10 things you need to see when driving from Colorado to New Mexico

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The trip from Northern Colorado to New Mexico is a straight shot. You can make the full 10-hour trip from Fort Collins, Colo. to the border of New Mexico with barely a turn. Hop on I-25 South and essentially keep going until you hit Texas.

Such a long, straight highway shot can make for one of two things: a fast-cruising, fun road trip that covers a lot of ground, or a torturously boring, never-ending journey.

We prefer fun, with the option to explore the entire length of two Midwestern states, across expansive plains, through the mountains and into the crisp desert. We also recommend a short detour off the long stretch once you hit New Mexico, so you can cruise through Taos and Santa Fe.

Here are 10 places to stop on the interstate excursion from Colorado through New Mexico.

1. Linger

2030 W 30th Avenue, Denver

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Wherever you start in Colorado, the Highlands neighborhood in Denver is a great stopping point. This trendy, redeveloped pocket of the city is home to hip bars and restaurants, like Linger – an old mortuary turned into a funky “eatuary.”

There’s lots to look at here, such as the Lite Brite bar top and stunning views of downtown, but grab a table on the rooftop for the best experience. Fill up on small plates of “global street food.”  

2. Red Rock Canyon

3550 W High Street, Colorado Springs, Colo.

a lake with mountains in the background: Red Rock Canyon in Colorado Springs

You could take the 13-mile scenic drive through this incredible park of red canyons, ridges and enclaves, but you’ll probably want to get out to stretch your legs, and there’s no better place than in Red Rock Canyon’s hiking and biking trails.

This 789-acre park offers an unusual peek into Mother Earth’s eroded insides.

3. Royal Gorge

4218 County Road 3A, Canon City, Colo.

a canyon with a mountain in the background: The suspension bridge across the Royal Gorge

The Royal Gorge is a short drive west of Pueblo, but a must-do for any Colorado traveler. Beyond staring in awe at this natural wonder – imagine a smaller Grand Canyon – you can soar across it on a zip-line, 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River.

If you’re not that brave, you can still enjoy the view from a tram or one of the world’s highest suspension bridges. Craving more adrenaline? Hop on the Royal Rush Skycoaster, which was named the “world’s scariest skycoaster.”

4. Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum

600 Prospect Street, Trinidad, Colo.

Dinosaur tracks

The Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum is a hidden treasure in this Colorado town and boasts a unique collection of ancient artifacts. See old pottery, fossils, early geological formations and even a fish that dates back to when this town was a seabed. But the highlight has to be the fossilized dinosaur tracks of a T. rex.

5. Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge

Lake 13 Road, Maxwell, N.M.

a herd of sheep standing on top of a grass covered field: Bison in the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge

A small diversion into the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge will bring you on a 10-mile scenic loop, dotted with spots to stop and hike, take photos and explore. Then head west to visit the highest peak in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak, on your way to Taos.

6. Taos Pueblo

120 Veterans Highway, Taos, N.M.

The Taos Pueblo is one of the best Native American experiences

Visit one of the longest-inhabited communities in the nation at the Taos Pueblo. This 1,000-year-old, adobe-building community straddles the past and present. See how the ancient Pueblo Indians lived, and how they still live today.

This destination has been voted on of the Best Native American Experiences, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark.

7. San Miguel Mission

401 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe

a person sitting in front of San Miguel Mission: This Santa Fe church claims to be the nation's oldest

Visit the oldest church in the United States, the San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe. Although the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine claims the title of America’s first parish, this historical building in New Mexico claims to be the oldest church, built between 1610 and 1626. However, that structure was built atop an ancient Indian kiva from 1598.

Regardless of the details, the restored church is breathtaking to visit, and the adjoined gift shop has a great selection of souvenirs, too. 

8. Lincoln National Forest

3463 Las Palomas Road, Alamogordo, N.M.

a view of a rocky mountain: An elevated view of Lincoln National Forest

Lincoln National Forest is where the Smokey Bear forest fire campaign started. The forest is also the home to Sierra Blanca, the highest mountain in Southern New Mexico. This mound was created by ancient volcanic eruptions and has eroded over the years. A portion of the range is considered sacred to the Mescalero Apache Tribe and requires a permit to access.

9. White Sands National Monument

Highway U.S. 70, New Mexico

a group of people standing in the sand with White Sands National Monument in the background: The white sand dunes in New Mexico

The White Sands National Monument is a great wonder of the world; these stunning dunes travel as much as 30 feet every year. This is the world’s largest gypsum dune field, stretching across 275 square miles. After you pop up your tent and get ready for bed is when this seemingly barren sand field really comes to life with fascinating nocturnal critters.

10. Chaparral

New Mexico

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Tour a pistachio grove in Chaparral, the southernmost town after the dunes. This community is home to the Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves and Heart of the Desert Vineyards, which combine to make a great tour. This ranch is New Mexico’s biggest pistachio grove, with about 12,000 trees. The on-property vineyard harvests seven different types of grapes, which means plenty of bottle variations to pair with your nutty snack.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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