New Mexico

12 Best Spots to See the Fall Colors in New Mexico

by Holly Riddle
Updated September 29, 2022

fall colors in new mexico
Photo: Shutterstock

Think the Southwest is all deserts, all the time? Think again. While you might imagine cacti and adobe-style abodes when you think New Mexico, this state has a lot more to offer beyond its stereotypes.

One of those sometimes-surprising offerings? The fall foliage. The state, with its blend of mountains and badlands, thick forests and desert rocks, offers gorgeous fall landscapes come mid-September, especially in the higher elevations.

Want to know where to find these best fall colors? Check out some of our favorite spots to go leaf peeping in the Land of Enchantment, from scenic drives to hot springs.

1. Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway

new mexico fall colors - santa fe national forest
Photo: Silvio Ligutti

Why you should go: A super-quick hit of fall foliage

  • Nearest Town: Santa Fe
  • Peak Foliage: Late September to October

This scenic byway within Santa Fe National Forest is only 16 miles long, making it a quick addition to any trip to New Mexico, no matter your reason for visiting. The scenic route starts at Santa Fe Plaza and goes to the Santa Fe Ski Area, and features many scenic overlooks along New Mexico Highway 475.

You’ll get great views of two mountain ranges (the Jemez Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains), as well as views of nearby cities such as Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Albuquerque on clear days. The foliage is, of course, stunning, with lots of golden-yellow and orange hues.

Related Read: Fall Foliage 101: Why Do Leaves Change Colors in the Fall?

2. Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway

new mexico fall colors - jemez mtn trail
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Views that go beyond forestland

  • Nearest Town: San Ysidro
  • Peak Foliage: Late September to October

Another scenic route that traces its way through parts of Santa Fe National Forest, the Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway starts in the tiny village of San Ysidro and then takes you about 165 miles through the forest lands, through small communities, around cliffs and past a natural dam.

While other scenic byways may be more about forests and mountains, this one will show you lots of history, geological formations and indigenous ruins, too. The whole of the byway doesn’t sit within the national forest (just about 60 miles of it does), but that hardly means you won’t see plenty of fall foliage while you traverse it.

3. Taos Ski Valley

new mexico fall colors - taos ski valley
Photo: Kevin Eddy

Why you should go: Easy access to high-elevation colors

  • Nearest Town: Taos
  • Peak Foliage: Late September to October

Sure, Taos Ski Valley may be more so known for its winter attractions, but that hardly means it’s not worth a visit during the fall months as well. The great thing about visiting this resort? The road up to it takes you above 9,000 feet in elevation, where you can see brighter, more vibrant foliage, earlier in the season.

So, if you arrive a bit too early in the fall to see some of the colors at the lower elevations throughout New Mexico, try Taos Ski Valley. You might just be able to go on a quick leaf peeping drive that takes you to some higher and more colorful elevations.

Want to make sure you can see those colors before you head out there? Just check the ski area’s trail cams online, to see what awaits you.

Related Read: 10 Relaxing Cabin Rentals Near Taos, New Mexico

4. El Santuario de Chimayo

new mexico fall colors - El Santuario de Chimayo
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Fall foliage with a side of history

  • Nearest Town: Chimayo
  • Peak Foliage: October

If you’d prefer to see your fall foliage with a side of history, try a visit to El Santuario de Chimayo. The historic site is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery and landscaping, and is gorgeous every season, including in the fall, as the leaves begin to turn.

You can walk the grounds, visit the 19th-century chapels and see what attracts religious pilgrims from all over the world to this small and simple spot in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

5. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

new mexico fall colors - Cumbres & Toltec
Photo: Joseph Sohm

Why you should go: A fall foliage trip with no driving required

  • Nearest Town: Chama
  • Peak Foliage: Early to mid-October

If you like trains, then there’s a fall scenic rail ride that’s ready and waiting just for you in Chama, New Mexico. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is the longest, highest and most authentic steam railroad in North America, traveling between New Mexico and Colorado. The train runs through late October, giving you a chance to snag a ride right before it closes for the season, when the fall foliage in the area is at its peak.

For more fun beyond the simple, daily scenic train rides on offer, book one of the railroad’s specialty rides that take place in October, such as the brunch ride or the dinner train experience.

Related Read: 11 Best & Most Unique Airbnb Rentals in New Mexico

6. Carson National Forest

new mexico fall colors - Carson National Forest
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Scenic hiking in northern New Mexico

  • Nearest Town: Tiptonville
  • Peak Foliage: Early to mid-October

The northernmost of New Mexico’s national forests, Carson National Forest offers high-elevation scenery set across 1.5 million acres. There are a lot of places to visit within the forest for leaf peeping, whether you want to hike, camp, horseback ride or mountain bike.

The forest’s hikes blend mountain vistas with water features and lots and lots of foliage. For an easier time, try the Williams Lake Trail, ranked moderate and just over four miles. For something that’s more of a challenge, try the 12.5-mile Trampas Lakes Trail.

7. Sandia Crest Scenic Byway

new mexico fall colors - sandia crest
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Fall colors within easy reach

  • Nearest Town: Albuquerque
  • Peak Foliage: Late September to mid October

This epic scenic drive is one of the easiest ways to see fall colors near Albuquerque, and it won’t disappoint. The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway is the 13.6-mile stretch of Highway 536 that travels from the eastern foothills of the Sandia Mountains to the crest of Sandia Peak.

On the way way you’ll be treated to views of the golden aspens that flank the high peaks. Once you reach “The Crest” at an altitude of 10,679 feet, enjoy the endless views across northern New Mexico.

Related Read: 11 Awesomely Unique Places to Stay in New Mexico

8. The Enchanted Circle Driving Tour

 

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Why you should go: See why this is Taos’s most famous tour

  • Nearest Town: Taos
  • Peak Foliage: Late September to early October

If you’re staying in or around Taos, or if you plan on visiting Taos Ski Valley for some leaf peeping, why not just expand your trip to also include the broader Enchanted Circle Driving Tour? This three-hour route takes you in a loop around some of the region’s most beautiful scenery, any time of year.

While, yes, you will only need three hours to see the loop at a quick pace, if you go a little slower, you’ll be able to more fully take in all the history, culture and nature the area has to offer.

9. Hyde Memorial State Park

 

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Why you should go: Easy nature access from Santa Fe

  • Nearest Town: Santa Fe
  • Peak Foliage: October

Hyde Memorial State Park is easily accessible from Santa Fe and offers a great opportunity to quickly and conveniently get away from the city and soak up some nature, without going too far off the beaten path.

Take in those golden aspens as you hike a mixture of harder and easier trails. If you want to stay overnight, the park features a selection of yurts for just that purpose.

Related Read: 10 Rad Weekend Road Trips from Albuquerque, New Mexico

10. Jemez Hot Springs

new mexico fall colors - jemez hot springs
Photo: Kit Leong

Why you should go: Leaf peeping with a side of relaxation

  • Nearest town: Jemez Springs
  • Peak Foliage: October

But what if you could take in New Mexico’s fall foliage without lifting a finger? What if you could just sit back and take it all in without doing any driving, hiking or cycling? What if you could see it all from a hot spring?

That’s exactly what Jemez Hot Springs offers, from its spot beneath the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The hot springs consists of a handful of outdoor, natural mineral water pools, heated to perfection and with views of the trees and mountains beyond. When you’re finished with your soak, head into the small town of Jemez Springs to see even more foliage, plus check out the local shopping and dining.

11. The Paseo del Bosque Trail

 

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Why you should go: Grab your bike and go

  • Nearest Town: Albuquerque
  • Peak Foliage: Mid-October

If your favorite way to be active is cycling, then you’ll want to hit up the Paseo del Bosque Trail in Albuquerque.

The urban, multi-use trail is paved and features 16 miles of uninterrupted space, which is perfect for cycling through parts of the Rio Grande Valley State Park and alongside public art installations.

Related Read: 9 Beautiful Hikes Near Albuquerque, New Mexico

12. ABQ Biopark

new mexico fall colors - ABQ Biopark
Photo: Flickr

Why you should go: Fall-favorite colors, but landscaped

  • Nearest Town: Albuquerque
  • Peak Foliage: Mid-October

Another Albuquerque must-visit in the fall, ABQ Biopark has been ranked one of the country’s best botanic gardens for travelers to visit. With more than 1.5 miles of walking paths, the park will definitely help you get your steps in for the day, as you take in the fall hues in a landscaped setting.

If you’re lucky, you can catch the park’s Harvest Festival, in early October, to combine family-friendly fun with the foliage.

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