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.
There are 10 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Land of Enchantment.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
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.
Best National Parks Near Albuquerque
1. Aztec Ruins National Monument
Distance From Albuquerque: 2 hours 54 minutes (180 miles) via US-550 N.
I taught World History for almost 30 years. One of my favorite topics of study was the civilizations of pre-Columbian America. Foremost among these civilizations were the Aztecs, who probably originated as a nomadic tribe in northern Mexico, around the beginning of the 13th century.
There’s no shortage of exciting things to see and do at the Aztec Ruins National Monument. I recommend beginning your adventure at the home of pioneering archeologist Earl Morris.
From the visitor center you can take a self-guided half-mile walk that winds through the ancestral Pueblo “Great House.” There you can explore the original rooms. The Pueblo “Great House” was the social, economic, and political center of the region after Chaco.
Visitors can also stroll through the The Heritage Garden and the Native Plants Walk. There you’ll see traditional native crops like corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and gourds which are grown by park staff and volunteers.
You’ll also see the wild plants that people in the Southwest have relied on for thousands of years.
2. Bandelier National Monument | National Parks Near Albuquerque
Distance From Albuquerque: One hour and 41 minutes (104 miles) via I-25 N.
The Ancestral Pueblo people lived in Bandelier from approximately 1150 CE to 1550 CE. They were able to build their homes from the volcanic tuff and plant their crops in the mesa top fields.
A severe drought also meant that the life-sustaining crops could no longer be grown. By 1550, the Ancestral Pueblo people moved from this area to pueblos along the Rio Grande. (Source: NPS)
At Bandelier National Monument you’ll find evidence of a human presence here going back over 11,000 years. This includes petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls.
I recommend beginning your exploration of Bandelier with a walk on the Main Loop Trail. It’s a short 1.4 mile loop trail that starts from the Visitor Center and leads through excavated archeological sites on the floor of Frijoles Canyon.
There are other fascinating trails including the 3 mile round-trip Falls Trail which goes to the gorgeous Upper Falls.
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Distance From Albuquerque: 4 hours 35 minutes (302 miles) via HWY 285-S.
The Spanish Conquistadors came is search of gold. Carlsbad Caverns hid a different treasure however. In the twenty years before these caverns were set aside as a national park, at least 100,000 tons of bat guano were taken out of them and sold to growers of citrus fruit.
The treasure which these caverns held was an inexhaustible supply of agricultural fertilizer rich in nitrate and easily mined. Guano is not the only treasure. The caverns provide those willing to explore them with an adventure into a different realm of natural beauty and wonder.
I recommend you explore Carlsbad at your own pace. There are two trails which you can take. Choose wisely. The most popular route is the Big Room. It’s the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. This 1.25 mile trail is relatively flat. It will take about 1.5 hours (on average) to walk it.
The other trail is the 1.25 mile (2 km) Natural Entrance Trail, which is not recommended for people with heart or respiratory problems.
The Bat Flight Program
Each evening from late-May through October, you can experience a program about the Brazilian free-tailed bats that live in Carlsbad Caverns. And, best of all, you get to see them emerge from their cave.
This is a spectacle which you should NOT miss. The bat flight takes place around sundown in the summer. The bats pour out of the mouth of the caverns from a place know as the Bat Cave.
4. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Distance From Albuquerque: 2 hours 51 minutes (155 miles) via I-40 W.
Imagine a field trip to explore the massive buildings of the Ancestral Puebloan people. You’ll marvel at their organizational and engineering abilities not seen anywhere else in the American Southwest.
At the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, there are six major sites along a 9-mile long Canyon Loop Drive. These sites include Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Casa Rinconada.
If you’re up for a more rigorous adventure there’s four backcountry hiking trails that lead visitors to remote Chacoan sites, passing ancient roads, petroglyphs, stairways, and spectacular overlooks of the valley.
These trails are open from seven in the morning until sunset. For your safety and protection permits are required. They are free at the Visitor Center and at the trailheads. There is no overnight backcountry camping; camping is only allowed in Gallo Campground. (Source: NPS)
5. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Distance From Albuquerque: Four hours and 51 minutes (259 miles) via I-25 S.
Imagine a neighborhood that’s been around for thousands of years. You would need some very special dwellings to accomplish that.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is just such a place. For thousands of years, groups of nomadic people used the caves of the Gila River as temporary shelter. In the late 1200’s, people of the Mogollon Culture decided it would be a good place to call home.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is the only national monument with Mogollon ruins. This the monument preserves the cliff dwellings where the Mogollon people built their homes, as well as the TJ Ruin – a small pueblo area that was inhabited between the years 900 and 1150.
These dwellings consist of five distinct caves, each of which contains about 40 rooms. To make the dwellings safer and more comfortable, the Mogollons used fallen rocks from nearby caves to construct some of these rooms, and also incorporated unique wall designs in strategic areas. (Source: NPS)
6. Manhattan Project National Historical Park
Distance From Albuquerque: One hour and thirty-two minutes (97 miles) via I-25 N.
Where can you go from cliff dwellings thousands of years old to the dawn of the nuclear age? Why New Mexico, of course! It’s there that the United States developed the deadliest weapon known to humankind.
You can learn about the Manhattan Project by visiting the park’s visitor center in the historic town of Los Alamos.
From there you can hike desert trails, explore local museums, enjoy guided tours and visit historic sites within the community.
Tours of the Los Alamos and Trinity Sites are only offered at specific times of the year. The Los Alamos tours take visitors to historic buildings including Pond Cabin and a building that Nobel Laureate Emilio Segrè and his team used.
7. Petroglyph National Monument
Distance From Albuquerque: 13 minutes (7 miles) via I-40 W.
Petroglyph National Monument is a fascinating look into the past. It protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago.
These images are a record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans and for the descendants of the early Spanish settlers.
There is no museum or exhibits at this monument. At Petroglyph’s visitor center you can pick up a park brochure and trail maps.
Located on the western edge of the monument, the park’s trail system offers scenic miles of hiking around the volcanic cinder cones.
From there you’ll enjoy the clear views of the Rio Grande valley and the Sandia Mountains from the scenic overlook. These trails vary in length from 1 mile to 4 miles round-trip.
8. Santa Fe National Historic Trail
Distance From Albuquerque: One hour (65 miles) via I-25 N.
Westward Ho! Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was a highway connecting Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The route was originally pioneered by Missouri trader William Becknell.
Today the Santa Fe National Historic Trail extends between western Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way, there are museums, historic sites, landmarks, and original trail segments located all along the length of this historic trail.
There’s a wonderful book filled with amazing stories about life on the legendary Santa Fe Trail. Written by David Dary, it’s titled The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore.
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.
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
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century.
Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for the More Than Just Parks website. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, 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.
The Parks Brothers
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.
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!