THERE ARE A LOT of different kinds of places that inspire me to get outside — the curve of a hiking trail through pine forest, a bald peak waiting to be climbed, a crystal-clear swimming hole on a hot day, desert boulders to scramble around on. And really, there’s an exciting world waiting out there regardless of where you might currently be sitting.

But in my travels, few places have as strong a pull to the outdoors as New Mexico. It’s the diversity of the landscape, and its sheer wildness (New Mexico is one of the least densely populated states), that make stepping outside such a joy, no matter what you’re getting up to — hiking, fishing, skiing, climbing, biking.

Check out these 18 images of New Mexico and get inspired to plan your own outdoors mission.


White Sands National Monument

White Sands is unlike any other places in the US—275 square miles of undulating dunes composed of fine, bright white gypsum. In fact, it's unlike any other place anywhere, representing the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Find it off of US-70 just northeast of Las Cruces, park the car, kick off your shoes, and get ready to explore an otherworldly landscape.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


Valley of Dreams

In remote northwestern New Mexico, located within the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area, the Valley of Dreams is a collection of hoodoos and other naturally carved rock formations rising eerily from the high desert plain. Get there via US-550, north of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and note that much of the region is tribal land—always be respectful, leave no trace, and camp only after receiving permission.
Photo: John Fowler


Blue Hole of Santa Rosa

Sitting right in the city of Santa Rosa, the Blue Hole is an 80ft-deep artesian well that's one of the top swimming holes and dive sites in the US. The vibrant blue of the water is a stark contrast to the muted colors of the mesas that surround it. Located right on I-40, the Blue Hole makes an awesome road trip pit stop. For more on just how cool this place is, check out the short video They Came for the Waters.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


Cycling New Mexico

New Mexico's highways are well paved, traffic is sparse, and the views are hard to beat. For established road bike routes, check out New Mexico's biking page.
Photo: Christopher Michel


Sierra Vista National Recreation Trail

Situated conveniently between Las Cruces and White Sands you'll find the recently established (2014) national monument of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. Multiple wilderness areas provide ample opportunity for hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, and climbing—check out the 25-mile Sierra Vista National Recreation Trail for an in-depth tour of this natural enclave. For more hiking recommendations, as well as an overview of the national monument, read This Way to Wonder.
Photo: Bureau of Land Management


Valles Caldera National Preserve

The entirety of the 13.7-mile-wide Valles Caldera National Preserve is actually the caldera of an ancient supervolcano. It's a great place to experience nature, where winter recreational activities—from sleigh rides to cross-country skiing—have daily visitor caps in order to preserve the wildness of the area. Find it west of Los Alamos, an easy day trip out of Santa Fe.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


City of Rocks State Park

One summer after taking a road trip out West, my sister got home and told me about the coolest state park she'd ever camped in. City of Rocks is in southwestern New Mexico, between Deming and Silver City off of US-180, and its scattering of campsites are set among huge crags formed from hardened volcanic ash. It's arid and it's remote—expect incredible stargazing.
Photo: John Fowler


Santa Fe Baldy

New Mexico's capital of Santa Fe is well situated to get you outdoors. The Sangre de Cristo mountain range has its start just east of town, and that's where you'll find one of the tallest mountains in the state, Santa Fe Baldy (seen in the background above). The trail to the summit starts on the grounds of Ski Santa Fe.
Photo: Eugene Kim


Corkins Lodge

North-central New Mexico is one of my all-time favorite places, scenery-wise. The mountains start to get bigger, the pine forests thicker, and the grassy meadows greener. One great spot to enjoy all of this is Corkins Lodge, a 1,600-acre private retreat with access to fishing on the Brazos River, hiking among pine trees and 2,500ft cliffs, and cross-country skiing in winter.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


Nambé Pueblo

The Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico are groups of Tiwa- and Tewa-speaking peoples who reside in the same communities their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, sometimes in the same multi-story adobe structures. Nambé is one of these pueblos, about 20 miles due north of Santa Fe. It's worth the short detour off US-84 to check out the waterfall and hiking trails here in the Sangre de Cristo foothills.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Located just north of, and bearing similarities to, the Ah-shi-sle-pah WSA (see #2 above), the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is another swathe of badlands perfect for intrepid exploration.
Photo: Bureau of Land Management


Taos Ski Valley

Winter is an incredible time to visit New Mexico. There are 11 established ski areas in the state, with Taos arguably the best known. You'll get 110 lift-accessed trails, 3,200 feet of vertical, more bluebird days than practically anywhere else, and 305 annual inches of fluffy Rocky Mountain powder.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


Angel Fire Resort

Those ski areas don't sit idle in the off-season. At Angel Fire, for example, you can choose from adventure ziplining, epic mountain biking, and an 18-hole alpine golf course.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


Ladder Ranch

With easy access via I-25, between Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, the Ladder Ranch is a 156,000-acre property on the edge of the vast wilderness of Gila National Forest. See bison, fish the numerous area streams, or jump on horseback and explore this unique slice of south-central New Mexico.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River

You may know the Rio Grande only as the border between Texas and Mexico, but the river actually rises in Colorado and builds to its most dramatic on its path through New Mexico. The stretch from the Colorado border to Rinconada is designated a Wild and Scenic River and includes passage through the 800ft Rio Grande Gorge, a popular whitewater boating destination.
Photo: Bureau of Land Management


Picacho Peak

Seemingly every city, town, and village in New Mexico is right on the edge of wilderness adventure. Just northwest of Las Cruces is the Picacho Peak Recreation Area, centering on the eponymous 4,959ft mountain. Climb to the top and look east for views back over the Rio Grande and into downtown, continuing on to White Sands on the horizon.
Photo: uıɐɾ ʞ ʇɐɯɐs


Abiquiu Reservoir

Yet another Wild and Scenic River, the Chama flows 50 miles from El Vado Dam just south of the Colorado border through an impressive canyon before emptying into Abiquiu Reservoir, adjacent to US-84 north of Española. There's a campground right at the southern end of the lake with incredible views of the water and the mesas and peaks to the north.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico Tourism Department


White Ridge Bike Trails

In central New Mexico, northwest of Albuquerque along US-550, the BLM maintains this system of mountain bike and equestrian trails tracing the white gypsum mesas. The trails are open year-round, meaning it's always a good idea to get outside in this under-the-radar area of the state.
Photo: Bureau of Land Management