El Camino Real
State: New Mexico
Length: 299.0 mi / 481.2 km
Time to Allow: 9 hours to drive or several days to explore
This byway’s full name is El Camino Real De Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land), and its use predates the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock by about 22 years. Used by Don Juan de Onate in 1598 to bring 300 settlers toward their new home, this byway was a major thoroughfare for almost 300 years, and as such there are countless cultural and historic landmarks worth exploring along this incredible road. This byway winds from southern New Mexico to Santa Fe and brings explorers alongside the countless towns that sprung up along this major route during its 300 years of use. While the highway is a bit long for a day trip, it offers countless side locations well worth spending a whole day exploring, making it an ideal destination for the dedicated traveler looking to learn more about New Mexico’s history, both from the perspective of European colonists and the Native Americans and Paleo-Indians who made their homes in the area long before Europeans set foot on the continent.
This byway follows the original route of El Camino Real as closely as possible, with the new path skirting along some of the no-longer-accessible regions. Not only are there countless historic sites and trails along this byway that are well-worth exploring, but each individual township offers a past and present look into the history of New Mexico. Those interested in outdoor recreation can stop at Caballo Lake and Elephant Butte Lake State Parks, as well as Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. This byway offers a unique experience, as the road honors a path taken hundreds of years ago, while also winding tourists through modern-day cities, home to plenty of entertainment and cultural highlights well worth stopping to visit.
El Camino Real was witness to both the Mexican-American War, and parts of the American Civil War, meaning there are plenty of ruins, forts, and battle locations for casual hikers and dedicated historians alike to marvel at. Those looking to relive a portion of this historic byway can visit la Jornada del Muerto (the Journey of Death) between Mesilla and Socorro, a popular swimming location for modern tourists that does little to live up to its terrifying name. Thankfully, this byway lets visitors experience the beauty and splendor of the desert from the comfort of their cars, allowing them a level of security not afforded to the original travelers of this area.
No matter if you find yourself on El Camino Real to experience a glimpse at American history, or are looking to explore the bustling cities that make their home along this road, you are sure to leave this area with a royal appreciation of the gorgeous scenery and impactful history that makes up this area of New Mexico, as well as a newfound appreciation for modern air conditioning and road travel.
More New Mexico Byways
You can check out additional Byways in New Mexico by clicking on the list of byways below, or by going to the New Mexico Byways home section. To find even more of scenic byways in the United States, visit our scenic byways map.