Las Cruces, New Mexico, is a laid-back Southwestern town with a strong economy, beautiful architecture, a growing art scene, and outstanding annual festivals. With amazing hiking and riding paths, old mining ghost towns, ancient Indian rock art, desert plants and animals, wonderful local products, various eateries and marketplaces, and limitless blue sky, the area offers fantastic outdoor activities.
The finest things to do in Las Cruces are listed below. Certain attractions may be closed temporarily or require reservations in advance. Currently, some eateries only provide pickup. It’s possible that the hours and availability have changed.
It’s unclear whether this was supposed to relate to physical crosses, but due to its strategic location at a crossroads between two motorways, the city is now more commonly referred to as ‘The Crossroads.’
The city is recognised for being the temporary home of legends like Billy the Kid and Mexican leader Pancho Villa, and the surrounding area was once known as a refuge for miners.
Las Cruces is now well-known for its delectable and diverse New Mexican cuisine, as well as its lovely blend of southwestern hospitality, history, and culture.
Things To Do In Las Cruces New Mexico
1. Old Mesilla
Mesilla, in southern New Mexico, is a picturesque historical town. Mesilla, founded in 1848, played a significant part in the Mesilla Valley’s historic, economic, cultural, and political life. Messila’s current people are a colourful blend of American Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American cultures, descended from Mesilla’s early settlers. Mesilla is one of the most frequented towns in the region because of its colourful architecture, art, and customs that preserve the town’s cultural uniqueness.
The National Register of Historic Places lists the plaza, the structures facing the plaza, the acequias, and entire blocks of classic colourful residential adobe buildings beyond the square. The plaza, which was formerly the town’s social, spiritual, and economic hub, is now a popular gathering spot for tourists and locals, with various festivals and celebrations held on its weathered cobblestones. The 1906 Basilica of San Albino may be seen from Mesilla Plaza’s south end, where an earlier adobe chapel erected in 1857 had stood. Today’s restaurants, stores, and B&Bs are many of the colourful adobe houses.
Old Mesilla now boasts beautiful shops selling regional handicrafts, and if you want to eat some traditional Mexican cuisine, you’ve come to the correct area.
Old Mesilla is also claimed to be haunted by spirits of miners and historical characters who once lived and died in the area, so if you’re feeling courageous, take a walking tour of the downtown plaza area, which is said to be haunted.
2. Fort Selden State Monument
The United States Army built Fort Seldon in 1865 as a fortification to defend the local inhabitants who had settled in the Mesilla Valley area.
Much of the fort has since been decommissioned, but the adobe style brick defences may still be explored, and there is also a fascinating and informative visitor centre with a permanent exhibition that tells everything about life on the border.
If you visit on a weekend, there are frequently live demonstrations that will make you feel as if you have travelled back in time.
• Dripping Springs Natural Area
Las Cruces is a picturesque, cultural, and historical site. That is why so many of its attractions have been designated as national and state treasures. One national park (White Sands), one national monument (Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks), a state monument (Fort Selden), and two state parks are all within easy driving distance of the city (Mesilla Valley Bosque and Leasburg Dam).
Fortunately, tourists to Las Cruces can reach the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which was established in 2014 to protect half a million acres of breathtaking mountain landscape. There are a variety of trails with varying degrees of difficulty, one of which is found in the Dripping Springs Natural Area.
You can hike a three-mile out-and-back easy to moderate gravel track through this habitat of grasslands, desert scrub, pinyon pine, juniper, and oak. There’s a decent possibility you’ll see species like rock squirrels and mule deer, as well as the Gambel’s quail with its charming topknot, along the way. (Notice who plays “scout” in any covey of quail — the bird that stands guard for the rest of the flock and sends warning signs.)
Red-tailed hawks and golden eagles soar above you in this lovely alpine location. You’ll wish you could soar on their wings to get a closer look at the monument’s rugged heights, such as Baylor Peak (elevation 7,700 feet).
This walk has waterfalls and a spring, which you’ll discover at the visitor centre. There will also be fallen beams and rubble from old historic structures. These remnants, unlike other ruins in the American Southwest, are not the cave houses of the region’s first occupants. One ruin is the ruins of a late-nineteenth-century alpine camp. The other is the sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, or what’s left of it.
Take your time strolling around and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on one of the many benches along the path. Although you won’t be smelling the roses in the spring, the prickly pear cactus and alpine flowers will be in full bloom.
• The Roadrunner
The roadrunner, New Mexico’s state bird, is an excellent guardian for Las Cruces. It’s obviously more fun to see the genuine thing, but if “Paisano” (the Mexican moniker) doesn’t come your way, check out the wacky imitation at a picturesque rest spot, which is 40 feet long and 20 feet tall.
The goal, according to Olin Calk, the local artist who finished the sculpture in 1993, was to make a statement about public art constructed from repurposed materials. Calk used elements from the city’s recycling facility and thrift stores to create this creative Las Cruces emblem. Locals know they’re almost home when they see The Roadrunner.
To appreciate the artistry’s details, you must get up close. The “skin” is made of sheet metal, and the beak is fashioned from a hammered metal trash can. A Volkswagen headlight is surrounded by a small bike tyre as the eye. The head with crest is a mosaic of rhinestone-encrusted shoes, belts, and windshield wiper blades. Paintbrushes, golf clubs, crutches, toys… how many can you recognise?
The valley view across to the Organ Mountains holds the Roadrunner’s attention at all times. “Catch” it off Interstate 10 at mile marker 134, west of Las Cruces.
• Chile Pepper Institute
Human nature is enthralled by the biggest and best of anything, and there’s always a need to know what the limits of endurance are. When it comes to chiles, some people prefer it scorching hot, and you might be one of them. Head to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute if you’ve ever been tempted to try one of the world’s hottest chillies.
Bhut Jolokia (aka Ghost Pepper) was discovered here, with a Scoville heat rating of around one million. Even though it’s scorching, it’s not the world’s hottest pepper; that honour belongs to the Carolina Reaper, which has a heat rating of over two million.
To put this in context, a mild jalapeno has fewer than 10,000 units, whereas a moderate habanero has less than 300,000.
What’s the big deal about chile? You may read about the science behind capsaicin, the chemical that makes chile peppers fiery, at this international association for chile pepper research and teaching.
If you want to heat up your kitchen, there’s a teaching garden and a gift shop with Sancto Scorpio hot sauce, Hatch chile sauce, and Holy Jolokia BBQ sauce. The institute develops 150 types of chilli peppers, including the super-hot Bhut Jolokia, which you can buy seeds to cultivate yourself.
Fabian Garcia, New Mexico’s grandfather of Mexican cuisine, laboured for nearly 40 years cultivating the cultivar that gives New Mexican chiles a consistent shape and spice level. Garcia was not only responsible for the chile industry, but he also introduced pecan trees to New Mexico, which resulted in a second economic boom.
• Desert Scenery
Hiking in the springtime when the cactus plants are blossoming is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Trails here run alongside the Rio Grande and lead to peaks and canyons. Allow yourself time to acclimate when adventuring at higher elevations ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet, and bring additional drinking water, snacks, a hat, and sunscreen. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and birdwatching are all great ways to unwind. Overnight in a beautiful Organ Mountains campground at the base of cliffs.
Head for the paths on Tortugas mountain with the giant letter “A” closer to Las Cruces, three miles east of NM State University.
La Llorona Park (called after the Hispanic tale of the “weeping woman”) is a city park with a six-mile paved trail. While walking or biking along the Rio Grande, look for herons, egrets, and ducks. The 1.5-mile interpretive loop walk in Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park is paved and wheelchair accessible, making it even easier.
Explore 18 miles of trails on rolling, flat, and open terrain at Aden Hills Recreation Area if you enjoy ATVing and motorcycling.
• Farmers & Crafts Market
The Farmers and Crafts Market takes place twice a week: On Saturdays, it takes up seven city blocks; on Wednesdays, the action moves to La Plaza de Las Cruces, which is not the same as Old Mesilla Plaza. At the markets, hundreds of vendors and craftspeople sell everything from organic vegetables to specialty food items (such as pecan oil), jewellery, and ceramics.
Taste unique confections such as the Las Cruces version of peanut brittle (chile pecan) and candied nuts – flavoured with chile, of course! Meet the craftsmen who make the local arts and crafts while you learn about them. The whole experience is a rich meal, given the ethnic richness of the Las Cruces area.
• Picacho Mountain Festival
Picacho Mountain Festival, which takes place over a weekend in September, dedicates the Sunday segment to Cowboy Country Day. A fun run or walk, music, vendors, Jeep trips, guided tours to the summit, and a chile relleno cookoff are all planned for this day.
The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum hosts Cowboy Days, a two-day festival held in March.
The Las Cruces Country Music Festival is a three-day festival featuring a fun Sunday lineup that includes a “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” country breakfast, a western wear fashion display, and live music. At these festivals, you may kick up your heels with the whole family.
• Play Golf At Championship Course
Nothing beats a round of golf on a beautiful sunny day. Las Cruces is a hole-in-one for you if this is the case. Las Cruces offers a fantastic golfing experience for all skill levels in the shadow of the magnificent Organ Mountains, with 350 days of sunlight in a city where golfers fill scorecards every season of the year.
Sonoma Ranch Golf Course is a championship-style course. The popular Red Hawk Golf Club is six miles away, and it has been ranked as one of the top five public golf courses in New Mexico by Golfweek since 2018. Another championship course at New Mexico State University is ranked in the top 25 of all college courses in the United States by GolfPass.
• Monuments to Main Street Festival
The Monuments to Main Street Festival is a month-long celebration of the history, culture, nature, film, and food of Las Cruces and the surrounding area that takes place every September. If you have a month to spare, make it count by attending this festival. It has taken care of all the planning for you and goes much beyond the typical touring tourist’s agenda.
Here’s a taste of what’s on offer: A full moon walk in White Sands National Park, a balloon and music festival in White Sands, a slot canyon tour, an aeroplane ride, jeep tours, a float trip down the Rio Grande, and a hike up Picacho Peak are all on the itinerary.
• Lake Valley Ghost Town
Lake Valley Historic Town Site is a ghost town in the midst of nowhere. Lake Valley transformed into a bustling hamlet of 4,000 people in 1878, nearly overnight. When the silver ran gone, the village was abandoned almost as quickly. Rather from being relegated to the dustbin of history, ancient structures are now maintained and explained.
The historic schoolhouse houses a museum and a chapel where you can pray not to run out of gas or water. Take sunscreen and a hat with you since “dry heat” is still scorching when there’s no shade. Check to see if the location is available to the public on the day you plan to visit.
• New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
Museums in Las Cruces bring a lot of history and culture, with one in particular standing out for those who enjoy being active participants and observers. On 47 acres, the interactive New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum will teach you about the area’s 3,000-year history of farming and ranching. View real-life demonstrations of cow milking, blacksmithing, water dowsing, and quilting.
This city-run museum is a family-friendly destination featuring activities for all members of the family. Plants and real desert animals are on display. Attend a turtle, snake, or lizard feeding on a regular basis. This museum, as well as the city’s other three – the Museum of Art, Branigan Cultural Center, and Railroad Museum – are all free to visit.
You can see fossils, a newborn mammoth skeleton, and the country’s greatest collection of petrified wood at the Zuhl Museum, which is half natural history museum and part art gallery. Is that petrified wood? It’s not as frightening as it appears! Be prepared to be wowed!
• Railroad Museum
The Railroad Museum is located in the Santa Fe Depot, which is a historically significant portion of Las Cruces, and is ideal for train enthusiasts.
The Railroad Museum in Las Cruces features a variety of permanent exhibitions that chronicle the storey of the growth of railroads in and around Las Cruces, as well as historical artefacts.
There are also model railways on display, as well as model tracks and train line charts.
The site’s crowning attraction is an actual caboose, which, while no longer in use, still captures the essence of train travel in Las Cruces.
• White Sands National Monument
Visitors will come across the world’s largest gypsum dune field 45 miles east of Las Cruces.
The monument has been described as a landscape from another world by visitors, and the dunes provide insight into the native plant and wildlife that manages to flourish in these arid and difficult conditions.
The natural white sand dunes here are unspoiled, and there are picnic sites as well as opportunities to surf or toboggan down the dunes.
The monument covers 275 square miles, and there are guided excursions available, such as the Sunset Stroll Nature Walk, that are led by local guides who will inform tourists about all of the surrounding attractions.
• Museum of Nature and Science
Although the Museum of Nature and Science is not one of Las Cruces’ larger museums, it nonetheless has a number of displays that illustrate the narrative of the local flora and wildlife.
To that purpose, there is a small zoo with approximately 40 distinct living creatures from the region, with a focus on desert animals. The Museum of Nature and Scientific also features rotating exhibitions from various science and nature institutes across the country, making it an interesting site to visit if you’re interested in the dry landscapes surrounding Las Cruces.
• Fountain Theater : Things To Do In Las Cruces
The Fountain Theater, built in 1905 in the distinctive adobe style, is notable for being New Mexico’s oldest movie theatre and a fine example of period architecture.
The theatre is not just a historic New Mexico landmark, but it is also still in good functioning shape, screening films on a regular basis for patrons to enjoy, including classic films that film enthusiasts will like. If you enjoy Western movies, this is a must-see.
• Branigan Cultural Center : Things To Do In Las Cruces
If you want to learn more about the Las Cruces area, especially when it comes to the arts, the Branigan Cultural Center provides a little bit of everything.
The Branigan Cultural Center houses the Museum of Fine Art and Couture as well as the Las Cruces Historical Museum, as well as local art such as sculptures, pictures, regional textiles, and historical mementos.
If you happen to be in the vicinity, this eccentric collection is well worth a look.
So this was our list of some of the Best Things To Do In Las Cruces NM, I hope you found it a bit useful for you.