Based in a “Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico’s biggest cities by population all make fascinating places to live and visit. Although the town sizes dwindle quickly, its largest cities contain sites of historic pop culture and music, as well as record-setting aerial tramways and hot air balloon festivals.
With its seemingly unlimited supply of dramatic landscapes, New Mexico is an irresistible draw to outdoor lovers. With deep cultural roots, influences from natives and settlers alike, and well-preserved ruins, it’s a haven for history buffs and curious minds.
Some find themselves fascinated with New Mexico’s contributions to the development of atomic bombs and tests of missiles and rockets. If it’s not clear already, this southwestern state has something for everybody; it’s a must-visit if you are interested in Southwest arts and culture, museums, or iconic churches.
Here are the ten biggest cities in New Mexico, in order of the highest to lowest populations:
Nicknamed “The Duke City”, and referred to almost strictly as Burque or ABQ by locals, New Mexico’s largest city is home to 564,559 Albuquerqueans as of 2020. The city sits in the high desert near the center of the state. The city is perhaps best known as the filming grounds for AMC’s Breaking Bad.
The city’s rich history dates back to about 12,000 years when it was first settled by Native Americans. Europeans made their way over in the 1500s, and the city of Albuquerque was founded in 1706. With the construction of a railroad in the late 1800s, the city became easier to access, rapidly expanding its population.
One of the most popular activities for visitors in the city is riding the Sandia Peak Tramway, which features a 2.7-mile aerial ride. It’s the third-longest aerial tram span in the world.
Other popular attractions include visiting the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science and exploring Old Town. This historic district invites you to wander through art galleries and museums and (likely) gawk at the San Felipe de Neri Church, the “spiritual heart” of Albuquerque.
Each year in October, awe-seeking explorers travel to the city to witness the International Balloon Fiesta — the largest gathering of hot air balloons and balloonists in the world. This event is over a week-long, and viewers can witness an astonishing 500+ balloons soar.
Las Cruces, NM
Located near the southern border of New Mexico, Las Cruces hosts a population of 111,385 people, according to the 2020 census. Popular theories state that the name of the city originated when wooden crosses were erected in honor of tragic deaths in the area, although there is controversy as to whose deaths inspired the crosses.
The city’s New Mexico State University is the state’s oldest public institution of higher education. Several museums exist in the area, including the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, the Museum of Nature & Science, and the Las Cruces Museum of Art.
Tourists often visit the town of Old Mesilla, which is just a few minutes south of Las Cruces. This historic community features the San Albino Basilica, the Mesilla Farmers and Crafts Market, the legendary Billy the Kid courthouse, and restaurants serving up tasty food.
Symbolic of New Mexico’s state bird, the Recycled Roadrunner — originally constructed entirely of materials from the city’s landfill — oversees a rest stop on the side of the I-10. It stands over 20 feet tall atop a large rock and is composed of old sneakers, headlights, and electronics.
Rio Rancho, NM
The most populous of Albuquerque’s suburbs, Rio Rancho is home to 104,026 residents as of 2020. It’s the state’s fastest-growing community and was named 38th in 24/7 Wall St’s “America’s 50 Best Cities to Live” in 2014.
A young city, not incorporated until 1981, Rio Rancho began as a retirement community and was known as “Rio Rancho Estates”. But it soon began attracting younger families after its incorporation.
Known for its countless parks and outdoor attractions, Rio Rancho encourages activities in nature, such as walking trails and participating in outdoor sports. The suburb is less than an hour from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, which offers views of remarkable conical rock formations composed of volcanic deposits dating back to seven million years ago.
Santa Fe, NM
With 87,505 residents as of 2020, New Mexico’s capital takes the cake as the oldest capital city in the U.S. Founded in 1610, the artsy city is located in the north-central part of the state and home to the oldest government seat and church in the country.
The capital city draws crowds with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which holds over 3,000 of her works. Countless other galleries (over 80 of which dot the famous half-mile stretch of Canyon Road) highlight the city’s Native American culture, history, and rich artistic roots.
The New Mexico History Museum occupies three buildings, one of which is the Palace of the Governors. Built in 1607, it’s the “oldest public building in continuous use constructed by European settlers in the continental United States.” The museum also encompasses the Chávez Library building, which was erected in 1907.
This historic Southwest destination also (surprisingly) boasts proximity to multiple ski resorts, like Ski Santa Fe and Taos Ski Valley, making it one of the state’s top ski towns. Outdoorsy folk will also find themselves entertained by Santa Fe’s admirable hiking trails, nearby hot springs, and swimmable lakes.
Located in the southeastern corner of the state, Roswell is home to around 48,422 people according to the 2020 census. This city is best known for being the site of an alleged UFO crash in 1947.
With this fun fact in its history, there should be no surprise that Roswell boasts an array of unusual attractions. Many find themselves drawn to the International UFO Museum & Research Center, the Roswell Spacewalk, and Alien Zone. Extraterrestrial fanatics will find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of alien and UFO content that they stumble upon in this area.
Roswell also offers visitors and tourists alike access to museums that showcase the city’s art and history. Spring River Park & Zoo is a 34-acre outdoor area that features native animals, an antique carousel, and recreational grounds.
If you have a zing for history and the outdoors, the small town of Farmington is a must-visit. Home to 46,624 people as of 2020, the town is located on a mesa near the junction of three rivers.
Farmington provides countless activities for entertainment. It features one of the top municipal golf courses in the country, Pinon Hills Golf Course. Locals and visitors are also sure to enjoy a 27-hole disc golf course and an outdoor summer theater that holds musical events throughout the summer.
Perhaps best known for the Aztec Ruins National Monument, Farmington offers a plethora of enticing, outdoor activities. The ruins showcase the country’s oldest and largest reconstructed kiva, a subterranean chamber used for social and ceremonial events.
The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness provides dramatic views and areas for exploration and photography. The Chaco Culture National Historical Park has ruins from 850 to 1200 AD in the largest excavated prehistoric ruins in the U.S. Countless other outdoor wonders, like Lake Farmington and Navajo Lake State Park, make Farmington an essential item on an outdoor lover’s list for jaunts through New Mexico.
After the discovery of oil and natural gas in the area in 1926, the town of Hobbs underwent a dramatic increase in population. As of 2020, it was home to 40,508 residents. It’s now known as the supply, trading, and shipping point for the oil-drilling industry.
Located on the border of New Mexico and Texas, Hobbs is a cultural melting pot, with influences from cattle ranchers, Hispanic traditions, and farming practices. Those looking to learn more about its cultural roots can visit the Western Heritage Museum and Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame. Lea County Center for the Arts offers live music and dance productions, art shows, and children’s art classes.
Visitors may find themselves trying their luck at the Zia Park Casino, fishing for trout at Green Meadow Lake, or catching a game at the Veterans Memorial Complex.
Situated about 130 miles north of Hobbs on the Texas border, Clovis had a 2020 population of 38,567 people. It’s best known for its agricultural lands and its contribution to rock and roll history.
Clovis visitors have the opportunity to experience unique musical attractions, like touring Norman Petty Studios, which is maintained as it was in the 50s. Or explore legendary collections at the Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum.
Those looking to get outside and play can venture to Ned Houk Memorial Park. This peaceful space covers 3,200 acres of land and features a disc golf course, basketball courts, trails, fishing ponds, and more.
The small city is also home to the Hillcrest Park Zoo, Windrush Alpacas, and the Clovis Rock Gym. With no shortage of entertainment, music lovers, animal enthusiasts, and adventurers alike will find their niche in Clovis.
Perhaps one of the state’s most well-known towns — despite its size — Carlsbad is home to around 32,238 people, according to the 2020 census. Located in southeastern New Mexico, it offers endless landscapes for sightseeing, fishing, swimming, hiking, and camping. The town has a plethora of natural wonders to flaunt.
First and foremost, the town’s most popular attraction is the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It features over 100 bat-filled underground chambers, ancient sea ledges, and Rattlesnake Springs, a wetland that attracts endless desert wildlife. Those craving further adventure in Carlsbad can explore Sitting Bull Falls, the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park, and Brantley Lake.
Arts and culture enthusiasts can also scratch their itch in this little town at the Carlsbad Museum and Art Center or the Artist Gallery. The Carlsbad Community Theatre offers high-quality productions to locals and tourists alike.
Alamogordo is the ultimate outdoor junkie’s dream location. Home to only 30,898 residents as of 2020, the area maintains the pristine condition of its dramatic landscapes and preservation of historic remains. The town was founded in 1898 after the extension of the railroad and was named for a grove of “fat poplars” near the Pecos River.
Alamogordo is only ~15 miles from White Sands National Park, a vast natural landscape that boasts a 275 square mile field of glistening gypsum crystals. The dunes are actively moving at a rate of up to 30 feet per year due to winds. The park is completely surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, which was home to the world’s first atomic bomb test in 1945 and 42,000 missile and rocket tests in the subsequent 76 years.
Alamogordo has attractions to keep any tourist or local endlessly entertained. Meet the animals at Alameda Park Zoo, or check out the New Horizons Dome Theater at the Museum of Space History. In winter go snowboarding at Ski Cloudcroft, just a thirty-minute drive east, or Ski Apache in an hour and a half to the northeast.
Frolic around and camp at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, or take a tour at Heart of the Desert. The latter is the state’s oldest producing pistachio grove. Small but mighty, this town ensures excitement around every corner.
With flagship attractions that include the filming site of Breaking Bad, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands National Park, New Mexico is an awe-inspiring location for those seeking adventure. From ancient ruins to snow-covered slopes, the state provides must-sees for an array of travelers. The residents’ appreciation for the local arts and history produces a welcoming, proud atmosphere, which will stimulate excitement in anyone who visits.