New Mexico is a great location for getting amazing photos of the beautiful southwestern landscape. There are plenty of noteworthy destinations for photography, and several of them are not all that well known, so it presents the opportunity to get unique photos. This page showcases many of the most noteworthy locations in the state for landscape photographers with the hope of helping you plan your own outings. The interactive map below shows the location of each spot mentioned on this page. Please be aware that locations may look close to each other on the map, but roads are very limited in many parts of the state, so it can still take quite a while to drive from one location to another. Choose the locations that you want to visit and research to learn about the best way to get from point A to point B.
This page will continue to be a work in progress, so please feel free to leave a comment with your own suggestions of great places to photograph.
In addition to the locations featured here, there are also several scenic drives worth taking.
White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Monument is located in southern New Mexico at an elevation of 4,000 feet. It is a 275 square mile area of white gypsum sand dunes surrounded by mountains, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world. This is an amazing destination that any photographer will love. Dune Drive leads about 8 miles into the dunes, and there are 5 marked trails that are great for exploring on foot. Unlike sandy beaches, the gypsum dunes do not get excruciatingly hot to walk on. You can learn more about the trails here. If you are planning a trip to White Sands be aware that it does temporarily close at times due to missile testing in the area.
Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area and Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness
The Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area and the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness are two separate areas located in northwestern New Mexico and very close to each other. We are listing them together because of their close proximity and similarity. Both areas feature extremely unique formations and hoodoos that have been created by erosion. Despite the awesome scenery these areas are not very well known, so if you are looking for a place to get really unique photos this is an excellent option. If you are planning to visit be aware that access to these areas involves dirt and/or gravel roads that can become impassable in bad weather. There are essentially no trails and no water sources in the area, so be prepared. In the De-Na-Zin area there is one trail that leads from the parking area to the De-Na-Zin Wash about 3/4 mile away. From there you can explore on your own but you will need to be able to find your way back.
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks is located in northern New Mexico, about 50 miles north of Albuquerque. This amazing and unique landscape features cone-shaped “tent rocks” that were formed by volcanic activity. There is a roughly 1-mile trail through a slot canyon that leads to a viewpoint. There is also a loop trail that is a little over a mile that takes you around the tent rocks.
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks State Park is located in southwestern New Mexico and is home to some awesome volcanic rock formations. The formations are as large as 40 feet high, and they are great for getting unique and interesting photos. The park includes trails for exploring the area, and it is known for its dark night sky that is great for night photography.
Shiprock is a rock formation that abruptly rises around 1,500 feet above the desert and is a great subject for photos. It is located in northwestern New Mexico on Navajo Nation land. You can photography Shiprock from many different vantage points that are reachable by the different roads in the area.
El Malpais National Monument
El Malpais National Monument is located in western New Mexico (Malpais needs “badlands”). This volcanic landscape provides plenty of opportunities for amazing photos. There are hiking trails that are perfect for exploring, and lave tube caves that are accessible with a permit. The monument features sandstone bluffs, grasslands, and forest.
El Morro National Monument
El Morro National Monument is located in western New Mexico, west of El Malpais National Monument. Here you’ll find a large sandstone bluff with a waterhole at the base. There are trails available, but the main attraction (from a landscape photography purpose) is the sandstone bluff itself.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns is located in southeastern New Mexico in the Guadalupe Mountains and is a great place to get interesting photos. Visitors can walk in to the cave through a natural entrance, or take an elevator from the visitor’s center. The Big Room is a large chamber in the cave that is almost 4,000 feet long and as high as 250 feet. Ranger-led tours are also available to other parts of the caverns.
Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument covers about 50 square miles in northern New Mexico. The monument was set up to preserve the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans. In addition to the history, there is also some beautiful nature in the area. Most of the monument is wilderness area, but there are a few miles of road and about 70 miles of hiking trails.
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument is an area in northeastern New Mexico that was set up to protect a cinder cone volcano. There is a road that circles the volcano and also one that leads up to the rim. At the rim is a trail that leads down into the volcano. You can either photograph the volcano itself, or drive to the rim and photograph the surrounding area.
Valles Caldera National Preserve
Valles Caldera National Preserve is located in northern New Mexico, north of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. Valles Caldera is a 13-mile wide volcanic crater with mountain meadows and streams. Valle Grande is a large grass valley that is accessible by road.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is located about 100 miles south of Albuquerque. The area includes grasslands, wetlands, and farmlands. There is a 12-mile long loop road and several hiking trails. The refuge is home to geese, cranes, waterfowl, shorebirds, and birds of prey. the diversity of birds is highest in spring and fall.
Acoma Pueblo is located in western New Mexico, just east of El Malpais National Monument. The Acoma people have occupied this area for more than 800 years on top of a large mesa. Today there are about 300 structures on top of the mesa with a small number permanent residents. Others live in the surrounding area. As far as photography is concerned, the structures themselves make for interesting subjects, and the mesa and surrounding landscape presents great opportunities as well.
Rio Grande Gorge State Park
Rio Grande Gorge State Park is located in northern New Mexico, near Taos. The main attraction for photographers is the striking gorge, as well as the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
Cabezon Peak is in northwestern New Mexico, about 75 miles northwest of Albuquerque. It is a large volcanic formation that rises high (about 2,000 feet) above the surrounding area. As you can see from the photo below, Cabezon Peak can be an excellent subject for photographers. If you wish to climb the peak, it is possible to reach the summit by a route that goes through a steep gully.
Ghost Ranch is located in north central New Mexico. It is used as an education and retreat center by the Presbyterian Church, but is accessible to the public. The area has a beautiful landscape that includes red rocks, and there are 5 hiking trails at Ghost Ranch that can be used to get some amazing views. There is a small fee, currently $5, that allows guest access to the trails. Ghost Ranch was the subject of many well-known paintings by Georgia O’Keefe and many movies have been filmed here.
Plaza Blanca is located in Abiquiu, very close to Ghost Ranch. It features white stone formations and cliffs that are quite beautiful. The area can be freely hiked and explored. It is one the grounds of the Dar Al Islam mosque and Islamic education center, but they make it available to visitors. You can find specific directions on this page.
Sierra Blanca is a range of volcanic mountains in south central New Mexico, northeast of White Sands National Monument. The range is about 40 miles by 20 miles, and the highest mountain is Sierra Blanca Peak, which is located on the land of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. A permit is required for access, however, it can be seen and photographed from quite a distance. The nearby town of Ruidoso (not on the reservation) is a popular choice for hiking and camping.
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park is located in southern New Mexico, only about 25 miles from White Sands National Monument. The park is set in the Sacramento Mountains. It features a historic ranch house, hiking and nature trails, and plenty of great views. The Dog Canyon Trail is 5.5 miles long and leads you up the canyon wall. Other trails lead you along the stream in the park.
Want to learn more about neighboring states? Please see:
- The Best Places to Photograph in Colorado
- The Best Places to Photograph in Utah
- The Best Places to Photograph in Arizona
- The Best Places to Photograph in Texas
- The Best Places to Photograph in Oklahoma
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