive exhibits, and take a guided tour to fully appreciate the significance of this site. 

Many people flock to Jemez Springs for their thermal hot springs. Find relaxation by soaking in the warm mineral-rich waters that are perfect for unwinding after a day of exploring. Jemez Springs offers both primitive hot springs and commercial hot springs.

Primitive springs are beautiful for those who want a private and natural experience. However, they are only accessible by hiking, and some may be challenging. Spence Hot Springs near Soda Dam and the McCauley Hot Springs near Battleship Rock are great options. 

Commercial hot springs in Jemez Springs offer a cleaner, more controlled, and more accessible experience. Jemez Hot Springs, Jemez Bath House, and Cañon del Rio Retreat and Spa are all great choices. 

Santa Fe

Sanat Feis one of the best New Mexico mountain towns

Probably the most famous of the mountain towns in New Mexico on our list is Santa Fe. Sitting at 7,198 feet, it’s the third-highest city in the United States with a population of over 1,000.

Santa Fe is a vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. When in town, you can’t miss the Historic Plaza, a photogenic and artsy square surrounded by adobe buildings and a variety of shops, galleries, and restaurants. 

Art lovers won’t want to miss the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to see the works of one of America’s most iconic artists.

Also located in the Plaza is the Palace of the Governors. This historic building was built in 1610 as Spain’s seat of government for Northern New Mexico. It now houses a museum displaying artifacts that tell the story of Santa Fe’s past. There are often native artists out in front selling their handmade jewelry and other art.

Another must-visit for art lovers is Canyon Road, an entire road dedicated to fine art, lined with over 100 galleries showcasing everything from contemporary to traditional artwork. Explore this charming street filled with a wide range of fine art as well as shops and dining establishments.

And despite being the capital and one of the largest cities in New Mexico, there is no shortage of outdoor activities in Santa Fe. Nearby Bandelier National Monument is known for stunning mesas, sheer-walled canyons, over 23,000 acres of wilderness, and the Ancestral Pueblo dwellings in the area. 

Another reason many visitors flock to Santa Fe is for the food scene. You can find a mix of family-run businesses and high-end dining, serving classic New Mexican dishes like carne adovada, sopapillas, green chiles (in all forms), and Navajo fry bread, or unexpected exotic cuisines.

For home-cooked New Mexican meals, try The Pantry or Tomasitas. For African and Caribbean dishes like goat stew or jerk chicken, try Jambo Cafe. Or, try Geronimo for their Wagyu beef carpaccio.

Stay here: Our editor and her family recently spent five nights at the Inn of the Governors and loved it. The location in the heart of town was perfect, the price was right, and the breakfast was to die for. Get the huevos rancheros Christmas style. You can thank her later.

Los Alamos

Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico
Climbing ladders to ruins in Bandelier National Monument

Located about 45 minutes from Santa Fe is Los Alamos, the town created to house the Manhattan Project and featured most recently in the blockbuster film Oppenheimer. While its connection to the development of atomic weapons is evident, there is plenty to do in Los Alamos for travelers of all types.

First and foremost, a visit to the Bradbury Science Museum is a must. Explore the history of Los Alamos National Laboratory and learn about the development of nuclear technology through interactive exhibits and displays. 

To learn more about the town during the atomic era, you can visit the Los Alamos History Museum. The most prominent feature of the museum is Fuller Lodge.

Built in 1928, the building was used as the Ranch School Dining Hall. When the school was purchased in 1942 for the Manhattan Project, it was used as a community center and dining hall for the workers. In fact, Fuller Lodge was one of the Oppenheimer filming locations.

You can also head right around the corner to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park to see historic buildings like Pond Cabin and Battleship Bunker. However, you must be on an official tour with the NHP to view the majority of these buildings as they are loathed on a federal Department of Energy reservation.

For those looking for outdoor adventures, head out to Bandelier National Monument. Just a short drive from downtown Los Alamos, this beautiful national monument offers stunning landscapes, ancient cliff dwellings, and numerous hiking trails that allow you to immerse yourself in nature. 

You can also head to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Spanning over 87,000 acres, this preserved landscape is home to meadows, forests, streams, and wildlife. Enjoy scenic drives or opt for activities such as fishing, horseback riding, or cross-country skiing, depending on the season. 

Los Alamos is a stop on our epic Southwest Road Trip Itinerary.

Stay here: Want to keep the kids happy? Holiday Inn Express for the win with their indoor pool! They even have a suite that sleeps six if your family is large.

Aztec

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec, a hidden gem located north of Santa Fe, is perfect for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, or those looking for a peaceful getaway, Aztec has something for everyone. 

You can explore the Aztec Ruins National Monument, one of the most well-preserved ancestral Puebloan sites in North America. Take a guided tour to learn about the fascinating culture and architecture of these ancient ruins, or wander through at your own pace.

The Riverside Nature Center offers scenic trails winding along the Animas River, where you can take leisurely walks while enjoying breathtaking views and observing local wildlife. It’s an ideal spot for birdwatching or having a peaceful picnic surrounded by nature. 

The Salmon Ruins & Heritage Park, just outside Aztec, is another archaeological site worth exploring. Walk among the remnants of an ancient Pueblo village and visit their museum to gain insight into their way of life. 

For outdoor lovers, Angel Peak Scenic Area is a must-visit destination near Aztec, offering jaw-dropping views from atop cliffs formed by ancient volcanic activity. Hike along various trails leading to unique geological formations or set up camp under clear starry skies. 

When in need of some great food after exploring around Aztec, try 550 Brewing & Pizza Parlor for brick-oven pizzas and calzones or Aztec Restaurant for Southwest comfort food.

Stay here: We love the TownPlace Suites by Marriott because breakfast is always included and they have kitchens which are always a huge plus for families.