8 Best Stops on the Denver to Albuquerque Drive via Santa Fe


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If you’ve always wanted to explore the beautiful and unique Southwest region of the United States, an excellent option would be to plan a Denver to Albuquerque Drive. A road trip between these two cities provides endless opportunities to see and experience some of the best that this region has to offer. Read on for a guide to some of the best Denver to Albuquerque stops on a road trip!

Planning a Denver to Albuquerque Road Trip

When planning a drive from Denver to Albuquerque, it is important to make sure you know your route and where you plan to stop ahead of time. There are a few possible routes you can take between these two cities, but in this guide, we’ll be focusing on stops along I-25 from Denver until Walsenburg, then cutting West to Fort Garland before heading South into New Mexico.

This is just one possible idea of a route, and if you’d prefer to make fewer stops and arrive in New Mexico more quickly, stay on the I-25 for the entirely of the Denver to Santa Fe drive before heading into Albuquerque.

Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Regardless of which route you choose to take, you’ll be travelling on pretty major freeways for the majority of the trip, so there will be plenty of opportunities to stop for gas or food along the way.

If planning on renting a car for this drive, you’ll find a number of options by browsing Rentalcars.com which aggregates the best deals across all major car hire companies. You can also browse Outdoorsy if you prefer to save on accommodation costs and hire an RV or campervan.

Looking for other road trips from Denver? Check out our Denver to Aspen drive, Denver to Phoenix drive, Denver to Telluride drive & Denver to Las Vegas drive articles!

How Far is Denver to Albuquerque?

The distance from Denver to Albuquerque is about 420 miles, so you could easily do the entire trip in one, long day of driving, but I would definitely recommend breaking it up over two or three days so that you can see all the best stops along the way.

The total Denver to Albuquerque drive time along the route described above is about 7 hours, so if you split it up into a few days, you won’t have to be in the car for long stretches of time uninterrupted.

Looking for other road trips from Albuquerque? Check out our Albuquerque to Phoenix drive article!

Best Stops on the Denver to Albuquerque Drive

Denver

You’ll begin your road trip in the beautiful capital city Denver, Colorado. There is so much to do and see in this unique metropolitan city, so make sure to give yourself some time to explore Denver. Stroll down 16th Street Mall in the heart of downtown, eat at a trendy restaurant on Larimer Square, Denver’s oldest city block, or check out some of the craft breweries in the River North district before hitting the road!

Sunny Day in Downtown Denver
Sunny Day in Downtown Denver

Manitou Springs, Red Rock Canyon, and Cave of the Winds

From Denver, you’ll get on the I-25 South and drive for about an hour and a half before making your first stop, in wonderfully kitschy Manitou Springs, a small town that is often overlooked due to its proximity to Colorado Springs.  It is home to a huge retro Penny Arcade, quaint sweet shops, and 8 different mineral springs that are said to have healing powers. Manitou Springs is definitely worth a stop, particularly if you are travelling with children. I guarantee they will love the big old arcade.

Just about eight minutes up into the mountains surrounding Manitou Springs, you’ll find the Cave of the Winds Mountain Park. Here, you can take a tour of the stunning natural caves, zipline through breathtaking mountain terrain, rock climb, and even embark on a high ropes course.

Additionally, about eight miles east of Manitou Springs you’ll find Red Rock Canyon, a beautiful stretch of stunning canyons and ridges with plenty of hiking, mountain bike, and horseback riding trails throughout. Allocate a few hours to the Manitou Springs area and you’ll be glad you did- there is truly something for everyone to enjoy here!

Royal Gorge Bridge and Park

From Manitou Springs, consider making a stop a bit off course of the planned route for your Denver to Albuquerque drive, but absolutely worth it for adrenaline junkies! About an hour and fifteen minutes from Manitou Springs down the CO-115 South, you’ll find Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.

The Royal Gorge is a huge canyon on the Arkansas River, that is not only home to one of the world’s largest suspension bridges above a body of water, but also to highest zipline in the country! You can even opt to go white-water rafting with an experienced guide in the Arkansas River beneath the suspension bridge if you want to get in the water. For a true outdoor adventure experience, definitely make a stop here.

The Royal Gorge Bridge is the perfect stop on the Denver to Albuquerque drive
The Royal Gorge Bridge

Pueblo

From Royal Gorge, head back to the I-25 by driving east on the US-50 for an hour before reaching Pueblo, once an old mining town and now one of the most populated cities in this region. In Pueblo, stroll down Union Avenue Historic District, the original centre of town back when it was populated by cowboys and gold-seekers. Today, it is the best place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat on an outdoor patio while people watching.

Also, you can check out the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, a peaceful place for a walk to stretch your legs, or you can opt to take a boat tour to learn about the history of the Arkansas River and this region of Colorado.

After you’ve explored Pueblo, consider driving ten minutes west to Lake Pueblo State Park, home to a huge, beautiful lake and a popular place to fish, rent boats, or even just splash in the water and swim at the designated swim beach.

Arkansas River in Colorado
Arkansas River in Colorado

Fort Garland

From Pueblo, drive an addition 45 minutes on the I-25 South until you reach the small city of Walsenburg. Stop for fuel or food if you need, then exit onto the US-160 West and drive about an hour to Fort Garland, a small town named for the historic fort situated at the base of the imposing Mount Blanca. The fort was built in 1858 and was designed to protect settlers in the area and was stationed by more than 200 soldiers under the command of Wild-West icon, Kit Carson.

Today, the abandoned fort is home to an excellent museum in which visitors can explore the restored adobe buildings and learn about what life would’ve been like for the early settlers in Colorado.

Additionally, from Fort Garland, you can opt to take a ride on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, which goes over La Veta pass and provides absolutely stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

From Fort Garland, drive 30 minutes north to Great Sand Dunes National Park. I know, I know, it’s a bit off the route to on the typical Denver to Albuquerque drive, but this is a stop you absolutely cannot miss in Southern Colorado.

The park is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, and walking through the steep, vast expanse of sand truly feels as if you’ve landed on a different planet. Allocate an hour or two to enjoying the sand dunes.

Take plenty of photos, or do as the locals do and bring a sled up to the top of a high dune to slide down in. The sand dunes are one of the most unique things to see in the region, so definitely make a stop here.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a must stop on the Denver to Santa Fe drive
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

Taos

Once you’ve shaken off all the sand on your hands and feet, hop back in the car and drive about an hour and forty-five minutes south on the CO-159/ NM-522 until you reach Taos, New Mexico, our first stop in a new state.

Taos is the perfect first stop in New Mexico because it truly highlights the unique style of the state’s historic adobe buildings and the influence of the Native American populations that have inhabited the area for hundreds of years.

Make sure to visit Taos Pueblo, a Native American village that is considered to be one of the oldest, continuously inhabited communities in the United States and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pueblo welcomes visitors to come and see the beautiful, multi-story adobe homes that have been around since the late 13th century, so definitely don’t miss a chance to stop and explore here.

Additionally, if you’re making this trip in the winter months, Taos is home to a great skiing mountain if you enjoy skiing or snowboarding. End your stop in Taos by wandering through Historic Taos Plaza, the heart of town where you’ll find great restaurants, art galleries, and shops.

It’s possible to take a 3 hour guided tour of Taos that covers a number of these sites if you want to make the most of your time in the city!

Looking for a unique place to spend the night? Check out this rustic little house with mountains views in Taos!

Ancient City of Taos is the perfect stop on the Denver to albuquerque drive
Ancient City of Taos

Santa Fe

From Taos, drive about an hour and fifteen minutes south to the capital city of New Mexico, Santa Fe. Santa Fe is definitely worth stopping for a day, as you’ll find there is so much to do in this completely unique city.

Start your stop in Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Plaza in the centre of town, a lively plaza that hosts a large variety of events, including live music, markets, and various festivals throughout the year, and is surrounded by restaurants, shops, and some of the most popular sights in the city, including The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the San Miguel Mission.

Santa Fe has a reputation for being a haven for art collectors, so if you’re interested in seeing pieces from world-class artists, take a stroll down Canyon Road, which is lined with great galleries you can pop in and out of. A must-see gallery of sorts for those travelling with children is Meow Wolf, a 20,000 square food immersive art installation that is known around the world for its incredible use of visual effects to make you feel as though you’ve entered into another dimension.

After spending an afternoon experiencing the famous art-scene of Santa Fe, check out the impressive Santa Fe Farmer’s Market, open year-round and full of vendors selling all kinds of interesting, local goods.

Spend the evening eating delicious traditional New Mexican food and sampling margaritas from a few of the bars that are a part of the Santa Fe Margarita Trail, a curated list of the forty-five best margaritas in Santa Fe. For foodies, there are also a number of food tours you can do in Santa Fe!

San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe
San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe

Petroglyph National Monument

From Santa Fe, drive about an hour on the I-25 South until you reach Petroglyph National Monument. This site is a definite must-see, as it is home to North America’s largest collection of petroglyphs, which are designs and symbols carved into rocks by both Native Americans and European settlers up to 700 years ago. In the 17 miles that make up the monument, there is so much to do.

You can hike along trails that offer petroglyph viewing, learn about the history of petroglyphs and life for Native Americans in New Mexico at the Information Center, and come face to face with images that represent a cultural means of expression from 700 years ago.

Albuquerque

From Petroglyph National Monument, you’re only about twenty minutes from our final destination, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Albuquerque is the largest city in the state and a great place for first-time visitors to the state to end their road trip.

Start your adventure in Albuquerque in Old Town, which was founded in 1706. Today, it is a vibrant area of town, with restaurants, cafes, and beautiful adobe buildings. After exploring Old Town, make sure to take a ride on the Sandia Peak Tramway. This is the longest tramway in the world and provides absolutely stunning views from the observation deck.

Spend an afternoon checking out the Balloon Museum for something a little different. Albuquerque is home to a yearly International Hot Air Balloon Festival, and if you miss the exact days of the festival, it is definitely still worth checking out the museum and learning about the importance of this niche enterprise in Albuquerque.

In the evening, check out the craft beer scene in town. There are many great breweries in the area, a few with outdoor patios or rooftops, so you can relax with a beer while taking in all that Albuquerque has to offer. If you choose to stay in Albuquerque for longer than a day, you’ll find that there are so many hikes, museums, shops and restaurants you can visit in order to ensure there’s never a dull moment!

Hot Air Balloons in Albuquerque
Hot Air Balloons in Albuquerque

Where to Stay on the Denver to Albuquerque Drive

If you’re looking for the ideal halfway point on you Albuquerque to Denver drive, then you can’t go wrong with the historic city of Taos. Located close to the Colorado border, this is a great place to stop over and explore before hitting the road again.

Where to Stay in Taos

Airbnb – There are a number of great choices in Taos such as this rustic little house with mountain views. Click here to browse the best Airbnbs in Taos.

Hotel Luna Mystica — This unique hotel is a great place to stay in Taos if you’re looking for a quirky place to stay. Their rooms are refurbished Airstream trailers and it’s location makes it perfect to explore Taos and its surrounding area. Click here to check their availability

Dreamcatcher B&B — If you’re looking for a more traditional place to stay in central Taos, then this bed and breakfast is an excellent choice. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available, a great location, and a wonderful breakfast available each morning. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Taos!

Where to Stay in Albuquerque

Mauger Estate B&B — This charming bed and breakfast in Albuquerque is an excellent place to rest your head in the New Mexican city. They have a range of lovely rooms available, wonderful facilities, and a great breakfast included each morning. Click here to check their availability

Holiday Inn Express Albuquerque Old Town — If you’d rather stay the night in a familiar chain while visiting Albuquerque, then the Holiday Inn Express is a great option. Located a stone’s throw away from Albuquerque’s old town, the have numerous rooms available and a buffet breakfast included each morning. Click here to check their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Albuquerque!

Where to Stay in Denver

Airbnb — Airbnb is an excellent option in Denver and on the entirety of the Albuquerque to Denver drive. There are countless properties in the city that will suit any kind of personality and budget, like this historic city centre apartment to affordable private rooms in local’s homes. Click here to browse Airbnbs in Denver

Holiday Inn Express Downtown Denver — A great, reliable option in downtown Denver, the Holiday Inn Express has a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and a buffet breakfast included each morning in your nightly rate. Click here to see their availability

Westin Denver Downton — If you’re after a luxury option in Denver, you can’t go wrong with this hotel. Located in the centre of the city, this is a great base to explore Denver and offers the perfect jumping-off point to embark upon a Denver to Albuquerque road trip. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Denver!

Union Station in Denver
Union Station in Denver

As you can see, a Denver to Albuquerque road trip is the perfect way to explore America’s beautiful Southwest region and will provide you with all kinds of opportunities to try new things, spend time outdoors, and learn about the unique history of the Native American and early settler populations.

When travelling in the USA, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads 

Are you planning to drive from Denver to Albuquerque or are you mapping out the perfect Denver to Santa Fe drive? Have you been on to any of these places before? Let us know in the comments.

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Ella is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an American living in Dublin, Ireland, and when she isn’t writing, you can find her playing the guitar, reading, or pouring the perfect flat white at the café she works at. Ella fell in love with travelling while studying abroad in Galway, which is what prompted her to come back to Ireland after graduating university and start writing about her experiences.

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