Low-Cost Summer Trips & Activities to Do in Northern New Mexico
With high gas prices and “runaway” airfare costs this summer, you might choose to stay closer to home to make your money stretch further. Residents of New Mexico are fortunate enough to be able to experience a wide variety of landscapes and climates within a few hours’ drive, from cool mountainscapes and rolling meadows to arid, rocky deserts. Keeping your vacation dollars local is also a great way to support our economy, especially after the hit many places have taken over the course of the pandemic. In this post we’ll help you both save money and keep it local, with lots of tips for how to enjoy your own backyard, or get away close to home, to maximize your summer while minimizing your spending.
Places to Stay
While many of the sites listed below may not require an overnight stay, sometimes getting away from your home for a few nights, even if you don’t go far, can give you the pleasure of a vacation without the expense or stress of a big trip. You can consider more affordable options like camping or spend a little more at a resort or spa, but save money by limiting transportation costs or enjoying a shorter stay. Here are some great options in New Mexico to consider.
If you have the equipment, camping at state parks, at $8-$18 a night, can be relatively cheap—especially as an alternative to more expensive lodges. Our state has an abundance of parks, but here are some great summer camping spots throughout Northern New Mexico to consider:
- Navajo Lake State Park: Navajo Lake, the second largest in the state, boasts seven campgrounds, making it easier than many parks to snag a site. It’s also a great spot for hiking, mountain biking, and most importantly in the summer, swimming and boating.
- Villanueva State Park: East of Albuquerque, Villanueva State Park is a great spot for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing along the meandering Pecos River. It also offers shaded sites under the cottonwood trees, equestrian camping, a playground for kids, and swimming.
- Sugarite Canyon State Park: A nature-lover’s dream, at Sugarite, located near the border of Colorado, you can enjoy an “abundance of wildlife, birds, butterflies, and wildflowers among the lakes, creeks, forests, and meadows.” The park is the perfect location for sailboats or other non-motorized watercraft, fishing, and hiking on its 13 miles of trails.
For more great family camping recommendations, check out New Mexico Magazine’s guide.
Keep in mind, some state parks may close due to wildfires, so check first and have a backup plan in mind. Additionally, many people book their stays months in advance, and if you haven’t already reserved a spot, you might be out of luck. Here are some tips for getting into popular campgrounds:
- Investigate mid-week options. Sometimes it’s hard to find a full-week or weekend; look for openings during the week.
- Be open to switching sites. It may be possible that there is availability for your chosen vacation time in your desired park—but not at the same site. Consider if it’s possible to relocate to another site mid-trip, to extend your time there.
- Keep an eye open for cancellations. Check regularly over the course of a week or two to see sites open up due to cancellations. You can also call the campground or reserve service to see when cancellations are processed, to log in right away to make your reservation.
- Sign up for email alerts. Some reserve sites allow you to sign up for alerts if there’s a cancellation that matches your search.
- Be flexible. Adjust your date ranges, try different combinations of dates, or look at calendars to see if there is any availability at all during the summer which matches with a time when you are able to take vacation.
- Consider a private campground. There are many to choose from near popular destinations, and while they might charge more per night, they still offer affordable an alternative to hotels. A few top-rated private campgrounds include:
- Turquoise Trail Campground, outside of Albuquerque
- Santa Fe Skies RV Park
- Sky Mountain RV Resort, in Northern New Mexico, a straight shot up Route 84 from Santa Fe
Resorts and Spas
If camping isn’t your speed or you’d rather not invest in camping equipment for a weekend getaway, consider an all-inclusive resort or spa package deal to enjoy a relaxing time without the work of camping or the expense or effort of planning a major excursion. Here are a few choice spots:
- Angel Fire Resort: This beautiful mountain resort offers a slew of activities to choose from including hiking, biking, and golfing. Local to the resort? You can also visit regularly and save money with all summer long season passes.
- Ojo Mineral Springs Resort & Spa: With sites in Santa Fe and Caliente, Ojo Mineral Springs has been featured in dozens of magazines and top lists. This luxurious resort also offers lots of deals including offers 20% off for residents of New Mexico.
- Ghost Ranch Retreat and Education Center: While not a traditional resort, this Abiquiu ranch was a favorite place of Georgia O’Keeffe, who spent many summers in the original owner’s home, Ranchos de los Burros. In addition to self-guided pursuits like hiking in the desert, relaxing in the pool, or renting kayaks, there are a number of other activities to enjoy including guided day hikes, massage, and sound therapy. Rio Arriba County residents can get free day visit passes by using their zip code at check-out.
Sites of Natural Beauty: Gardens, Parks, and Forests
New Mexico is so full of gorgeous natural wonders; even long-time residents might not be aware of all there is to offer. Here is a list of top destinations and lesser-known sites to enjoy close to home.
- Botanical Gardens and Arboretums: The Santa Fe Botanical Gardens in Santa Fe and ABQ BioPark Botanical Garden and the University of New Mexico Arboretum (free) in Albuquerque offer convenient ways to enjoy the flora of the region without leaving town.
- Two-for-One: Visit two beautiful parks in one trip in New Mexico’s Northern Mountains. Drive up to Eagle Nest Lake State Park and close-by Cimarron Canyon State Park for glorious Alpine views. Or check out Heron Lake and El Vado Lake State Park for more excellent boating and fishing opportunities.
- National Parks: Purchase an annual National Park Pass for $80 and visit these local sites managed by the National Parks Service for no additional charge: Bandelier National Monument Trail, Aztec Ruins, Carson National Forest, Capulin Volcano, Manhattan Project, Valles Caldera, National Historic Trail at Santa Fe, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Petroglyph National Monument, Salinas Pueblo Missions, Pecos National Historic Park.
Money-Saving Pro-Tip: The NPS offers free or discounted admission passes for senior citizens, members of the military, people with disabilities, and veterans. Families with children in 4th grade can visit National Parks for free for the entire year.
Have Fun Off the Beaten Path
If you’re looking for a fun nearby adventure, consider one of these affordable area attractions:
- Santa Rosa Blue Hole: Only 80 feet wide but 130 feet deep, this beautiful crystal blue spring-fed hole has been enjoyed as a cooling-off spot by everyone from Ranchers to Route 66 travelers. Dive in the pristine pool, then visit the nearby water park and the Route 66 Auto Museum.
- ‘Breaking Bad’ RV Tour: Though at $75 a person, not particularly cheap, this tour is priceless for fans of the show. Ride around in a replica RV for three full hours, touring filming locations. Includes a drink at Pollos Hermanos (Twisters).
- Cliff’s Amusement Park: Compared to many modern amusement parks than can cost over $100 per person, Cliff’s is still relatively affordable, with adult tickets coming in at less than $34, and discounts for groups of 10 or more.
- New Mexico Space Trail: Take a regional road trip and explore the Space Trail, with many free sites and observation points. Spend a weekend in Roswell and visit the International UFO Museum: Though a bit of a drive, the zany other-worldly theme of the town and affordable accommodations make this a fun summer destination. You can even visit the alleged UFO crash sites for free. The museum offers discounts for children, senior citizens,military, and first responders. You might not need them though; adult admission is just $5 every day.
- TinkerTown: A museum of miniatures including captivating western scenes, this museum is located due East of Albuquerque. Admission to Tinkertown is also affordable at $6 per adult and $3 for kids 4-16.
Especially for families with children, museums can get expensive as ticket costs can quickly add up. But museums also make for a great local vacation experience. Fortunately, in an effort to remain accessible, many museums offer discounts or free admission from time to time. The following is a list of regional museums where a visit won’t break the bank:
- Santa Fe Children’s Museum: offers a $2 discount per person for New Mexico residents, as well as free admission for everyone 17 and younger every Thursday from 4-6 PM, in addition to other discounts.
- Santa Fe Museum Hill: Save money on travel and stay in a nearby hotel to visit 6 museums in one location. The hill itself is worth a visit just to walk around in its beautiful (and free!) public sculpture garden.
- New Mexico Culture Pass: several of the museums from museum hill are free with this pass, as well as other world-class museum destinations throughout the area, including the Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, the most visited museum in the state.
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: Children under 18 are always free.
- Bradbury Science Museum: Located in Los Alamos and always free.
Fire Safety Tips In New Mexico
While you’re having fun outside this summer, remember that the warmer, drier months in our state also bring increased risk of wildfires. Always be careful with open flames–we all have a responsibility to “Think Smart and Don’t Let Wildfires Start.” Check current fire restrictions in New Mexico here and state park closures here.
Save for Your Trip with DNCU
Even for the budget-minded, vacation costs can quickly add up. That’s why it’s a great idea to maintain a specific banking account to save for those summer excursions, setting aside a little money at a time, and even earning interest on your funds. Setting aside just $20 per week in a family vacation fund will add up to over $1,000 plus interest by the end of the year. Before you know it, you’ll have saved enough to take the trip of your dreams, whether it’s far away or just enjoying family time in our own beautiful state.
At Del Norte, we choose to call them ‘share accounts’—not savings accounts—because they represent your partial ownership of our credit union. Our competitive interest rates and impeccable service make our share accounts one of the best choices for saving in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Northern New Mexico.
Whether you’re looking to finance an RV or vehicle for your road trip or open a vacation savings account for travel, Del Norte Credit Union can help you find your way to an enjoyable summer experience. Visit us today to see what we can do for you!
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. For advice regarding your specific financial situation, please consult a financial planner or a trusted financial professional.