Discover the best route to drive from Tucson, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This scenic, interesting route includes pristine white desert sands, limestone caves, ghost towns, UFO incident stories and Pueblo-style adobe architecture on a road trip that travels through Arizona and New Mexico.

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Discover more incredible places – Best things to do in Santa Fe New MexicoRio Grande Gorge is an out of this world seismic experience, Unforgettable adventures – top things to do at Lake Powell, Top 10 scenic drives in Canada that will leave you in awe, and if you are thinking about cruising to Alaska check out Explore best ports of call Alaska Cruise Guide.

Best route from Tucson to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Distance: 785 miles

Duration: 12 3/4 hours driving over 3 days

COVID-19 Travel Restrictions for Arizona and New Mexico

When you are ready to travel again to embark on a road trip from Tucson to New Mexico, check each area carefully for the latest COVID-19 restrictions.

The Arizona Office of Tourism provides information about the restrictions here.

The state of New Mexico requires face coverings for everyone, residents and visitors. If you are travelling from a high-risk area, there are mandatory quarantine rules to follow. Find out more.

Top things to do from Tucson to Santa Fe

Discover the most scenic route from Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico, travelling past deserts, rolling hills and unique geological land formations. It is a wide open area of historic sites, cowboys, oil country and stories of UFO sightings.

The drive

There are lots of interesting places to explore along the route from Tucson, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This trip will take just over 12 3/4 hours driving time covering 795 miles. The trip can comfortably be done in three days.

Make overnight stops in Tombstone, Arizona and Alamogordo, New Mexico before arriving in Santa Fe.

Add two or three days more to include a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, the largest undergound caves in North America.

Day 1: Tucson to Tombstone, Arizona

Distance: 122 miles

Duration: 2 hours and 10 minutes drive, without stops

Start your day early from Tucson, head east on Highway I-10, 43 miles to exit 302, then south on AZ-90, nine miles to Kartchner Caverns State Park, the first stop.

The terrain heading out of Tucson, Arizona driving towards historic Tombstone.

The terrain heading out of Tucson, Arizona driving towards historic Tombstone.

Heading down the highway from Tucson to Bisbee, Arizona. Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Heading down the highway from Tucson to Bisbee, Arizona. Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Kartchner Caverns

Spectacular Kartchner Caverns is one of the top 10 caves in the world. Make a reservations in advance if you plan to take a cave tour.

The underground caves are located one hour from Tucson.

Allow two hours to tour the caves. Find out more about the natural wonder of Kartchner Caverns.

Inside the caves Kartchner Caverns State Park Arizona State Parks and Trails

Inside the caves at Kartchner Caverns State Park Arizona State Parks and Trails. Photo Courtesy of Arizona State Park

Bisbee, Arizona

Next, drive about 55 miles or about 1 1/2 hours for a short visit to Bisbee, an old copper mining town with a well preserved historic area.

As you near the town you will see the impressive open pit copper mine on your right. Be sure to take an immediate right turn to park in a viewing spot.

Across from the viewing area is an old Shell gas station.

Visit the old open-pit copper mine in Lowell, Arizona Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Visit the old open-pit copper mine in Lowell, Arizona Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Save some time to wander down this street past the 1950s vintage cars and Indian Motorcycles of historic Lowell, a suburb of Bisbee.

At the bottom of the hill is Bisbee,  a town where time has stood still.

Discover 10 things to do in historic Bisbee, Arizona,

Best route to take from Tucson, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stop to explore Lowell and the vintage 1950s cars and motorcycles. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Best route to take from Tucson, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stop to explore Lowell and the vintage 1950s cars and motorcycles. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Old West Town of Tombstone

After exploring Bisbee, retrace your steps back up the road 25 minutes to the old west town of Tombstone where you can experience a reenactment of the O.K. Corral shootout or take a tour.

Hotels –  Search for accommodation in Tombstone by using Booking.Com and any commissions earned will help keep this website running.

Top things to do road trip southwestern Arizona - Tucson to Tombstone and Bisbee

A stagecoach travels down the main street in Tombstone, Arizona. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Top 5 things to do in Tombstone Arizona - Watch a gunfight on the street in Tombstone Arizona. Photo Courtesy of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce.

Gunfight on the street in Tombstone Arizona. Photo Courtesy of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce.

Day 2: Tombstone, Arizona to Alamogordo, New Mexico

Distance: 325 miles

Duration: 5 hours, without stops

Before leaving Tombstone, remember to check for road closures caused by White Sands missile testing near Highway 70 and for weather conditions of the White Sands desert.

Willcox, Arizona

Depart Tombstone and drive just over 1 hour to make a brief stop in Willcox, Arizona to discover cowboys, wineries, birding and unique sky island.

Take a road trip to southwestern Arizona to Discover cowboys, wineries and birding in Willcox, Arizona. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Take a road trip to southwestern Arizona to discover cowboys, wineries and birding in Willcox, Arizona. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Can you see the likeness of the famous Apache Chief Geronimo’s face in the mountainside? Look for it near Willcox, Arizona as you continue east to New Mexico.

Can you see the likeness of the famous Apache Chief Geronimo’s face in the mountainside? Look for it near Willcox, Arizona as you continue east to New Mexico.

White Sands Missile Range

Continue 225 miles or about 3 1/4 hours to the White Sands Missile Range Museum to learn about rockets, missiles and space activities of the USA.

Entering the NASA White Sands Missile Range on the road to the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Entering the NASA White Sands Missile Range on the road to the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Road trip to the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico. The NASA Missile Range is nearby. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Entering the NASA White Sands Missile Range on the road to the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

At the top of the hill before descending down the road to the area entering the area of the NASA White Sands Missile Range heading towards White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

At the top of the hill before descending down the road to the area entering the area of the NASA White Sands Missile Range heading towards White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

On the road just before the entering the area of the NASA White Sands Missile Range heading towards White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

On the road just before the entering the area of the NASA White Sands Missile Range heading towards White Sands, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument

The chiseled Organ Mountains can be spotted just east of Las Cruces, New Mexico before you reach White Sands.

This unique geological area has hundreds of archeological sites and is tied to well-known historic events and famous western characters like Billy the Kid and Apache tribal Chief Geronimo.

Astronauts have used the area for training exercises.

The rugged terrain of the “Needles”, shown in the photo below, rise 8,990 feet. The peaks are some the steepest in the United States.

Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument New Mexico. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument New Mexico. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Look for prickly pear cactus. The cactus blooms usually in the spring and then again in the summer. The colourful prickly pear fruit is edible. Try a prickly pear margarita served at many establishments in the southwest. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Look for prickly pear cactus. The cactus blooms usually in the spring and then again in the summer. The colourful prickly pear fruit is edible. Try a prickly pear margarita served at many establishments in the southwest. Photo: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

White Sands National Monument

Just 34 minutes further down the road is the world’s largest gypsum sand dunes at White Sands National Monument.

Settle in to see the sunset.

Read more about the best times to visit White Sands National Monument.

Drive 16 miles or 20 minutes to Alamogordo for your next overnight stay and dinner. We stayed at the clean and reasonably priced Magnuson Hotel and Suites which included breakfast.

Hotels –  Search for accommodation in Alamogordo by using Booking.Com and any commissions earned will help keep this website running.

Watch for blowing dust on the highway from the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico.

Watch for blowing dust on the highway from the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico.

Discover top things to do road trip to White Sands National Monument New Mexico 5107 68

Road trip to the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico

Use caution while driving along the highway in this area. Zero visibility is possible when the winds whip up carrying the fine white sand from the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico.

Use caution while driving along the highway in this area. Zero visibility is possible when the winds whip up carrying the fine white sand from the largest Gypsum dunes in the world, White Sands, New Mexico.

Trip planning guide to White Sands, New Mexico. Top things to do in White Sands National Monument.

Explore the stunning, pristine white sand dunes of White Sands National Monument.

Sunset at White Sands National Monument. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Sunset at White Sands National Monument. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Day 3: Alamogordo, New Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Distance: 342 miles

Duration: 5 hours and 47 minutes, without stops.

Artesia, New Mexico

From Alamogordo head west on US-82, driving two hours to Artesia.

Artesia was once an old stagecoach stop on the way from Roswell to Carlsbad.

Don’t miss this historic town’s incredible bronze sculptures. More about Artesia coming soon.

Discover the most scenic route from Arizona to Santa Fe, New Nexico travelling through past desert, rolling hills and unique geological land formations. It is a wide open area of historic sites, cowboys, oil country and stories of UFO sightings. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Discover the most scenic route from Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico travelling past deserts, rolling hills and unique geological land formations. It is a wide open area of historic sites, cowboys, oil country and stories of UFO sightings. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Roswell, New Mexico

Drive north 41 miles on US-285 to Roswell for a visit to the International UFO Museum. Learn about the nearby 1947 UFO crash, the aliens and the conspiracy.

Learn more about the town of Roswell and the alleged UFO encounter.

Visit Roswell learn about the UFO crash, sightings and aliens. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Visit Roswell to learn about the UFO crash, sightings and aliens. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Continue north on US-285, 192 miles or 3 hours to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

We fell in love with the adobe like architecture and warm welcoming atmosphere.

Learn about the best things to do in Santa Fe New Mexico.

Optional side trip – Carlsbad Caverns National Park

From Artesia drive south on US-285 and US-180/US-62 for one hour to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Carlsbad Caverns is home to the largest caves in North America.

Take a virtual tour of the Carlsbad Caverns with park ranger Pam Cox.

Find out more about the park and cave tours.

The image below is from the Big Room, one of the most visited areas of the cavern.

After your visit to the park, retrace your route to overnight in Roswell, New Mexico then continue north to Santa Fe.

Hotels –  Search for accommodation in Roswell by using Booking.Com and any commissions earned will help keep this website running.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park - Temple of the Sun features a column surrounded by hundreds of stalactites. The surrounding area is one of the most heavily decorated places in the Big Room. Photo Credit: NPS Peter Jones

Carlsbad Caverns National Park – Temple of the Sun features a column surrounded by hundreds of stalactites. The surrounding area is one of the most heavily decorated places in the Big Room. Photo Credit: NPS Peter Jones

Car Rental Tip

When we drove this route we picked up a rental car at the Tucson International Airport.

DO NOT rent a car from Avis’ airport location. We had the worst experience here. Next time we will consider renting from Alamo.

Since our road trip of 2,500 miles was taking us into Colorado we rented a SUV. All SUV rentals from Avis did not have a security cover in the trunk area to help hide luggage.

This is a very important piece of equipment, especially when you will be stopping at many sightseeing spots before checking into overnight accommodation.

Avis told us all of the security covers had been stolen, so they do not order cars with this feature. We ended up taking a intermediate size car so we could put our luggage in the trunk.

Before we arrived in Bisbee, Arizona, the rear left tire started to deflate. We checked into the Tombstone Grand Hotel but did not use the room and called Avis.

They told us we would have to return the car back to the airport. They would send someone to change the tire. The emergency assistance came after my husband took the tire off.  The emergency person told us the tire had a manufacture’s defect.

We had a nerve wracking drive back to Tucson on the temporary tire, driving well under the speed limit.

The car rental company blamed us for the tire damage and charged us an extra $300. After numerous phone calls and emails over several months we managed to get our $300 back.

The Tombstone Grand Hotel did not refund the hotel night, and we understand their policies.

We ended up paying twice for the first night’s accommodation as we needed to stay at an airport hotel in Tucson before starting out to retrace our steps the next morning.

We hope this guide will save you time and be a valuable resource for your incredible journey. Please leave any comments, questions or suggestions below and remember to subscribe so you will see the next update. Get the latest travel tips and learn about destinations from near and far.

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