The summer crowds have calmed, the weather is cooling off, and there’s something in the Santa Fe air that’ll leave you super charmed. Roasting chiles, vibrant art, bright balloons and changing leaves, full moons above the mountains, and incredible food are all in season.
There are must-sees in New Mexico that peak in autumn, and whether you’re a first-time Santa Fe visitor or a local, you’ve only got a short (but magical) time to experience the wonder before the snow starts coming down.
We’ve collected a season’s worth of adventures—some day trips, half-day excursions, and some quicker outings—for your consideration. Enjoy!
When fall hits in Santa Fe, there’s a smoky, roasted, vaguely spicy smell that lingers through town. It’s chile roasting season from the end of September through October, an indicator of fall in New Mexico, the start of the school year and sweater weather.
In parking lots and farmers markets across town, barrel roasters turn their fresh chile-filled drums. These are the spots to buy a pillowcase-size sack of roasted chiles—a souvenir for the entire year (just pop them in the freezer).
Don’t want the mess of making chile sauce yourself? Here are our top picks to get your chile fix around town.
There’s a short period of time at the beginning of the fall season when the aspen leaves become bright golden yellow. From town, you can peer up at the Sangre de Cristo foothills and see the sprinkling aspens in clusters.
Hike the Aspen Trail in Hyde Memorial State Park or get above the treeline on a trek in Santa Fe National Forest.
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.
If you’re not ready to leave the park after a crisp fall day of hiking, book one of the 6-people yurts in Hyde Memorial campground.
For a dreamy, enchanting experience that’ll likely lurk in your mind forever, be in town October 1-9 for the 50th anniversary of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s the world’s largest hot air balloon fest and it happens just an hour drive from Santa Fe. To avoid the biggest crowds (especially on weekends), grab a morning session pass to see Dawn Patrol.
At 5:45 a.m., about a dozen balloons begin a choreographed inflation set to music for a launch time that typically happens around 6 a.m. The hot air balloons illuminate the early-morning darkness resembling floating lanterns, and are an indicator of the day’s flights.
If you’re at the fiesta for a weekend, 7 a.m. kicks off Mass Ascension, when all 500 bright balloons (with striking patterns and colors, some in the shape of bumblebees, ladybugs, a high-top sneaker, and even two bears hugging) launch in less than two hours. The quick waves of floating balloons are enough to give you chills, and the early morning and evenings may, too, so be sure to wear layers.
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.
You can’t miss Day Ghost, a Japanese-inspired rice lager that is just as immersive as being at the House itself. Make the quick drive to Albuquerque to see the Marble Brewing mothership or sip this refreshing treat inside Float Cafe & Bar after a day exploring Meow Wolf Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Brewing Company is 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 to enjoy later.
If beer steins, lederhosen, and a weekend full of German festivities are your favorite part of the season, check out Red River Oktoberfest from October 7-9.
Santa Fe is the second oldest town in America, making it easy to get into the spirit(s) here. Step back in time to meet the ghosts from New Mexico’s illustrious and little-known past at The 4th Annual Santa Fe Spirits of New Mexico on October 22. The living history museum, El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, will be lit by lanterns and campfires for a family-friendly, yet appropriately spooky Halloween atmosphere.
Dance to festive mariachi music among bright, elaborate decorations and traditional ofrendas (altars), and join a Glow-in-the-Dark Parade. Celebrate loved ones who have passed during the iconic Día de Muertos celebration on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, October 28 & 29.
If you find yourself with plenty of time to head south, a 273-mile trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park for the candle-lit lantern tour could be a fun way to see the local caves. It’s a moderately difficult 2-hour tour on dirt and rock trails, and hiking boots are recommended because of the uneven and slippery surfaces. While you’re visiting, be sure to check out the Bat Flight Program, where thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats emerge from the cave in search of dinner.
Fun fact: According to the National Park Service, September is a good time to see boatloads of bats because this is the time when summer-borne baby bats join the flight along with migrating bats from colonies further north.
Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort is a 70-acre paradise filled with serene gardens, hiking trails, spring-fed thermal soaking pools, and puppies!
Adoptable rescue dogs from Española Humane are running around at the magical place known as the Puppy Patch. Need more cuteness? Pull up a chair and share your healthy snacks with some fluffy silkie chickens (not open for adoption, but very open to snuggles).
The must-visit contemporary museum in town is SITE Santa Fe. Tickets are free and new exhibits featuring paintings, weavings, sculptures, and so much more travel through SITE regularly. Check the events page for concerts, exhibit openings, poem readings, and more.
Find your own path, climb through secret passageways, play, crawl, run, explore dozens of rooms, get engulfed by beauty and secrets, and collect inspiration inside Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. If you’re checking out an event in the venue space, many weekend music acts play until 2 a.m.
Crowd traffic in the House seems to decrease during the fall, which means you’ll likely have a more intimate, exclusive experience where you can truly take in the details.
House of Eternal Return was created by over 100 local artists, and everyone who explores the exhibit seems to get something completely unique back from their experience.
The sunset is seriously a sight to see from anywhere in Santa Fe. Since the tallest building in town tops out at 5 stories, the expansive views of the sunsets over the nearby mountains are never blocked.
For a view of the whole city, take a 5-minute walk northeast of the downtown Plaza and up the brick walkway to the Cross of the Martyrs. Here you can see the warm sun ending another day over earth-toned Santa Fe. Or for a more private sunset site recommended by locals (think Santa Fe’s own make out point), check out the tucked away viewing spot on the corner of Calle Dorthia and Camino Francisca.
Fall in Santa Fe, New Mexico is filled with aspen leaves turning gold, the taste of freshly roasted chile, the smell of piñon wood burning in outdoor fire pits. With the shift in seasons, there’s no better time to take in Santa Fe and its surrounding sites.
You’ve got your list of wonder-filled trips and to-dos, now all you have to do is get here.