The trip from Northern Colorado to and through New Mexico is a straight shot. You can make the full 10-hour trip from Fort Collins, Colorado, 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 state-line 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.
Dine on the rooftop bar at Linger in The Highlands in Denver. 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 restaurant. 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,” like a Mongolian BBQ duck bun.
Red Rock Canyon in Colorado Springs — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mark Byzewski
2. Red Rock Canyon
Hike 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 inside Mother Earth’s eroded insides.
The suspension bridge across the Royal Gorge — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Sarah Page
3. Royal Gorge
Zip-line across the Royal Gorge near Pueblo. 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. The Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum
See dinosaur bones in Trinidad. 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
Take a scenic drive through a 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.
The Taos Pueblo is one of the best Native American experiences — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ron Cogswell
6. Taos Pueblo
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 named one of 10Best.com's Best Native American Experiences, and it also is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.
This Santa Fe church claims to be the nation's oldest — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tommy
7. San Miguel Mission
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
Hike volcanic mountains and visit the birthplace of Smokey Bear. 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.
The white sand dunes in New Mexico — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jeff Kubina
9. White Sands National Monument
Camp in an active white sand dune field. 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
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.