Although it's wonderful, northern New Mexico is not the most suitable vacationland for kids -- unless they already have a credit card and a precocious interest in history and architecture. Some hearts are better suited to Wild West action and natural wonders than gourmet food and history, and those kinds of attractions mainly reside in the state's southern half. If you prefer a more active vacation, this 1-week trip is for you, whatever your age. The climate in this region is fairly mild, but summers in the south can be quite hot.
Day 1: Albuquerque
On your first day, head to Old Town, where you can wander the plaza, peruse some shops, and head over to the ¡Explora! Science Center. Next, visit the Albuquerque Biological Park. Be sure to check out the Biological Park's butterfly exhibit. Or, you may want to visit the Rio Grande Zoo. Don't miss the polar bears there. Finish the day with one of New Mexico's premier treats -- an enchilada -- at Sadie's. If you have any energy left, ride the Sandia Peak Tramway in time to watch the sunset.
Day 2: Acoma Pueblo
You'll cover a lot of ground this day, so head out early. Drive west about 70 miles to Acoma Pueblo, taking time to see the new museum there before you ride the bus up to Sky City. Visit the New Mexico Mining Museum in Grants, where you can go underground in a simulated mine, and then have lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. Next, head south on NM 117 to El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments, where you can stretch your legs on a short hike. Continue south through Quemado, then turn east, and drive to Magdalena, where the kids can enjoy a milkshake at Evett's Cafe. Spend the night in Socorro or continue south to San Antonio, where you can stay at Casa Blanca B&B.
Day 3: Birds & Bears
On day 3, if it's wintertime, wake before dawn and head out to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Even though it's early for kids, they're usually amazed to see thousands of cranes and snow geese take flight, and hear the air fill with their calls. (Even if it's not winter -- when thousands of cranes and geese fill the sky -- you can still tour the refuge to see birds and wildlife, and take a hike to a high point to view the scene from above.) From the refuge, head east on US 380 to the Valley of Fires Recreation Area, an amazing lava field. Your next stop is Carrizozo to feast on a green chile cheeseburger at the Outpost. Continue east to Capitan and Smokey Bear Historical State Park. Farther east along the Lincoln Loop, stop at the Lincoln State Monument. Spend the night in Ruidoso.
Day 4: Ruidoso
This morning, if you like to hike, head to the Lincoln National Forest Ranger Station for directions to the many trails in the area. Otherwise, you may want to shop a little. If it's winter, you can ski at Ski Apache. Or, if your kids have any interest in horses, head over to the Hubbard Museum of the American West. In the evening, check out the Flying J Ranch for a chuck-wagon dinner and an Old-West show. Spend the night in Ruidoso.
Day 5: White Sands National Monument
Today, head south out of Ruidoso through the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation on US 70 and NM 244. Just outside the reservation, visit Cloudcroft, a darling mountain town with some good hiking and mountain biking. Next, head down the spectacularly scenic pass on US 82 into Alamogordo to visit the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Spend late afternoon exploring one of the stars of this trip: White Sands National Monument. Spend the night in Alamogordo.
Day 6: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
On day 6, head east to Carlsbad to visit the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park. Have lunch in Carlsbad and then drive out to the most spectacular sight in New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where you want to walk down into the cave, rather than ride the elevator. If it's summer when you visit, end your hot day at your hotel pool, or alternatively, at the riverwalk, where the kids can swim and pedal paddleboats.
Day 7: Alien Sightings at Roswell
Spend your last day on a long cruise north to Albuquerque. Take US 285 to Roswell, where your kids can stock up on little-green-men stickers and see the International UFO Museum and Research Center. History buffs may want to detour to Fort Sumner to see Billy the Kid's grave and the tragedy presented at Fort Sumner State Monument. If you take this option, stop for a bite afterward at Joe's in Santa Rosa.
Tip: Parents who are first-time visitors to New Mexico may want to trade the day 1 and day 2 schedules for a trip north to Santa Fe to take in the cultural sights there. You can then shoot down I-25 and resume the itinerary in Socorro on the evening of day 2.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.