Las Cruces is the second-largest city in New Mexico and it offers a little bit of everything for travelers. Activities vary from outdoor adventure, to historic landmarks, museums, shopping centers, and more! For such a small town, the area around Las Cruces New Mexico is packed with things to do.
We spent one week in this area and found it to be almost like an onion, we just kept peeling back great things to visit. Here are the highlights of places to go, and activities in and around Las Cruces that I think are noteworthy.
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Visit White Sands National Monument
Just an hour outside of Las Cruces you'll find the beautiful dunes of White Sands National Monument. It is an astonishing place of 275 square miles. When you walk through the sands it is as thick as snow in some spots, and while it is very cool to the touch, you won't get wet sloshing through it.
Given Mr. Misadventures' proclivity for sunrise and sunset shots, we were a little disappointed in that the park doesn't open until after sunrise and closes at sunset.
There are very few activities in the winter given that it is so cold, but there is tons to do during the other seasons. Of course, there is always sledding, and who can complain about that! I did it as a child many decades ago and would have loved the opportunity to do it again if only I had a sled!
Birdwatch at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Reserve
To be fair the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is two hours away from Las Cruces, but it makes a fabulous day trip. I have never seen so many birds! There are multiple areas on a 12-mile loop where you can observe them. Trails and platforms have been created to make bird-watching easy and unobtrusive.
There are huge flocks of cranes, herons, and geese – in the morning they swarm the sky, it's incredible to see!
Travel tip: Make sure you have a full tank of gas before heading out to the park, there are practically no gas stations, especially if you take the US-54/US-380 route.
Visit Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
As a protected monument, the Organ Mountains are not even 2-years old, quite new, but wow are they are spectacular. We spent time in various spots for both sunrise and sunset in this area of Mesilla Valley which is part of the Chihuahua Desert. There are several moderate hikes that allow you views of the five mountains that make up the national monument: Robledo Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas, Doña Ana Mountains, Organ Mountains, and the Potrillo Mountains.
The colors are gorgeous with rich greens and deep browns, especially when the sun hits it. I bet it is spectacular in the spring when the cacti are blooming.
Check out the Chiles in Hatch
The chiles grown in the Hatch Valley are world-famous for their taste and quality. The chile is the state vegetable for New Mexico and you may have heard “Red or Green?” which is the official New Mexico state question. Hatch offers both. The town is small, but there are plenty of stores/stands to buy all types of chile products.
I spoke with a farmer at the Hatch Chile Market getting the scoop on all things chile, and she also recommended Sparky's as the best place to try a green chile cheeseburger, plus they have delicious bbq as well. If nothing else, they are very fun to visit, they have tons of retro signs and memorabilia in and around the store, we saw some very cool stuff!
I had the opportunity to interview another Hatch chile farmer and that post will be up on the blog soon.
Travel tip: If you take NM-185 back to Las Cruces you will see tons of pecan trees and have the opportunity to purchase some as well.
Visit Old Mesilla
Mesilla is a tiny town with a big history situated right next to Las Cruces. It was literally 3 minutes away from the RV park we stayed in. Mesilla was the last Mexican town to be taken over by the US after many years of back and forth. It's got deep cowboy history with visits from Billy the Kid, Pancho Villa, and more, probably because it was at the crossroads of two stagecoach routes (robbery anyone…), and it was known for its cantinas and festivals, nothing cowboys like better.
During the Civil War is was both Confederate and Yankee, which must have made for some real identity crisis!
Today it is a quaint town with excellent food (we ate at two restaurants there) and cute shops. The plaza is a national historic landmark and when we visited it was full of people, probably because it was Ash Wednesday and the Catholic Church faces onto the square.
There is still a lot of adobe-style buildings and homes, definitely worth walking around and checking out.
Bonus: Valley of Fires
If you drive from White Sands to the Bosque del Apache Refuge on US-54 you will drive through the Valley of Fires (not to be confused with the Valley of Fire near Las Vegas) one of the youngest and best-preserved lava fields in the US. It is also known as Carrizozo Malpais but is actually not very well known at all.
There is a visitor center and picnic areas (camping too) and we stopped for lunch and a quick walk around, but we did haven't time for further exploration. Definitely, something to return for.
More things to do in Las Cruces
We explored a lot but certainly didn't get to everything, here are additional things to do in Las Cruces that we will check out on our next visit!
Parks, Monuments, and Nature
- Fort Seldon State Monument
- White Sands National Monument
- Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park
- Dripping Springs Natural Area
- Prehistoric Trackways National Monument
- Soledad Canyon Day Use Area
- (Hiking at) Lake Valley Historic Townsite
- Corralitos Trail Rides
- Railroad Museum
- Las Cruces Museum of Art
- New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
- Museum of Nature and Science
- The Zuhl Museum
Markets, Food & Wine
- Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market
- La Vina Winery
- Rio Grande Vineyards and Winer
- Amaro Winery
- Double Eagle Restaurant (If you love exploring haunted buildings!)
- Fountain Theater
- Rio Grande Theatre
- Art Obscura
- Branigan Cultural Center
- No Strings Theatre Company (puppets!)
- Southern New Mexico Speedway
- Basilica of San Albino
- Las Cruces Water Tank Murals
- Recycled Roadrunner Sculpture
How about you? Were any of my five things to do of interest to you? Have you been to Las Cruces and done these or other activities? Do you think you want to visit in the future? Do tell!
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