Ideas for a New Mexico Family Vacation

Little girl boarding down the desert sand dunes


From Aliens to Artwork: Discover New Mexico's 5 Best Family-Friendly Destinations

There's a reason New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. It's filled with pastel deserts, snow-capped peaks and plenty of activities that will delight the family. It's also fairly easy on the budget, with attractions that cost just a few dollars' admission. The best way to see the state is by car, so pack up the SUV and head out for old-fashioned family fun.

Get Your Kicks

Hearken back to the days when people got their kicks along Route 66. Although you can still follow the famous highway through the state of New Mexico, much of it is now Interstate 40, so you might be doing that anyway. Tucumcari is one of the best places in the state to get a feel for the golden days of Route 66 with lots to see and do at little-to-no cost. Snap a vacation photo at the Tucumcari Convention Center's iconic Route 66 sign (1500 Rte. 66, Tucumcari, NM), stay in a modernized vintage motel, watch neon signs buzz to life at sunset, or check out the town's many building-size art murals. For a change of pace, take the kids even further back in time at the Mesalands Community College Dinosaur Museum (222 E. Laughlin Ave., Tucumcari, NM) to walk in the footprints of some of the area's most ancient residents. Admission is $6.50 for anyone over 11 and $4 for 5- to 11-year-olds. The community's mild climate rolls out average daily temperatures of 80 degrees in summer and 40 degrees during the coldest part of winter.

Discover the Desert

Sled down a snow-white sand dune or let kids get hands-on with farm animals when you visit Las Cruces. White Sands National Monument is where you'll find those sparkling dunes, so wax up your snow saucer or buy one at the park store. If you don't have a National Parks Pass to get your family in free, don't sweat it: Adult admission is just $5, and kids under 16 are free. Hit the dunes first thing in the morning during summer as temperatures rise to more than 100 degrees F. At the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum (4100 Dripping Springs Rd., Las Cruces, NM), there's plenty to do both inside and outside. Learn how to blacksmith, milk a cow or wander through a Colonial home that dates to 1815. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for kids 4 to 17.

Uncover Big City Museums

Like any big city, Albuquerque abounds with museums where you can beat summer's heat and engage the kids' imaginations. Albuquerque has a few that are distinctly different. Marvel at the world's largest collection of live rattlesnake species and learn all you ever wanted to know about the creepy, crawly creatures at the American International Rattlesnake Museum (202 San Felipe NW, Albuquerque, NM). Adult admission is $5, and kids are $3 each. If you're not in the city for the famous balloon festival, see and learn about them any time at the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum Foundation (9201 Balloon Museum Dr. NE, Albuquerque, NM). Get in free to see the colorful displays on Sunday mornings and the first Friday of the month.

Check Out the Old West

Set the stage for Old West adventure with a trip to Silver City where Billy the Kid, Geronimo and other notables contributed to the area's history. Tucked on the edge of the Gila National Forest, the city's 6,000-foot elevation offers a cool getaway from summer heat, and its more than 300 days of sun mean your plans won't get rained out. Discover the lives of ancient citizens at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument where admission is $10 for the whole family. Or marvel at the rugged natural beauty from a half-mile catwalk at Catwalk Recreation Area (free: $3 parking fee). There's also plenty to see in the city's historic district, including Billy the Kid's boyhood cabin and a green park running through the town where a flood once ripped away Main Street.

Explore the Outer Limits

Whether you believe in little green men from outer space or not, Roswell's International UFO Museum and Research Center (114 North Main St., Roswell, NM) is the place to explore the strange incidents of abundant UFO sightings and learn about the area's mysterious UFO crash in 1947. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for kids ages 5 to 15. Art and aliens combine at the Roswell Spacewalk at the Roswell Space Center (116 E. 2nd St., Roswell, NM ). The art installation glows under black light and immerses you in artistic interpretation of outer space and alien worlds. There's more to the city than alien oddities. The free Spring River Park and Zoo (1306 E. College Blvd., Roswell, NM) brings you back to earth among native plants and amusing animals, including lemurs and goats in a children's zoo.