Tired of theme parks and over-crowded attractions? Looking for something different for your family vacation? Think Santa Fe. You’ll discover unique and memorable experiences for the entire family. Santa Fe offers many options that kids and their parents will enjoy from outdoor fun to history, art and even culture. Here are some Santa Fe family friendly activities you can enjoy.
The great outdoors
Outdoor activities that are kid-appropriate are often age and weather dependent. Hiking is something you can do with kids of almost any age. You can put little ones in a pack. As they get older, the length and level of difficulty will depend on their age and ability. But, even if it’s only a short walk on a trail rather than a hike it will get the kids out into nature for a bit. Or take the kids geocaching. The thrill of finding the next clue will keep then engaged. Check out the trails in Santa Fe National Forest where over a million acres await. If hiking is too ambitious, in warmer weather there are great spots to picnic in the National Forest and at Hyde Park State Park.
In winter, if there’s snow on the ground there are trails for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. There’s also downhill skiing at Ski Santa Fe where they offer daycare as well ski lessons for children three and older.
In spring and early summer there’s rafting (some age restrictions apply) on the Rio Grande or Chama Rivers. While some companies have more relaxed policies, some won’t take kids under four and we second that recommendation. For kids under seven or eight try a float trip. There are just a few tame rapids that kids will love and floating down the river is a lot of fun.
If the kids enjoy biking, there are lots of trails to check out both in town and on the mountain. A long, scenic bike trail follows the railroad tracks from Santa Fe out to Lamy, about 20 miles south of the city. If your kids are a bit older there’s horseback riding and hot air ballooning
Another great outdoor option is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden where the entire family can view and learn about plants that thrive in Santa Fe’s high and dry climate.
Santa Fe is a city of museums and some of them are very kid-friendly.
The Girard Wing at the Museum of International Folk Art will delight the entire family. The colorful dioramas filled with folk art from around the world are kid-sized and enchanting. Kids get really enthused here. This gem was overheard one day after a young boy who had discovered a display of angels and devils. “Mommy, mommy, there’s angels and devils,” the young voice exclaimed. “Where’s God?” You may leave the Girard Gallery with a smile on your face. I always do. The museum has a children’s play area as well as interactive activities, coordinated with their exhibitions, for the family to enjoy.
The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture as a permanent time-line exhibition, Here, Now and Always that will interest school-age kids. The museum also had a hands-on children’s area.
A bit farther afield, the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, about 45 minutes northwest of Santa Fe, is worth the ride. Besides exhibits on the Manhattan Project and the making of the first atomic bomb, there are a host of interactive exhibits; some will appeal to school-aged kids. The hands-on TechLab is geared towards families. While up on the hill, as locals call it, check out the Los Alamos Nature Center home to the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. They have a lot of activities and exhibits, many interactive, that kids will love including live animals to check out, the Children’s Discovery Area, an outdoor nature area as well as a planetarium that is open on weekends.
At the moment, the Santa Fe Children’s Museum is closed. Check before you come to see if it’s reopened. Their hands-on exhibits will delight the young.
Want to combine outdoors with history? The area has a lot of history to offer. Ancient pueblo sites to Spanish Colonial ones to old forts from Territorial New Mexico, there;s lots to explore.
One of the things that makes Santa Fe unique is the chance to explore indigenous culture both past and present. The entire family will love Bandelier National Monument. The main site was home to the ancestors of the current-day Cochiti Pueblo. You can explore cliff dwellings; kids (and their parents) can even climb ladders and enter a few of the caves as well as view remains of the Tyuonyi Pueblo. There are also hiking trails and camping here.
If you want something a little less visited, check out Tsankawi, ancestral home of the current-day San Ildefonso Pueblo. The site, part of Bandelier, is located east of the main site (and closer to Santa Fe). A loop trail takes you to the mesa-top where you can view the remains of an old pueblo. Ladders lead down to cliff dwellings. The trail then loops back to the beginning.
The Santa Clara Pueblo welcomes visitors to the Puye Cliffs. Young pueblo members lead guided tours to explore the cliff dwellings and mesa-top pueblo while sharing the history of their ancestors.
If you’re up for a longer trip, head for the historic Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can see the classic-style multi-storied buildings that inspired local pueblo architecture. While in Taos explore other family-friendly activities such as the Wild Rivers Recreation, part of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
Before visiting a pueblo call and make sure they’re open. They occasionally close unexpectedly for deaths and other reasons. Taos Pueblo closes for about six weeks each winter. For 2016 the closure is March 8th until the end of April.
Spanish Colonial sites
The seasonally-open El Rancho de las Golondrinas is a living history village. Set in an old paraje (wayside camping spot) on the Camino Real southwest of the city, the site recreates life during Spanish Colonial times (early 1600s to 1822). Weekends are the most fun. Docents wearing period dress recreate daily life, performing activities such as weaving, bread-baking and farming. Weekends in spring, summer and fall often feature fairs and special events that may appeal to your family. They almost always feature kid’s activities. Check their calendar to see what’s happening when you’re in Santa Fe.
If you visit Taos, check out the Hacienda de los Martinez, one of the few remaining “great houses” from the Spanish Colonial era rich in the history of this unique area of New Mexico.
If you want to visit a current-day pueblo, San Ildefonso has a visitors’ program. The best time to visit any of the area’s current-day pueblos is for feast days and dances. These are spiritual ceremonies. You are visiting a sovereign nation with its own rules. Read about pueblo etiquette before you go.
Before statehood in 1912 New Mexico was a United States Territory. Fort Union National Monument the remains of a US Army Fort, is about an hour north of Santa Fe. The adobe skeleton of this Civil War era fort is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The entire family will enjoy exploring it. Don’t miss the old wheel ruts from the historic Old Santa Fe Trail which can be viewed here. Before the railroad came through this was the major wagon route from Missouri to Santa Fe. Taos has the Kit Carson Home & Museum, a National Historic Landmark, once home to the infamous Indian scout.
This is just a sampling of Santa Fe family friendly activities that you can do for authentic experience the entire clan will enjoy.
Our travel-planning and tour business The Santa Fe Traveler can arrange a unique Santa Fe family experience tailored just for you.