As we step eagerly into fall, there’s no better time to take in Santa Fe and its surrounding sites. The summer crowds have calmed, the weather is cooling off, and there’s something in the air (Piñon. It’s chiles or piñon.) that’ll leave you super charmed. Whether it’s roasting chiles, vibrant art, bright balloons, changing leaves, full moons, wavy dunes, or food like no other—here’s a list of wonder-filled trips and to-dos to make the most of your time in Santa Fe’s autumn! Now all you have to do is get here…
For a dreamy, enchanting experience that’ll likely lurk in your mind forever, make sure to be in town between October 5-13 for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s the world’s largest hot air balloon fest and it happens to be just an hour drive from Santa Fe. What’s more, there’s live music, glamping, chainsaw carving, and plenty of good eats!
Early rise? At 5:45 a.m. about a dozen balloons begin a choreographed inflation set to music for a launch time typically around 6 a.m., called Dawn Patrol. The hot air balloons illuminate the early-morning darkness, resembling floating lanterns, and are an indicator of the conditions for the day’s flights. Then, when it’s light enough for the balloonists to see their landing sites, they descend.
If you’re at the fiesta for a weekend, Mass Ascension typically kicks off around 7 a.m., when all 500 bright balloons (with striking patterns and colors, some in the shape of bumblebees, ladybugs, a high-top sneaker, two bears hugging, etc.) launch in less than two hours!
If you don’t make the early shows, you can still see inflated balloons glowing in unison in the night sky at the Balloon Glow events. If the thought of interestingly-shaped balloons gets you excited, attend the Special Shape Rodeo.
In town for a longer stretch? If it’s in the budget and on your bucket list, you can hop in a private hot air balloon basket for about $400 per person.
When fall hits in Santa Fe, there’s often a smoky, roasted, vaguely spicy smell that lingers throughout town. Roll down your car windows or give yourself a pause while walking the Plaza and take it in. It’s chile roasting season.
There are over 100 strains of long green chiles in New Mexico alone, and the region’s soil and climate are what makes them taste so dang good. While you’re here this fall, sample them all and decide what kind of chile person you want to be.
Spicy Hot Tip – Saturday Farmer’s Market in Santa Fe:
Come to watch the barrel roasters turn their chile drums. Leave with a pillowcase-sized sack of smoky, warm green chiles or sweet, heavy reds…or both!
Beer lovers should consider taking a tour of Santa Fe Brewing Company (on Saturdays at noon) to see where the microbrewery magic happens. It’s about a 15-minute drive from downtown and the perfect time to taste the flagship brews and seasonal swills, and you can even grab a growler or two of your faves to go.
This is also the time of year when their Oktoberfest is available; a clean-finishing beer that blends crisp maltiness and Bavarian hops — it’s enough to make you wanna grab a salty pretzel! And if the word Oktoberfest makes you want to grab a big ol’ stein, check out the annual Red River Oktoberfest from October 11-13.
Don’t Miss: New Mexico Brew Fest
Taking place during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the New Mexico Brew Fest is a great opportunity for beer lovers to gather, listen to live music from local and regional bands, chow down on cuisine from local food trucks, and of course, sample craft beers from breweries across the Land of Enchantment. NMBF 2019 will go down on Oct. 12 from 1-6 p.m. at Expo New Mexico, featuring beers from Bosque Brewing Co., La Cumbre, Bow & Arrow, and many more!
This local, counter-only spot, open since 1958, is home to many folks’ favorite breakfast burrito in town. El Parasol’s version combines egg, potato, cheese, and your choice of meat, smothered with chile. While you’re there, grab some homemade biscochitos for dessert. This New Mexican cookie is the perfect end to a savory meal.
The Pantry has been serving some of Santa Fe’s favorite food (including breakfast all day) since 1948. Relish the huevos rancheros — corn tortillas topped with eggs, chile and cheese, served with pantry fries and beans.
Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid
This historic roadhouse saloon was established in 1899 and features an inn and theater, but the Mad Chile Burger (winner of the Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown) alone justifies a visit.
Peaceful mornings, crisp afternoons, and cool evenings that beg for a piñon log fire…this is the stuff that makes autumn in New Mexico so glorious. If you’re looking to get outside and enjoy the weather, these destinations are more than worth the trek.
If you have time in your itinerary, the 233-mile schlep south to White Sands National Monument is worth the otherworldly experience. A sea of wavy, snow-white dunes from the Tularosa Basin creates the world’s largest gypsum dune field, and sunset here is more New Mexican magic to throw in the cauldron. Wait for the moment when the sand and sky turn to various shades of pink!
Visiting in the fall weeks, when temperatures aren’t topping 100 degrees, makes a ton of sense. While hiking the dunes, be sure to pop off your shoes and feel the gypsum on your feet. It’s the second softest mineral in the world (followed only by talc), and even in the dead of summer it’s cool to the touch. Even though it doesn’t absorb heat, it does produce a mean surface reflection, though, so be sure to pack your hat and sunglasses (seriously, the glare is real).
Park Ranger Kelly Carroll recommends making your way to a dune that’s high up and watching the sunset behind the mountains. We say come for the sunset and stay for the Full Moon Hike. There are six total per year, and the last one of 2019 is on Oct. 12. The mile-long hike is a leisurely one, good for families, but you’ll want to book your reservations early!
There’s a short period of time when the aspen leaves become bright golden-yellow. From town, you can peer up at the Sangre de Cristo foothills and see them in clusters. Take the ski lift (for $16 roundtrip) or hike the Aspen Trail in Hyde Memorial State Park. Changing aspens are a Santa Fe sight to see, but also to hear — as the wind blows through the leaves, the melody is said to sound like spirits whispering.
Fun fact: A group of aspen trees is considered one organism, with one root system, according to the National Forest Foundation. They’re even called clones because each tree is a genetic replica of the other.
The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a geological wonder, known for its cone-shaped tent formations that were created by volcanic eruptions 6-7 million years ago! Take a hike on the national recreation trail and enjoy the sights.
When you’re on vacation, the common phrase is “rest and relaxation.” Fortunately, Santa Fe and the surrounding region have more than enough options for weary travelers and locals alike to unwind.
Your body will appreciate the healing powers of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, with soothing, spring-fed pools, a dry sauna and a full resort. This is worth the 45-minute trip to Española. The property is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of hikeable public land, including the P’osi Pueblo Ruins Trail — about a mile loop to pueblo ruins where P’osi generations lived for over a thousand years.
Heading to Ojo in the evening? It could save you a few bucks if you pop in after 6 p.m. (although rates are reasonable all day long). After your soak, take in the stars or stare at the flicker of an outdoor fire — you’ll feel healed.
Ten Thousand Waves
If you prefer to stay in Santa Fe, the Japanese-inspired Ten Thousand Waves is the perfect place to take a dip among the junipers, book a scalp massage, or lean back in an underwater recliner built for two. After building an appetite, throw on a robe and walk to Izanami for mouthwatering small plates and a sake flight.
Absolute Nirvana & Madeleine Inn
A luxurious spa in downtown Santa Fe, Absolute Nirvana is located amidst the gardens of Madeleine Inn, a delightful B&B built in 1886. The spa specializes in authentic Balinese treatments, as well as many types of massage. A wonderful combination of convenience and luxury!
Fall in Santa Fe is a great time for anyone to visit, and that includes kids and families! Whether your crew is looking for action or a chill activity to enjoy together, we’ve got you covered.
McCall’s Pumpkin Patch (September 21st – October 27th)
Located just east of Albuquerque, McCall’s Pumpkin Patch takes place on a family-owned farm in Moriarty, NM from Sept. 21 – Oct. 27. Visitors can pick out pumpkins, go for a hayride, get lost in a 16-acre corn maze, or take a ride on the giant slide before checking out the pig races!
New Mexico United (season ends October 18th)
Soccer fans, unite! In their inaugural season, Albuquerque-based New Mexico United have taken the USL Championship by storm. Home games last through mid-October and feature the highest average attendance in the league. Don’t forget to pick up one of those sweet, Meow Wolf-sponsored jerseys!
Festival of the Cranes
The 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes takes place in Socorro from Nov. 20-23 at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Birders and wildlife enthusiasts flock to the refuge in order to witness the winter migration of sandhill cranes, with the peak viewing happening 30 minutes before sunrise!
Santa Fe is the second oldest town in America, making it easy to get into the spirit(s) here. In the words of Original Santa Fe Ghost Tour owner/storyteller Peter Sinclaire, “Many souls have lived here, and some are still here.” On Sinclaire’s guided walk, you can expect a combination of street theater, the paranormal, Santa Fe history, and a trip to La Posada de Santa Fe to catch a glimpse of the famous ghost and former resident, Julia Staab. Tours are on Friday or Saturday evenings, and if you’re hoping to book close to Halloween (the busiest time for the tours), there are more frequent tours throughout the week.
Meow Wolf Santa Fe’s House of Eternal Return — where art meets jungle gym meets fantasy novel — is an ideal destination for the fall months. Once inside, a blanket of explorable art swaddles your inner child. Climb through secret passageways, play, crawl, run, explore dozens of rooms, or get engulfed by beauty and weirdness. Halloween always draws a crowd with a twist of something different, but most fall days promise a more intimate experience!
In addition to the exhibit, Meow Wolf’s event stage and the David Loughridge Learning Center will both be holding a number of Halloween-centric events this year, including an adult slime time workshop, a creature-building workshop, a Bollywood Thriller dance workshop, and a number of other concerts and performances!
Has it been a minute (or a lifetime) since you’ve visited Meow Wolf Santa Fe? You’ll be happy to know that long, 3-hour lines are a thing of the past with our new timed ticketing system.
So, how does it work?
Timed Ticketing allows our guests to purchase tickets online for entry to House of Eternal Return at a specific hour of the day. This greatly reduces your wait time. Time slots are made available every 20 minutes from the time the exhibit opens until 6 p.m. (After 6 p.m., you can still buy tickets at the door). When purchasing your tickets online, you can select from any check-in time that is not sold out!
We’ll see you in the Multiverse…this fall!