Driving the Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe

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Is it the journey or the destination that matters most?  The scenic route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe (better known as the New Mexico Turquoise Trail) lets you enjoy both.  The route takes you past scenic views of Sandia Crest, through old mining towns like Golden and Cerillo, and into the artist enclave of Madrid. Whether you’re looking for a more enjoyable route from the airport or looking for a great Santa Fe day trip, add the Turquoise Trail to your plans.

Driving from Albuquerque to Santa Fe (or vice versa)

On the interstate, Albuquerque to Santa Fe is just 65 miles, or about an hour’s drive.

The Turquoise Trail, though, takes you up the long way, detouring via Tijeras and Route 14.  Although the drive is only a little longer in distance, it’ll take 1 hour & 40 minutes because of the lower speed limit.  If you have time, you can add enough stops along the way to turn the journey into an all-day excursion.  

Highlights of the New Mexico Turquoise Trail

Officially, the Turquoise Trail starts in Tijeras, on historic Route 66, with a musical road as you drive eastbound. As your car passes over rumble strips at 45 miles per hour, tactile vibrations and audible rumblings are transmitted into your car, playing America the Beautiful clearly. The Singing Highway here is one of only two musical roads in the USA, making it worth the short detour.

Video via Youtube via albuqray

Continuing northbound on Route 14, you’ll enjoy views of the gorgeous Sandia Mountains, where Sandia Crest overlooks the city at 10,678 feet. A short detour will take you to Sandia Peak for hiking, sledding, or a ride up the world’s second longest tramway.

For something more eclectic, stop in at the Tinkertown Museum, a folk museum of old signs, coin-operated machines, and miniature carvings.

tinkertown museum new mexico // turquoise trail
Tinkertown Museum

As you return to Route 14, you’ll drive through history. Of the old mining towns, Madrid is the most stop-worthy. The town has come alive with arts and crafts. Enjoy shopping for unique jewelry made from local turquoise, sample organic chocolates, and try out homemade lotions and soaps. If you work up an appetite, this is also a great place to stop for a snack. Jezebel Soda Fountain has ice cream in locally inspired flavors, like red chile chocolate or caramel green chile.

A great last stop on the Turquoise Trail is Garden of the Gods, a park that shows off the cool rock formations in the area. The natural desert setting here just outside of town highlights the scenery that once inspired so many painters, sculptors, and other residents that made Santa Fe famous as an artist’s city.

Garden of the Gods New Mexico on the turquoise trail
Garden of the Gods

Once you’ve arrived in Santa Fe, the journey itself is over, but the city is still a wonderful place to visit.  Even on the shortest of visits, dine on New Mexican cuisine at one of the town’s restaurants, peruse art galleries for the perfect souvenir, and bask in views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Next time you’re in Santa Fe, skip that “pedal to the metal” mentality and enjoy this leisurely side trip on the Turquoise Trail in New Mexico.

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11 thoughts on “Driving the Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe”

  1. my wife does not like windy roads especially with “cliffs”. Is the highway very windy and or mountainous? Thank you

  2. Hi,
    We are thinking of going to Albuquerque and Sante Fe for our 25th wedding anniversary. Is the trail worth it ? Thinking of driving the SF for the day only..maybe twice to avoid staying in the higher elevation.
    I get altitude sick pretty easily.
    I don’t want to ruin the trip, like I almost did 25 years ago! Lol
    Does this sound like a good idea?

    1. @Eileen, If you only have one day for Santa Fe, I think there are better uses of your time unless there’s something specific along the route you want to see anyway. I also get altitude sickness but avoiding physical activity until acclimated is a huge help, as is staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep. I know…all of this is easier said than done sometimes! Hope you have a wonderful anniversary and congrats on 25 years!

  3. Outstanding article. Thank you. I’m driving up to Ghost Ranch first week of May from ABQ and plan to stop in Santa Fe for the evening – now I know a better way to get there!

  4. Anyone can confirm that the Turquoise trail to Santa Fe from Albuquerque doesn’t involve hairpin turns and scary drop-offs? Like en route to Yosemite or Big Sur? Thank you.

    1. @Donna, This is not nothing like the California hairpin turns or drop-offs. My mom is a nervous rider and has no issue on the Turquoise Trail.

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