Article Summary: National Parks Near Albuquerque
National Parks near Albuquerque. There’s so much more to the great southwest than the International Balloon Festival.
In this article, we’ll familiarize you with the incredible national parks that are within a day’s drive of downtown Albuquerque.
Albuquerque has more than a dozen museums, an Old Town area featuring more than 150 shops, restaurants and galleries, and a nostalgic stretch of Route 66 that combines old and new for an exciting visitor experience.
But there are also 10 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Land of Enchantment.
So, What Is A National Park?
We get asked that question a lot because there’s a difference between a “national park” and a “national park site.” To help you understand that difference you might want to check out our article titled: What Is A National Park Really?
If you’re planning a trip to Albuquerque or just want to learn more about this fascinating city then I recommend: Walking Albuquerque: 30 Tours of the Duke City’s Historic Neighborhoods, Ditch Trails, Urban Nature, and Public Art by Stephen Ausherman.
Now let’s go ahead with 10 reasons why you’ll want to hop in your car and make a day’s drive from Albuquerque to one of these truly amazing places.
Table Of Contents: National Parks Near Albuquerque
National Parks Near Albuquerque
- National Parks Near Albuquerque
- More National Parks Near Albuquerque
- National Parks Near Albuquerque FAQ
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Map Of National Parks Near Albuquerque
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
National Parks Near Albuquerque
1. Aztec Ruins National Monument
Distance From Albuquerque: 2 hours 54 minutes (180 miles) via US-550 N.
Aztec Ruins National Monument preserves the ruins of an ancient Native American pueblo and ceremonial center of the Aztec people, dating back to the 12th century AD.
The site includes a restored Great Kiva, masonry walls, and multistory buildings, showcasing the architectural skills and social organization of the Aztec civilization.
Visitors can explore the ruins and learn about the culture and history of the indigenous people through guided tours and educational programs.
2. Bandelier National Monument
Distance From Albuquerque: One hour and 41 minutes (104 miles) via I-25 N.
Bandelier National Monument was established in 1916 to protect and preserve the archaeological sites and structures of the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived there over 800 years ago.
The monument features a unique combination of natural and cultural resources, including rock cliffs, cave dwellings, and kivas (underground ceremonial rooms).
Visitors can explore the park’s trails, which offer views of the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs on the cliffs and in the caves, as well as the partially restored pueblo structures.
The history of Bandelier National Monument reflects the complex social and cultural evolution of the ancestral Pueblo people, who lived in the region until the late 1300s, and highlights the importance of preserving and interpreting the rich cultural heritage of the Southwest.
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Distance From Albuquerque: 4 hours 35 minutes (302 miles) via HWY 285-S.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park was established in 1930 to protect and preserve the over 100 known caves in the area, including the iconic Carlsbad Cavern.
The caves formed over 250 million years ago as sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone, creating a network of underground chambers and passages. For thousands of years, the caves were used by Native American tribes for religious and cultural purposes.
In the late 1800s, the caves were discovered by European settlers and eventually became a popular tourist destination.
Today, Carlsbad Caverns National Park attracts visitors from around the world, offering guided tours, self-guided walks, and ranger-led programs to explore and learn about the fascinating geology and history of the caves.
Things To Do At Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy:
- Cave Tours: Guided and self-guided tours of the caves, including the famous Big Room, offering a unique and awe-inspiring underground experience.
- Bat Flight Program: A nightly program where visitors can observe the exit of hundreds of thousands of bats from the cave’s entrance.
- Hiking: Miles of hiking trails through the Chihuahuan Desert, offering scenic views of the surrounding landscape.
- Ranger Programs: Educational programs and talks led by park rangers, covering topics such as geology, history, and wildlife.
- Cave Art: Viewing of the prehistoric paintings and carvings made by the Native American tribes who used the caves for religious and cultural purposes.
- Wildlife Watching: Opportunities to observe the diverse wildlife in the park, including bats, desert reptiles, and birds.
- Camping: Campsites are available for visitors who wish to spend more time exploring the park and its surroundings.
4. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Distance From Albuquerque: 2 hours 51 minutes (155 miles) via I-40 W.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park was established in 1980 to preserve the archaeological and cultural sites of the ancient Chacoan people, who lived in the region between 850 and 1250 AD.
The Chacoans built a remarkable complex of large, multistory buildings, roads, and great kivas, forming one of the largest and most sophisticated pre-Columbian cultural centers in North America.
The park contains a number of well-preserved Chacoan ruins, including the massive Pueblo Bonito, which was once the largest building in North America and the center of Chacoan life. Visitors can explore the ruins on foot, via ranger-led tours, or by hiking the park’s trails, which offer views of the ancient structures and the surrounding landscape.
The history of Chaco Culture National Historical Park reflects the rich cultural and architectural heritage of the Chacoan people and provides insight into the social, economic, and political organization of one of the most advanced ancient civilizations in the Southwest.
5. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Distance From Albuquerque: Four hours and 51 minutes (259 miles) via I-25 S.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was established in 1907 to protect and preserve the well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Mogollon people, who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the late 1200s to the early 1300s.
The Mogollon people built their homes in the cliffs, taking advantage of the natural rock overhangs for protection from the elements.
The park features several well-preserved cliff dwellings, including the Middle Mogollon complex, which contains five rooms and two kivas (underground ceremonial rooms). Visitors can explore the cliff dwellings on a self-guided tour and learn about the history and culture of the Mogollon people through interpretive displays and ranger-led programs.
The history of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument highlights the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Mogollon people and provides a glimpse into the daily lives of one of the ancient cultures of the Southwest.
More National Parks Near Albuquerque
6. Manhattan Project National Historical Park
Distance From Albuquerque: One hour and thirty-two minutes (97 miles) via I-25 N.
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is located at three sites in the United States: Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The park was established in 2015 to commemorate and interpret the history of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort during World War II to develop the first atomic bombs.
The three park sites each played a critical role in the Manhattan Project. Oak Ridge was the site of the production of enriched uranium for the bomb. Hanford was the site of the production of plutonium for the bomb. And Los Alamos was the location of the scientific research and development of the bomb.
Visitors to the park can tour the historic facilities and learn about the history of the Manhattan Project through guided tours, ranger-led programs, and interactive exhibits. The park provides a unique opportunity to learn about one of the most significant events in 20th-century history and the impact it had on the world.
The history of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park reflects the complex and challenging events of the mid-20th century, including the development of atomic weapons and the end of World War II.
The park serves as a reminder of the important role that science and technology played in shaping the world during this time and the ongoing responsibility to ensure that such powerful technologies are used for peaceful purposes.
7. Petroglyph National Monument
Distance From Albuquerque: 13 minutes (7 miles) via I-40 W.
Petroglyph National Monument was established in 1990 to protect and preserve the extensive petroglyphs (rock carvings) created by Native American and Spanish settlers in the region.
The petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument are among the largest and most diverse collections in North America and provide a window into the cultural and spiritual beliefs of the ancient peoples who lived in the area.
The petroglyphs at the park are thought to have been created between 400 and 700 years ago and depict a wide range of subjects, including animals, humans, and abstract designs.
Visitors to the park can explore the petroglyphs on a self-guided tour and learn about the cultural and historical significance of these remarkable artifacts through ranger-led programs and interpretive displays.
The history of Petroglyph National Monument reflects the rich cultural heritage of the Southwest and the ongoing efforts to preserve and protect the region’s important archaeological and historical sites.
8. Santa Fe National Historic Trail
Distance From Albuquerque: One hour (65 miles) via I-25 N.
The Santa Fe National Historic Trail stretches across Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. The trail was established in 1987 to commemorate the important commercial and military route that connected Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Missouri in the 19th century.
The Santa Fe Trail was used by traders, trappers, and settlers to transport goods, such as furs and textiles, between Santa Fe and the Missouri River. The trail was also used by the U.S. military during the Mexican-American War and was a key factor in the development of the American West.
Visitors to the Santa Fe National Historic Trail can explore the trail by hiking, horseback riding, or driving, and learn about the history of the trail and the people who used it through interpretive displays and ranger-led programs.
The trail provides an opportunity to experience the scenic beauty of the American West and to understand the important role that the Santa Fe Trail played in the development of the region.
9. Valles Caldera National Preserve
Distance From Albuquerque: One hour and 37 minutes (82 miles) via US-550-N & NM-4 E.
There is history and then there is history. About 1.25 million years ago, a spectacular volcanic eruption created the 13-mile wide circular depression now known as the Valles Caldera. Today it is much more than its geologic past however.
Valles Caldera National Preserve is known for its huge mountain meadows, abundant wildlife, and meandering streams. Valles Caldera preserves the homeland of ancestral native peoples and embraces a rich ranching history.
There are some wonderful outdoor activities offered at the preserve. They include:
- Astronomy: Whether a beginner or an expert astronomer you can view some of the darkest skies in northern New Mexico.
- Backcountry Access: Visitors can access the backcountry by foot, mountain bike, horseback, or personal vehicle.
- Hiking: The preserve includes a range of trails from easy (.5 miles) to difficult (almost 20 miles) hikes.
- Fishing: The waters of Valles Caldera National Preserve provide some great fly fishing for beginners and experts.
- Horseback Riding: You must have a permit.
- Hunting: This can be done in accordance with applicable Federal and State law.
- Mountain Biking: A backcountry permit is required.
- Wildlife Viewing: Popular residents include Gunnison prairie dogs, coyotes, badgers, black bears, Eastern mountain bluebirds, and golden eagles. (Source NPS)
10. White Sands National Park
Distance From Albuquerque: 3 hours 21 minutes (224 miles) via I-25 S & US-380 E.
Every national park is a different experience. This definitely applies to White Sands National Park which features the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.
There’s no shortage of fun-filled activities at this unusual park. You can take your vehicle through Dunes Drive. It’s a 26-mile adventure. Along the way you’ll be able to find wayside exhibits, hiking trails, picnic areas, vault toilets, and parking areas.
If you prefer getting out on foot then there are five scenic trails where you can explore the dunes and be treated to stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
There are ten primitive backcountry camping sites available on a first-come, first-served basis and you can pick up a permit at the entrance booth.
You can also bike and/or horseback ride in the park. Biking is limited to Dunes Drive. As for horses, they must be brought-in on a trailer, and you must have a horse permit signed by a ranger.
National Parks Near Albuquerque FAQ
New Mexico has a diverse range of national park sites, 20 in total, and there are two New Mexico National Parks, the world-renowned Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Parks. Our guide also covers National Monuments, National Historic Parks, National Historic Trails and National Preserves.
Aztec Ruins National Monument. Distance From Santa Fe: Three hours and 13 minutes (207 miles) via US-550 N
Bandelier National Monument
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
White Sands National Park is the most visited NPS site in New Mexico, visited by 782,469 people in 2021.
Why Trust Us About National Parks Near Albuquerque?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
Map Of National Parks Near Albuquerque
National Park Sites Near Albuquerque
- Aztec Ruins National Monument
- Bandelier National Monument
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park
- Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
- Manhattan Project National Historical Park
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Santa Fe National Historic Trail
- Valles Caldera National Preserve
- White Sands National Park
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then sign up below!