Heading from Denver to Albuquerque? With classic American Southwest culture, food and views, this is an adventure you’re gonna love! The Denver to Albuquerque drive is a scenic road trip with classic mountains views, vibrant cities and hidden gems along the way. Here’s your ultimate guide of things to do and where to stop along the route.
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Whether you’re doing the Denver to Albuquerque drive for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, you want to see amazing culture and landscapes or you’re headed from one city to the other for another reason, you’re in for a real treat!
Denver CO to Albuquerque NM is a fun drive across multiple mountain ranges, fun cities and some off-the-beaten-path adventures in between! Whether you have a day or a week to make this road trip, you’ll find something fun to do along the way.
This Denver to Albuquerque driving guide provides ideas for many stops along the way. Whether you’re traveling solo, with family, friends or even your dog(s), there’s plenty to see and do for everyone.
Must-see video: Denver to Albuquerque road trip
Denver to Albuquerque drive
This guide is full of helpful info for your journey. Here’s what to expect:
- Distance and route
- Best time of year to go
- What to do and places to stay in Denver
- Suggested stops along the way
- Optional add-ons that will take you off route but the experience will be worth it
- What to do and places to stay in Albuquerque
- What to pack for this road trip
- Tips to make the most of this adventure
Plan your Denver to Albuquerque road trip
Alright so here’s the thing: this drive could be done in a day or in a week (or longer)! It’s really up to you to decide how long you have and how many stops you want to take while driving Denver CO to Albuquerque NM.
Throughout this guide you’ll find the best stops along the way, accommodation ideas, what to pack for your epic drive from Denver to Albuquerque (or Albuquerque to Denver).
Denver to Albuquerque distance
The most straightforward route from Denver CO to Albuquerque NM is 449 miles. It’s basically a straight shot down I-25 from Colorado to New Mexico.
However, if you add in a few stops along the way, the mileage and time it takes to get from city to city will be extended and will vary based on your preferences.
Denver to Albuquerque driving: how long does it take?
If you drove straight through, it would take just over 6 hours. Of course you’ll have required stops along the way for gas or a charge, and other places you’ll want to see after seeing this guide!
Best route: Denver to Albuquerque driving guide
Driving south from Colorado into New Mexico, the mountains are really scenic along the way. When you pair that with the optional activities in this guide, you’ll see this part of the USA is truly breathtaking!
Here’s what the map of the route looks like, with added stops along the way:
Denver CO to Albuquerque NM – how long does it take?
Now, if you’re wondering how many days you should spend on this road trip, it’s really whatever you want! I’d recommend at minimum 2 days, but you could take a week, spending time in Denver, Albuquerque and the stops along the way.
The fabulous thing about this Denver to Albuquerque driving trip is that you’re on your time so you can completely customize this trip!
Driving from Denver to Albuquerque: best time of year
Summer is generally a great time of year to make the Denver to Albuquerque drive, especially if you’re looking for snow-less mountains. However, it’s also stunning in the fall or winter, too!
If you love the mountains in the wintertime, then a road trip this time of year would be perfect! The mountains are especially stunning from Denver to Colorado Springs, and northern New Mexico through Santa Fe. You can even plan some wintertime activities like skiing or snowshoeing in the mix.
Of course, the other seasons will bring on adventures, too. Especially if you want to hike and sight see in warmer weather without worrying if attractions will be open.
By the way, if you’re flying into Denver and renting a car, I highly recommend using Discover Cars to book your car. It’s a free search engine that finds the best deal out of the major car rental companies. I typically save 10-30% by using Discover Cars!
Denver to Albuquerque
Let’s dive into the road trip route! This travel guide includes recommended stops and optional side detours. Use the customizable itinerary to suit your timeline and decide which destinations are best for your journey.
Let’s do this!
Recommended time: 1 day
Okay okay, if your home base isn’t in the Denver area, then you’ll definitely want to spend a bit of time checking out all the city has to offer before making your way south.
A vibrant city full of life, Denver has excellent food, arts, activities and outdoor recreation. Here are a few highlights of this fun city!
Top things to do in Denver
- RiNo Arts District
- Denver Art Museum
- Red Rocks Amphitheater
- Union Station
- 16th Street Mall
- Mile High Step at the Denver Capitol
Pro tip: if you live in or are coming from a lower elevation, you’ll want to at least spend an overnight in Denver before heading out to New Mexico. This will allow your body to ease into the altitude, and help reduce any effects of altitude sickness you might experience in Colorado and New Mexico.
If you need a spot to stay in Denver, basing yourself in downtown will put you close to the action.
Best places to stay in Denver
- Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Denver
- The Maven at Diary Block
- Hyatt Place Downtown Denver
- The Rally Hotel at McGregor Square
And of course, you can also use VRBO.com to find a suitable vacation rental property if you’d rather not stay in a hotel.
2. Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs (a favorite on this list Denver to Albuquerque road trip)
Recommended time: 2-4 hours
Ok, so you could literally spend an entire week in Colorado Springs and still not see it all. However, for this Denver to Albuquerque road trip, let’s just cover one of the highlights in Colorado Springs – Garden of the Gods!
First thing to note is that this is a completely free activity. There’s no entrance fee, so you can wander or hike or enjoy the visitor center all for free.
Oh, and the park is also pet-friendly. Just keep your pup on a leash and clean up after it. 🙂
A must-see area in Garden of the Gods park is the Central Gardens. Walk around paved paths through some pretty spectacular rock formations. All while Pikes Peak is making an appearance in the backdrop!
One of the best, easy hikes in the park is Siamese Twins Garden of the Gods. These cool ‘twin’ rock formations make quite the statement with fabulous views of the park. And on a clear day you can see Pikes Peak through a peek-a-boo hole in the rock. So fun!
You’ll want at least 2 hours to explore here, more if it’s possible. Depending on when you leave Denver, this is also a great spot to have a picnic as well. Garden of the Gods is one of the best stops on a road trip from Denver CO to Albuquerque NM!
And if you want to spend a bit more time and need to stay overnight in Colorado Springs, here are some suggestions for you near the park…
Best place to stay in Colorado Springs:
- Garden of the Gods Club & Resort
- Rainbow Lodge and Inn
- Best Western Plus Executive Residency Fillmore Inn
3. Optional: Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Canon City
Recommended time: 1 – 2 hours
This is one of those optional stops along the route from Denver to Albuquerque as it will add about an hour onto your drive, but so worth it to see this engineering masterpiece!
The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is just outside of Canon City, Colorado and is America’s highest suspension bridge. It’s quite the experience! At 956 feet above the Arkansas River, there’s plenty of activities here, and a great way to stretch your legs on a long road trip!
For an adrenaline rush, you can zipline or ride the sky coaster. And of course, walking the bridge is typically encouraged!
You’ll want to buy tickets in advance, although at this time reservations are not required. The park is dog-friendly, and are allowed on the bridge and on the gondola, too.
Certain attractions do close for safety based on weather, so hopefully you’ll get a nice clear day when you visit the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park!
Recommended time: 2- 4 hours
The town of Pueblo, Colorado is a welcome surprise on your drive along I-25 south. Historic Arkansas Riverwalk and downtown Pueblo steal the show here. Take a walk along the river and enjoy nature.
Be sure to get down to check out the Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center, too. Great hiking and walking trails and beautiful scenery surround it.
They have an amazing raptor program for birds that can no longer survive by themselves in the wild. It’s the only raptor center in Southern Colorado. Just be sure to check the hours before you go as they’re somewhat limited.
Pueblo is a great stop for lunch or dinner as well, if you’re passing through at the right time. And if you’re making this a multi-day road trip from Denver to Albuquerque drive, Pueblo is a great spot to stay overnight to break up the journey.
Best places to stay in Pueblo
5. Optional: Great Sand Dunes National Park
Recommended time: 1/2 to 1 full day
This is definitely an optional adventure along the road trip from Denver to Albuquerque. But if you love wide open landscapes or are checking national parks off your travel list, this is a must-do!
You’ll add about an hour each direction off I-25, so I’d recommend this stop if you can devote an entire day to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Fun fact: Great Sand Dunes National Park has the largest dunes in North America: Star Dune, which rises 750 feet from the base to crest. A popular family activity at this park is to go sand boarding or sand sledding! Grab your rental gear from the Oasis store, just a few miles outside the park.
Furthermore, the park has multiple ecosystems with trails running through wetlands, forests and even alpine lakes. There’s quite a bit to see and dune in this park!
If you’re looking to stay in the area, it’s a bit sparse. Book early and you may have a shot at the recommendations below!
Best place to stay near Great Sand Dunes National Park:
- Great Sand Dunes Lodge
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Alamosa
- Piñon Flats Campground (tent and RV camping – limited hookups)
6. Sugarite Canyon State Park (a hidden gem on this Denver to Albuquerque driving guide)
Recommended time: 1 – 4 hours
This little side-step off the route from Denver to Albuquerque is quite literally the perfect picnic destination, and it only takes about 30 extra minutes.
Sugarite Canyon State Park is a hidden gem in northern New Mexico, and one worth visiting. This state park really seems to have it all: hiking, boating, horseback riding, camping, cross-country skiing, sledding and so much more.
Compared to Denver, Colorado Springs, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, Sugarite Canyon State Park is not overcrowded and provides a sense of peace while experiencing nature. What a hidden gem!
If you’re only stopping for a short stay, I’d recommend checking in at the visitor center and then hitting one of the 11 hiking trails in Sugarite Canyon State Park. Hiking the Lake Montoya Trail has beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Oh, and trails are dog-friendly, too.
There’s extremely little cell phone reception in this area, so a 2-way satellite communicator would be helpful for hiking (or even driving) emergencies. I take this Garmin InReach Mini with me on every hike, including Skyline Trail in Mt Rainier National Park, Sapphire Point Overlook near Dillon CO, easy Glacier National Park hikes, and practically everywhere!
Recommended time: 2 hours up to 1 day
One of the best stops year-round while on a Denver to Albuquerque driving trip, Taos is a great stop. This is another spot you could spend a week-long vacation, so it’s definitely worth considering making your trip longer for this fun destination!
One of the most iconic sites in Taos, and one it’s famous for is the Taos Pueblo indigenous village.
Fun fact: the Taos Pueblo is actually the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the USA! It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So basically it’s really incredible and you should go!
Admire the traditional adobe construction, take a guided tour of the village and learn more about the culture of those who lived – and continue to thrive there.
Top things to do in Taos
- Taos Plaza
- Río Grande Gorge Bridge (free)
- Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
- Black Rock Hot Springs
- Taos Historic Museums
- Skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling
Taos has a lot to offer visitors and is a great stop while on a Denver to Albuquerque road trip!
Best places to stay in Taos
8. Bandelier National Monument (another favorite on the Denver to Albuquerque drive)
Recommended time: 2 hours up to 1 day
Okay, this is a totally underrated spot in New Mexico, and a must-see on this Denver to Albuquerque drive! Just north of Santa Fe and located in the Jemez Mountains, the scenery at Bandelier National Monument is truly stunning!
If you only have an hour or two, you’ll want to see the White Rock Visitor Center to see the base of the Frijoles Canyon.
Note: for most of June through October, be sure to take the free shuttle to the visitor center during the mid-day hours. The parking lot is small and the shuttle ensures you’ll be able to enter the park during peak visiting hours. Shuttle details here.
While you’re there, walk the Pueblo Loop Trail AKA Main Loop Trail. It’s just 1.4 miles and such a fun, interactive trail. Climb ladders to see historic cavates (small house dwellings carved into the hillside). You can also see historic structures like kivas, which were gathering centers for Ancestral Pueblo from hundreds of years ago.
If you have even more time to spend in Bandelier National Monument, a far less crowded trail is the Tsankawi Trail.
At 1.6 miles and 236 feet in elevation gain, this trail is rated as moderate based on ladders and the somewhat tricky terrain. It’s another super interesting trail, which allows you to go into more cavates where centuries-old Pueblo people, Tsankawi.
Pro tip: if you have an America the Beautiful pass, you’ll get into this park for free. If visit 3 or more national parks or federally protected spaces within 12 months, it pays for itself! I’ve taken mine on adventures to the best national parks for kids, while comparing Sequoia vs Kings Canyon National Park and so many more places!
9. Santa Fe
Recommended time: minimum one day
Yay, you’re almost to Albuquerque but a stop in Santa Fe is pretty much a requirement at this point! While you could just stop for lunch or dinner, there’s so many things to see and do in Santa Fe that it deserves it’s own day on this road trip – or more if you can afford the time!
Full of southwestern character and charm, Santa Fe Plaza is a must-see. Shop from local artisans selling their items on the street. Or walk around to the various restaurants and museums in the square.
And if you’re traveling with kids to Santa Fe, you’ll definitely want to make a reservation and allow at least 2 hours at Meow Wolf. It’s an amazing interactive art experience that’s truly indescribable!
Top things to do in Santa Fe
- Santa Fe Old Town
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
- Margarita Trail
- Meow Wolf
- New Mexico Museum of Art
- Route 66 markers
A definite highlight of New Mexico is their incredible food and dining experiences. Powerful southwest flavor can be seen in the chilies that hang from shops and restaurants, but also in the dishes full of heat!
If you’d like to add a night in Santa Fe, keep in mind it’s a relatively small town. Finding a great spot downtown is ideal but it’s quick to drive around so it’s not essential.
Best places to stay in Santa Fe
Side note, if you want to go further than Albuquerque, this list of the best RV road trips covers the drive from Santa Fe to White Sands National Park!
Recommended time: minimum one day
Yay! This is the destination on your Denver to Albuquerque drive. With so many amazing opportunities for sightseeing and adventure, I hope you’ve planned some fun stuff along the way.
Albuquerque has a rich history and is such a quintessential American Southwest destination, so the fun isn’t over yet! Similar to Santa Fe, it has a historic downtown square that’s a must-see. And other outdoor adventures could easily fill a few days in Albuquerque if you have the time.
Top things to do in Albuquerque
- Old Town Albuquerque
- Sandia Peak Tramway
- Petroglyph National Monument
- ABQ BioPark
- New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
If you’re here for the Balloon Fiesta, make sure you bring your patience and be kind – always.
Albuquerque is more spread out than Santa Fe, so finding accommodations close to your activities you’re planning is more convenient here. Some recommendations include…
Best places to stay in Albuquerque
With so much ground to cover and some pretty great sightseeing along the way, this is such a fun road trip! Let’s go over a few more essentials to make the most of your road trip.
What to pack for your Denver to Albuquerque road trip
Don’t forget to pack the right gear! It’s essential to making the best of your road trip. Here are some suggestions for this route.
- Road trip snacks! Don’t overspend on gas station snacks. Instead, buy or make them in advance so when a craving hits, you’re prepared. Here are 101 road trip food ideas. It’s a great idea to take a collapsible cooler to pack them in, too.
- National parks pass. Previously mentioned, it can save you a ton of money throughout the year if you plan to see more than 3 federally protected parks and areas within 12 months. Use it for Great Sand Dunes National Park and Bandelier National Monument.
- Hiking gear. If you’re planning to hit the trails at Garden of the Gods, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Sugarite Canyon State Park, Bandelier National Monument or anywhere else, you’ll want proper gear to create the best experience. Hiking shoes and hiking socks, trekking poles, hiking backpack and plenty of water and snacks are top of mind, along with the 10 essentials.
- Layers for changing elevation. Regardless of when you make this drive, the you’ll face changing temperatures due to the varying elevation in Colorado and New Mexico. Come prepared!
- Two-way satellite communicator. Many places on this road trip do not have cell phone reception. This Garmin InReach Mini comes with me on all hiking trails and road trips. It allows you to call for help without any sell service.
- First aid kit. Perfect for your car (even a rental car) and your hiking backpack, a first aid kit is essential during a trip like this. You just never know!
Tips to make the most of your Denver to Albuquerque drive
Lastly, let’s go over a few more tips to make the most of your experience!
- Altitude sickness is no joke. If you live in a lower elevation climate, drink plenty of water in the days leading to this trip and bring something for a headache just in case.
- Colorado and New Mexico are dry climates. Drink extra water and pack some lotion for your skin.
- Consider ways to lessen your environmental impact. Take reusable water bottles and fill them up at hotels or restaurants instead of buying bottled water. Use mineral sunscreen to protect our waterways and natural resources. Pack reusable bags for groceries or gas stations. Prep hiking and road trip snacks ahead of time in a reusable container instead of single-use plastic bag. Everything you do to help protect our environment really matters!
- Plan your gas or charging stops. There are a few areas of this trip that are pretty spread out. Use the towns in this guide for gas, charging and food stops.
Now, enjoy that road trip of yours!
Denver to Albuquerque drive – that’s a wrap!
Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? This Denver to Albuquerque road trip has a mix of popular destinations and lesser-known spots. There’s so much variety of things to see and do on an adventure like this.
One of the best things about driving Denver CO to Albuquerque NM is that you can customize your adventures based on your timeline and the things that interest you most.
It’s a great road trip and one you’ll remember for years to come! Enjoy!
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