Planning a road trip from the bustling city of Phoenix to the charming cultural hub of Santa Fe? According to Google Maps, a Phoenix to Santa Fe road trip takes 7 hours and 33 minutes to complete, not including stops. The 484-mile journey has two great options—National Forests and Albuquerque—for pitstops or overnight stays along the journey. Whether you’re a seasoned road tripper or a first-time adventurer, this Phoenix to Santa Fe road trip promises to be an experience of a lifetime. So pack your bags, buckle up, and get ready to hit the road with us!
Option #1: National Forests-focused
Trip Highlights: Tonto, Gila, and Cibola National Forest
During the first seven hours of the road trip, you will pass three separate national forests: Tonto National Forest, Gila National Forest, and Cibola National Forest.
Tonto National Forest, a little over an hour outside of Phoenix, features 600,000 acres of rugged beauty. Tonto is known for the Sonoran Desert cacti that ascends into the highlands of the Mogollon Rim at 7,900 feet. You can easily visit Tonto anytime of the year through its lake beaches or cool pine forests. Tonto’s government website also offers tons of resources to check the recreation status of the activity you want to enjoy at Tonto.
Gila National Forest would add a couple hours to your road trip because you would have to drive up and over Fort Apache and San Carlos Reservations to then head south into Gila. But with over three million acres of forest and mountains, it might be worth the detour. Gila is also the United States Forest Service’s first officially designated wilderness area. Some of the highlights of visiting Gila include the Catwalk Recreation Area, an easy hike for all ages; Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument; and Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary, a 360-degree, unobstructed view of the night sky.
Cibola National Forest, 6 hours and 29 min from Phoenix, easily fits along Google Map’s route for your Phoenix to Santa Fe road trip. The Cibola National Forest encompasses 1.9 million acres, and the New Mexico portion has mountain elevations up to 11, 301 ft. If you don’t want to get out of your car, one of the most famous activities at Cibola National Forest is to enjoy a winding drive up the Sandia Mountains. At the top of your drive, you can even gaze out upon Albuquerque!
Option #2: Albuquerque
Trip Highlights: Balloons, Pueblo Center, and Art
Once you have arrived in Albuquerque, you will only have about an hour left of drive time to arrive in Santa Fe. So, why not take some time to explore the city? Some of the top things to do in the city include the International Balloon Fiesta, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the ABQ Artwalk.
The International Balloon Fiesta occurs each October, but you can learn about the history of ballooning year-round at Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. The fiesta lasts nine days where balloons in all shapes, sizes, and colors flock to celebrate ballooning. The dates for the 2023 Fiesta are October 7-15, but make sure to check the website if you plan to travel a different year.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center represents the gateway to the 19 pueblos of New Mexico. The Center is collectively owned by New Mexico’s pueblos, which are sovereign nations home to a few hundred or, in some cases, a few thousand Native Americans.
At the center, you can tour a collection of murals by Pueblo artists, dine at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, and shop at the Indian Pueblo Store. The kitchen also offers classes around Indigenous food ways.
The ABQ Artwalk occurs the first Friday of the month from 5-9 pm. The program offers an eclectic conglomerate of local musicians and artists displayed block-by-block. You can also sometimes find people dressed in costumes! While you can bring your kids to the Artwalk, it might be a better fit for an adult-only night.
Whatever route you choose to take, if you pack a smile and a positive attitude, We’re sure you’ll enjoy your Phoenix to Santa Fe road trip. If you find yourself wanting to create your own road trip, make sure to check out Roadside America for offbeat tourist such as yourself. Happy travels!
Make your Phoenix to Santa Fe road trip even more exciting by adding a thrilling Santa Fe rafting adventure! Feel the adrenaline as you navigate through the rapids of the Rio Grande or the Rio Chama River, and enjoy the breathtaking New Mexico scenery from a unique perspective. With experienced guides and top-notch equipment, we guarantee an unforgettable New Mexico river rafting adventure. Don’t miss the chance to add this exciting activity to your itinerary! We’ll save you a seat.