When I moved to New Mexico I made a list of goals. One of those goals was to visit all 15 of the properties managed by the National Park Service in New Mexico. After completing this task I decided to rank all 15 (plus a few BLM sites...noted in this post as "BLM Bonus"). So with out further adieu here are all of New Mexicos National Park managed properties ranked:
15. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park
What I usually love about national parks is the nature and occasionally, the history. While there is a lot of history in this tiny room they unfortunately have zero nature. However, they do have probably the most impressive patch for completing the junior ranger program. Plus the park rangers were super nice and informative. Unfortunately, this kind of history just doesn't get me excited...judge me.
14. Petroglyph National Monument
I feel bad that I was so underwhelmed by these; I'm sure it is all kinds of offensive to say they look like children’s graffiti. It's really difficult to tell what is historic and what is just a punk kid scribbling on a rock. I know there is more historic significance but the Petroglyph National Monument just didn't do it for me. Full disclosure though: I only went on one trail so maybe the other trails are better?
13.75 (BLM Bonus) Valley of Fires Recreation Area
The idea that there was a volcano that formed this part of New Mexico is interesting but overall the park is pretty underwhelming. Granted I only did the loop trail (I heard there is a view trail that is better). I would rate this as mildly interesting at best.
13.5 (BLM Bonus) Three Rivers Petroglyph Site
This beats out the petroglyphs in Albuquerque because you can get closer the petroglyphs, and there is a cool view of the mountains but I still don't think petroglyphs are my thing...however, if they are your thing you will love this place.
13. Capulin Volcano National Monument
This is the point on the list where I would say "if you're near by you should go" these next few places (#13-#9) are cool but not exceptional; which is why I would rate this monument as "medium" which I know is a super helpful description. It's not quite as "volcano-ey" as I'd like for it to be (except for from far away). The little trail around it does provide a pretty cool view so that helps but the actual volcano is "just ok" as far as parks go.
12. Aztec Ruins National Monument
I thought Aztec Ruins National Monument was interesting but not exceptional. They do have some of the rooms rebillt and I like that you can wander through some of the ruins but overall I think there are other ruins with a more interesting history and more to see.
11. Valles Caldera National Preserve
I think I liked this because of how random it is, it felt like I had traveled to the plains of middle America but nope, still in New Mexico. While I don't know if it is super interesting in and of itself I did think it was pretty.
10. Pecos National Historical Park
I liked Pecos National Historical Park because I liked walking the loop and imagining life in some of the rooms you able to enter into. I also thought the different building styles from different ownership was interesting. If you are in the area it is worth a visit.
9. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
This National Monument was interesting because it is so spread out and each area is in such a different building style. I enjoyed traveling to a few of the different sites and thought some of them were beautiful but the fact that the three main sites are so spread out (and that they are in the middle of nowhere) makes visiting it a bit of a challenge.
8. Fort Union National Monument
With this list this is where the switch happens and I would definitely recommend a visit. However, compared to the next several on this list, Fort Union is harder to explain why I liked it. I enjoyed reading the signs and learning the history (which isn't normally my jam) but I think I liked this one because I could really envision what life may have been like here.
7. GIla Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was a bit of a trek to get to but it was worth it. After traveling through some of the Gila National Forest you end up at the National Monument. It is about a mile loop to the top but what I really enjoyed about Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is that you can climb up into some of the ruins (up in a cave in the cliff) and see what the view may have been like for the ancient dwellers. Plus not far away is the Catwalk trail which is for sure worth a visit (to see more from that trip check out my post here).
6. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
The ruins at Chaco Culture National Historical Park are cool but no more exceptional than Aztec or Pecos (and in my opinion less impressive than Gila). However, what moves this National Historical Park up in the ranks is that there is a rad hike that takes you up above the ruins. On the hike you can even see fossils from when this part of the world was underwater. Chaco Culture National Historical like many of the other parks is out in the middle of nowhere so if you skip the hike this park probably isn't worth it. However, with the cool hike this bumps up into the number six spot. Way to go Chaco!
5. El Malpais National Monument
When you picture volcano tubes this is what you hope they would be. Lots of dark magma rock leads you to giant volcano tubes that you can climb in and through. Make sure to bring a flashlight, sturdy hiking shoes, and that you have ample daylight.
4.5 (BLM Bonus) Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument
I'm a succer for mountains. Especially mountains that have a waterfall and climbing options and the Organ Mountains have both. This National Monument although not managed my the NPS is in my opinion just as worthy as any official NPS property. If you are into rock climbing there are some really great routes (though many are in the sun, so plan on being hot or going when it is cooler out). Plus at sunset the Las Cruces side lights up magically (and provides some rad views for watching the sunset). This is a good one, so go and enjoy!
4. Bandelier National Monument
I really liked Bandelier National Monument; I liked it because the setting is beautiful, the ruins are interesting and I loved getting to climb up the massive ladders. The ladders are what really pushed this one up in the rankings for me. Make sure to do the larger loop which leads you to the bigger and higher ladders, you won't regret it.
3. El Morro National Monument
I was so surprised by El Morro National Monument, I went in expecting only a few petroglyphs (which you've probably figured out aren't my jam) but was so so pleasantly surprised by the rad hike and lovely views. The white stone makes a lovely back drop against New Mexico's blue sky. Go here for sure, it's beautiful.
2.5 (BLM Bonus) Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
This is one of those places where you go and just think "Wow, New Mexico is weird" (which will continue to be true of the remainder of this list). But the shape of the rocks and the fun slot caves on this relatively easy hike make this a very worthwhile destination, especially if you are coming from the Albuquerque area (but I think it's worth going out of your way for if you are anywhere close). And if you head to Albuquerque here are some fun ideas for other things to do there!
2. White Sands National Monument
I super like White Sands. I think it is stunning and one of those places that made me gasp a bit. It is a photographers dream so you will find tons of aspiring photographers there but for good reason, it's hard to take a bad photo at White Sands. Plus this park is fun; It's small but the dunes provide hours of fun with sledding, "snow" angels, sand castle building, etc. Go here for sure! & If you are in Alamogordo for the weekend check out this post!
1.5 (BLM Bonus) Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area (aka Bisti Badlands)
I'm pretty sure Bisti Badlands is actually a replica of Mars which is probably why the aliens visit New Mexico so often. Saying this place is quirky feels like an understatement, the amount of weather events that had to take place to form the Bisti Badlands is nuts. There are so many unique geological formations to see that you should for sure go! (But also use my guide HERE because it's kind of difficult to navigate). This place is a MUST.
1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
There is a reason this is an "official" national park, and that's because it's jaw-dropping. Way more impressive than I had expected or anticipated. I wrote a post about how to spend a day there that can be found here but it's not hard to figure out why this place is a national park; the formations are rad and you should for sure book a tour to see more of them. Enjoy!
Do you love the National Parks too? Let me know which ones are your favorite in the comments section!