Denver to White Sands, New Mexico Road Trip
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One of the best things about living in Denver is the ability to experience and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. The road trip is a staple part of the American travel experience. And Coloradans have an incredible variety of trips to pick from.
Some of my favorite trips include going from Denver to one of the many national parks in Utah. Or, opting to head north into Wyoming to Jackson Hole or Bozeman, Montana. But, my favorite road trips head south into the state of New Mexico.
Why Visit The Land of Enchantment
There are so many reasons to love New Mexico: the people are wonderful, the food is delicious and the landscape takes your breath away. Literally, it’s still high altitude travel and travelers coming from sea level should keep that in mind. In my view, New Mexico is one of the most underrated states in the United States and I can’t understand why. And, in case you’re wondering, New Mexico is a part of the United States. There seems to be some confusion about that fact.
For Coloradans, New Mexico’s proximity allows us to visit with ease. There are two routes that you can take to get to White Sands, New Mexico, the ultimate destination for this trip. The first route takes almost 9 hours and takes you through Colorado Springs and continues south to White Sands. I prefer to take the longer route along US-285 which will add another hour or so to your trip. It’s worth it. This itinerary is designed with the slow traveler in mind and will need 7-9 days minimum to truly enjoy this trip.
Stay Overnight in Salida, Colorado
After departing from Denver head towards Salida, Colorado which is about a 30 minute detour off of the route. Depending on the traffic it may take around 4 hours to get there. It’s worth taking the detour and visiting because Salida is known for adventure sports such as white water rafting, great food and the largest historic district in Colorado. If you’re looking for beautiful buildings from the late 1800’s/1900’s then Salida needs to be added to your must visit list.
If you’re wondering where to stay, I recommend the Stay Amigo, a surprisingly sexy motel remodel that also includes 4 or 5 stationary airstreams that you can stay in. It’s a beautiful facility that also has a hot tub and is a 2 minute walk to the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center and a 10 minute walk to downtown. For such a small town, there’s a fantastic variety of great shopping and restaurants to enjoy. If you’re vegetarian or vegan you can find places to eat but I do recommend checking the menus online before heading in.
If you’re looking for a quick hike, head up to the top of S-Mountain via one of the many trails that you’ll find at the base of the mountain. I do recommend that you head out on the trail early because there are no trees on this mountain.
Ojo Caliente, New Mexico
If you live in Colorado long-enough, you’ll begin hearing people talk about visiting Ojo Caliente while in New Mexico. Ojo Caliente is home to a well-known hot spring and resort that is a must visit as you make your way towards White Sands. Spend a day soaking in the hot springs, eating a meal at the resort or ordering popping in for a quick soak and to-go meal as you continue heading south. Currently, the Ojo Caliente resort is completing an upgrade to the resort and so there is some construction happening on site. Currently the project is slated for completion at the end of 2022.
A Day in Santa Fe, New Mexico
If at all possible, try to spend at least 2 full days in Santa Fe. This small town is home to hot springs, art shops, incredible food and great hiking. The Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return interactive art experience has its original location in Santa Fe and is a must experience. For lovers of theater, arts and opera, Santa Fe has them all. What may surprise many people is that Santa Fe was founded in the early 1600’s. What I love about Santa Fe is that it’s a wonderful blend of history, nature, art and great food. Santa Fe is about a 4 hour drive to White Sands.
White Sands National Park
What makes White Sands National Park so uniquely beautiful is its vast stretches of gypsum sand. The dunes are literally made up of sparkling stretches of white sands occasionally broken up by small plants that somehow manage to thrive in this harsh climate. Explore the different dunes, go sand sledding, attend a ranger program or spend time driving through the park to get a better feel for how large the park is. White Sands became a national park in 2019 and even though people may have seen pictures of the park, it’s likely that most people won’t get the chance to visit. If you get the chance to visit, do.
Visiting New Mexico from Denver
If you live in Denver or are kicking off a road-trip from Denver I strongly encourage you to consider visiting New Mexico. There is a reason why it’s called the Land of Enchantment. But, visiting New Mexico also gives people some insight into Colorado. Insight into the Hatch chile vs. Pueblo Chile debate, why you’ll see Coloradans picking up fresh roasted chiles late summer to eat during the fall and winter. You’ll see the connection to the past and present of the country of Mexico. Experience a unique sense of otherness spending time in a state that is almost 50% Hispanic. What I love about New Mexico is the chance to grow, experience and change in space that feels in many ways like home.
More road trip itineraries:
- Southwest Road Trip 4 Day Itinerary: Vegas, Grand Canyon, and Sedona
- Seattle to Olympic National Park: The Ultimate Scenic Road Trip
- Seattle to Vancouver Island Road Trip: The Quest for The Pacific Rim
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Michelle Jackson is passionate about getting outdoors and normalizing POC faces in outdoor spaces. She grew up in Colorado and jokes that she’s a Colorado cliche. With a love of hiking, biking, camping, walking, and snowboarding you can find her doing one of those things throughout the year. She shares her love of Colorado via her blog and podcast Square State.