On the surface, New Mexico may seem like just sand and desert, but it is a remarkably diverse landscape. Welcome to the Land of Enchantment with a range of national parks and preserves to stunning attractions. If you love to experience the outdoors and explore unique destinations with access to beautiful urban destinations and remote and rugged landscapes, New Mexico is likely the destination for you. Check out our favorite destinations in this underrated state below.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park
Where to Stay – Elephant Butte Lake State Park Campground
Why We Love It – Welcome to New Mexico’s largest lake and well-loved fishing destination. People venture here to enjoy the water either by fishing or boating. In addition, there are year-round hiking trails. The average July summer temperature is around 93 degrees. The park is open all year, and in January, you experience an average high of 56 degrees and a nighttime low near freezing. It is a stunning destination with vast Southwestern views and magnificent sunrises and sunsets. Elephant Butte Lake is one of the reasons that New Mexico is known as the land of enchantment.
Navajo Lake State Park
Where to Stay – Navajo Lake State Park Pine Campground
Why We Love It – Navajo Lake offers boating, fishing, and hiking options set amid beautiful landscapes. Rent a kayak, book a fishing guide, or enjoy a few hours in the bumper boats; all are available at the marina. You can swim in the lake or take a long plunge if cliff-diving is on your action list. There are quiet areas for wildlife viewing and many miles of hiking trails. The lake is the second-largest in New Mexico and is often busy during the summer. It is also an excellent winter destination.
Carlsbad Cavern National Park
Where to Stay – White City RV Campground
Why We Love It – The beauty alone here is fantastic, but the more than 119-caves draw you in and captivate. The caves are naturally formed as the result of acid-melting limestone. Inside, you find many wonders. You do need reservations to enjoy this beautiful location. Beyond the caves and caverns is the gorgeous landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are wildlife viewing opportunities, such as the emergence of millions of bats at dusk or deer and birdlife that dot the surface. The cavern system offers guided tours or solo tours along the many paths and raised walkways.
Heron Lake State Park
Where to Stay – Heron Lake State Park Camping
Why We Love It – The park is a high plateau destination at 7,167 feet in elevation. It is wild with hints of civilization, making it a wonderful place to view wildlife, fish for trophy trout, or van camp right along the shore of the lake. There are 5.5 miles of hiking trails that you access from the Rio Charma stairway at Heron Dam. It is a quiet park, and while boating is allowed on the lake, a no-wake policy is enforced. The park is open year-round, and mountain biking is permitted in designated areas and trails. In winter, the park offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
White Sands National Park
Where to Stay – Alamogordo / White Sands KOA Journey
Why We Love It – This gorgeous destination is created through the natural degradation of gypsum, which creates wondrous flowing white dunes. The park is home to a fantastic array of wildlife, including amphibians, birds, fish, reptiles, and plants. Explore the parks 275 acres via the inter-dune boardwalk system. Stop in the visitor center to discover all of your options for exploring this magnificent destination.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Where to Stay – Chaco Culture
Why We Love It – Take a self-guided tour along the Canyon Loop Drive, nine miles long, and pass by six significant sites throughout Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The ruins are breathtaking, and the park is open all year. The evening is a fantastic time as the spectacular sunsets enchant and thrill. Four backcountry hiking trails take you into the remote areas and past ruins. Here you can view petroglyphs, stairways and discover overlooks that give you a grand view of the valleys and landscape. The Petroglyph National Monument is within Chaco Culture.
Bandelier National Monument
Where to Stay – Juniper Campground
Why We Love It – Bandelier National Monument is an easy to get to destination for vanlifers that offers access great history. The story told in the rocks and ruins is that of pre-Columbian life dating back to when the hunter-gatherer culture was the only way to survive. It would be later that we learned to farm corn and live in communities. Viewing the pueblo ruins is a link that we should all experience. The fact that they are set amid a stunning landscape with grand panoramic views that descend into small marvels only makes Bandelier a must-visit destination.
Carson National Forest
Where to Stay – Hopewell Lake Campground
Why we LOVE it – the high mountain terrain is spectacularly beautiful, with elevations that sore from 6,000 feet to over 13,100 feet. The palate of color will amaze, and the place’s natural beauty will inspire. Camping amid the aspen and conifer forests is soothing to the body. The whispering trees – aspens – create a fantastic white noise that helps you dive into a deep sleep. There is a 14- acre lake invites watercraft such as canoes and kayaks and wildlife viewing. The Elliott Barker Trail is a popular hiking trail during the warmer months. The high altitude keeps things cooler and welcomes hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riding. In winter, the trail is fantastic for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Vanning in New Mexico offers many opportunities to discover amazing locations and reconnect with places that touch you deeply. From the beautiful geographic places to those quiet and marvelous adventures, New Mexico is a destination that captures your heart.