View inside Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument with mountains and forests dotted in background

Road trip from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

Published by Dianne Titos on August 8 2023

The beautiful road trip from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings will take you through vast desert landscapes, past historic towns, and into the rugged terrains of the Gila Wilderness. It offers you a blend of Southwestern scenery and culture, brimming with epic places to explore.

The 250-mile road trip from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings taking around 6 hours, either directly past Las Cruces, Deming, and Lordsburg, or via White Sands National Park to also see Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte Lake.

This journey is packed with unique city sights and mesmerizing landscapes. Make sure to keep reading to see all the very best places to visit for a day or more as you make this unforgettable journey. You are spoilt for choice.

How far are Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings from El Paso, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes between El Paso, Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings
RouteDistanceDriving Time
The Direct Route250 miles5 hours 50 minutes
White Sands National Park Detour375 miles8 hours

Heading along the Direct Route from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings takes about 5 hours and 50 minutes to complete and spans around 250 miles without detours.

Choosing the alternative White Sands National Park Detour extends the journey to 375 miles, taking roughly 8 hours before you arrive in Silver City and then Gila Cliff Dwellings.

While both trips could be completed in a single day, there are so many attractions and natural wonders to explore along the way, that we suggest taking 2-3 days.

Ancient Mogollon Ruins at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in the Gila National Forest, New Mexico
You will be fascinated by the ancient living quarters you will see at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
William Silver/

Best road trip route from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

Both routes offer an array of natural sights and interesting stop-offs, with varied landscapes along the way.

The shorter Direct Route will guide you from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings through the heart of the New Mexico desert. This journey presents you with the sights of Las Cruces, Deming, and Lordsburg, with expansive desert plains dotted with distant mountain ranges.

A detour to the City of Rocks State Park between Deming and Silver City can reward you with stunning, large sculptural rock formations, particularly mesmerizing at dawn or dusk, showcasing beautiful panoramic views.

If you're a lover of vast landscapes and natural parks, then the White Sands National Park Detour is your go-to route.

After passing through Las Cruces and close to the stunning Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, with awe-inspiring mountain peaks and deep canyons, you'll then have the chance to soak in the hot springs of Truth or Consequences and admire the desert oasis Elephant Butte Lake.

How to drive from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between El Paso and Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.

The Direct Route

Begin your journey on the Direct Route by heading north out of El Paso on Interstate 10 (I-10), passing through Las Cruces, where you can visit Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park and New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

Continue west on I-10, stopping at Recycled Roadrunner Sculpture, a local landmark, for a quick snap.

Further along I-10, you will reach the town of Deming, home to Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, or detour south to Pancho Villa State Park and Rockhound State Park, both providing unique insight into New Mexico's rich natural history.

Afterwards follow I-10 west, moving towards Lordsburg to visit Shakespeare Ghost Town, a stark reminder of the mining history of the region.

As you approach Silver City, take a detour to the City of Rocks State Park, where unusual rock formations dot the landscape.

Follow the signs for Route 180 to finally reach Silver City, home to Western New Mexico University Museum and Silver City Museum. Gila National Forest and Faywood Hot Springs are also in reach. For added adventure at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, simply follow NM-15 north.

A hiking path leads to dramatic views of the Organ Mountains from the western side of the Monument
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is easily reachable on both routes and is much worthy detour on this beautiful road trip.
Robert Waltman/

The White Sands National Park Detour

Similarly as the Direct Route, leave El Paso along Interstate-10 (I-10), stopping at Las Cruces to visit the historical sites and museums.

Your drive northwards then continues on US Route 70 to Dripping Springs Natural Area, brimming with wildlife and picturesque landscapes.

Following US Route 70, you then arrive at White Sands National Park, an ocean of jaw-dropping white gypsum dunes. Take a walk on the Interdune Boardwalk and Dune Life Nature Trail to experience the stunning environment up close.

Afterwards, drive Interstate 25 north to Truth or Consequences. Along this stretch, you'll find Fort Selden State Monument and Percha Dam State Park. In Truth or Consequences, be sure to visit the Geronimo Springs Museum and the Riverbend Hot Springs. The ideal location for a relaxing overnight stay.

After your stopover continue driving towards Elephant Butte Reservoir just off Interstate 25, before venturing along State Route 152 to witness the high-altitude panorama from Emory Pass Vista.

Lastly, find your way to Silver City via the winding SR-152 and US-180, where you can visit the Silver City Museum and Gila National Forest, before following NM-15 to reach Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

White Sands Dunes in New Mexico, USA with white sands against a blue sky.
Visiting White Sands National Park might add quite a few miles to your road trip, but you won't regret the extra driving time once you reach the otherworldly landscapes covered in glittering gypsum sand.
Galyna Andrushko/

Best places to stop between El Paso, Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

The journey between El Paso, Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings may only take a day, however we suggest spending more time exploring this beautiful route with an overnight stay along the way.

Here are some of the best places we suggest for a night or two, with plenty of interesting and exciting things to discover while you are there.

Take in the historical sites of Deming

Deming, a cultural and historical hotspot, is an excellent choice for an overnight stop along The Direct Route, located around 2 hours into the journey. As the gateway to the historic site of Rockhound State Park, Deming lets you tap into your adventurous side and hunt for geodes, agates, and other semi-precious gemstones.

Known for its historical landmarks, the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum is a must-visit. This treasure trove of local artifacts offers insight into the area's rich past. Not too far away you can find Pancho Villa State Park, and learn about the Mexican General's raid in 1916 plus a stunning botanical garden.

The front exterior of the brick building that houses the museum on a sunny day
For any history buff, Deming Luna Mimbres Museum comes on the top of places to visit while in Deming.
Rosemarie Mosteller/

Known as the "official duck race capital of the world", Deming hosts the annual Great American Duck Race drawing in enthusiastic crowds every year. Visit in August and you can experience some added charm in this fascinating town.

While exploring Deming, we recommend the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Deming Mimbres Valley for your stopover. It is conveniently close to the highway and has many attractions on the doorstep.

Elsie Vega Park, a lush green space only 500 yards away, is perfect for a relaxing walk, or visit Triangle Park just 700 yards away, offering beautiful landscapes and open space.

The hotel's all-year-round indoor swimming pool is a great relaxation spot, with a delicious hot and cold breakfast buffet each morning setting you up well for a day exploring before heading back onto the road.

Relax and unwind with a stay in Truth or Consequences

Truth or Consequences, affectionately known as "T or C," makes for an intriguing overnight stop about halfway along The White Sands National Park Detour.

This unique town got its name from a 1950 game show and is celebrated for its therapeutic natural hot springs that have drawn visitors for relaxation and rejuvenation for decades.

Prominent rock formation resembling an elephant emerging from the water on a clear day at Elephant Butte Lake State Park
Visit the Elephant Butte Lake State Park during your stay in Truth or Consequences.
david lada/

Explore the rich local history at the Geronimo Springs Museum, or take a leisurely stroll in the heart of Downtown T or C to soak up the laid-back vibes. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Elephant Butte Lake State Park, with its beautiful vistas, offers an opportunity to reconnect with nature.

Perhaps the quirkiest aspect of T or C is its unexpected role as a frontier in space tourism. The town is home to Spaceport America, the world's first commercial spaceport.

For your overnight stay we recommend the Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa. This hotel offers a splendid wellness center with a spa for massages and treatments, as well as complimentary access to hot springs baths. Afterwards enjoy dinner and drinks on a pretty outdoor terrace overlooking the gardens.

The great hotel location is close to many sites, such as the T or C Art Park only 250 yards away, a feast for the senses with its vibrant displays of local artistry. A short 500 yards stroll takes you to Triangle Park, a serene oasis for leisurely walks amidst green landscapes.

Where to stay when you reach Silver City

Silver City, renowned for its rich mining history and dynamic arts community, is brimming with historical gems and acts as the gateway to the grand expanse of the Gila Wilderness and ancient cliff dwellings.

A key attraction is Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, offering a peek into the life of the Mogollon people who once inhabited the region. You can also delve into Silver City's fascinating past at the Silver City Museum.

Unique buildings sporting the New Mexico-style architecture in Silver City on a sunny day
Teleport back in time to an era long ago during your visit to quaint Silver City.

Afterwards enjoy a leisurely stroll through the scenic Big Ditch Park. This uniquely transformed park, once the town's Main Street, is a quirky reminder of an unexpected flood in 1895 that left a creek bed in its wake.

Only a stone's throw away from the city center, The Murray Hotel is an elegant Art Deco-style establishment that adds a dash of vintage glamour to your stay. This hotel is as rich in character as the town itself, with original features from its inauguration in 1938 tastefully preserved.

Wake up to a complimentary continental breakfast and enjoy the hotel's offering of all-day freshly brewed organic coffee and tea. If you wish to explore the thriving local art scene or the vibrant culinary culture, the heart of Silver City is just a 5-minute stroll away.

Things to see on a road trip from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

Whilst the journey between El Paso, Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings may not be long, there is plenty to explore and enjoy along the way. Make sure to check out the places we think you should be taking more time at as you make this beautiful journey.

The Direct Route

  1. Recycled Roadrunner Sculpture - A massive 20-foot tall sculpture of New Mexico's state bird, the roadrunner, made entirely from recycled materials, located in Las Cruces.
  2. Deming Luna Mimbres Museum - This museum in Deming offers a window into the region's rich history with collections that cover geology, archaeology, local art, and military history.
  3. Pancho Villa State Park - A state park located on the Mexico–United States border, offering visitors a detailed look at the 1916 Mexican raid led by Pancho Villa and the subsequent U.S. military expedition.
  4. Rockhound State Park - Situated in the Little Florida Mountains southeast of Deming, this park encourages visitors to hunt for geodes, quartz crystals, and other semi-precious gemstones.
  5. Spring Canyon - Part of Rockhound State Park, Spring Canyon is known for its dramatic mountain views, picnic spots, hiking trails, and a profusion of wildflowers in the spring.
  6. Dragonfly Trail Pictographs - A trail near Silver City that leads hikers past several ancient petroglyphs, including the namesake dragonfly, etched into the rock by indigenous people centuries ago.
  7. City of Rocks State Park - This unique park features an array of large sculptured rock formations rising out of the desert, formed by volcanic activity over 34 million years ago.
  8. Shakespeare Ghost Town - Once a thriving mining town, now a ghost town in southern New Mexico, offering guided tours that recount the Wild West history of the area.
Abandoned buildings in Shakespeare Ghost Town surrounded by desert landscape in New Mexico
For a different scenery, visit Shakespeare Ghost Town, and take a guided tour with the Wild West as your backdrop.
Jeff Schultes/

The White Sands National Park Detour

  1. White Sands National Park - Famous for its expansive field of white gypsum sand dunes, this national park in New Mexico offers visitors a surreal and beautiful desert landscape for hiking, sledding, and exploration.
  2. Interdune Boardwalk - A fully accessible boardwalk in White Sands National Park, providing stunning views of the surrounding gypsum dunes and offering educational displays about the unique ecosystem.
  3. Dune Life Nature Trail - This interpretive trail in White Sands National Park provides a glimpse into the unique flora and fauna that inhabit the gypsum dune fields.
  4. Fort Selden State Monument - An historical site near Las Cruces, preserving the ruins of a 19th-century fort where the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed and where Douglas MacArthur lived as a child.
  5. Percha Dam State Park - A park on the Rio Grande known for its mature cottonwood trees, birdwatching opportunities, and serene camping and picnic spots.
  6. Caballo Reservoir - This large reservoir on the Rio Grande offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and camping against the backdrop of the Caballo Mountains.
  7. Geronimo Springs Museum - Located in Truth or Consequences, this museum showcases local history, geology, and culture, with exhibits on Apache history and pottery from the Mimbres culture.
  8. Riverbend Hot Springs - An oasis along the Rio Grande in Truth or Consequences, offering visitors the chance to soak in therapeutic mineral hot springs with views of the river and desert.
  9. Elephant Butte Reservoir - New Mexico's largest reservoir, famous for boating, fishing, and water sports, with a surrounding state park that provides camping and hiking facilities.
Silhouettes of two fishing boats in the water at sunset at Elephant Butte Reservoir
Elephant Butte Reservoir is a tranquil paradise for anglers and those looking for a quiet moment.
Judd Irish Bradley/

Both Routes

  1. Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park - This 305-acre park along the Rio Grande river in southern New Mexico is a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, featuring diverse wildlife and walking trails through lush woodlands and wetlands.
  2. La Posta de Mesilla - An iconic restaurant located in the historic district of Mesilla, it offers authentic New Mexican cuisine in an adobe building that's been a landmark since the 1840s.
  3. New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum -A 47-acre interactive museum in Las Cruces that brings 3,000 years of agricultural history to life through exhibits, demonstrations, and livestock.
  4. Dripping Springs Natural Park - A beautiful park located at the base of the Organ Mountains, known for its spectacular views, abundant wildlife, and historic sites including the remains of a resort and a tuberculosis sanatorium.
  5. Short Park - A popular spot in Silver City with playgrounds and open green spaces, perfect for picnicking, playing sports, or simply relaxing.
  6. Western New Mexico University Museum - Houses the largest collection of Mimbres pottery and culture, as well as extensive exhibits on the region's indigenous cultures and history.
  7. Silver City Museum - Situated in a restored 1881 Mansard/Italianate home, the museum offers a look into the rich and colorful history of Silver City and the surrounding region.
  8. Emory Pass Vista - Located along the Scenic Byway in the Gila National Forest, this viewpoint offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, forests, and valleys.
  9. Gila National Forest - Encompassing over 3 million acres, this vast wilderness area features high mountain ranges, deep canyons, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
  10. Faywood Hot Springs - A unique resort in southwestern New Mexico, offering visitors the chance to soak in natural hot springs, set against a backdrop of desert landscapes.
Panoramic view across hilly landscape east from Emory Pass
You can visit Gila National Forest on both routes and we highly suggest following the trailhead to Emory Pass to take in the stunning views.
Robert Brown Stock/

Best time to go on a road trip from El Paso to Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

Whilst Silver City is a destination that can be enjoyed throughout the year, we suggest avoiding peak summer as temperatures can climb to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, making travel and discovery somewhat uncomfortable. The risk of monsoon thunderstorms, particularly in July and August, is also more likely so may affect access en route.

However, if you set off in spring, you can expect mostly sunny and dry conditions, with temperatures ranging from a comfortable 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Do bear in mind, though, that gusty winds might limit visibility due to dust storms in open desert areas.

Fall, with its milder temperatures and less crowded attractions, is one of the best times to take this trip. The roads are usually clear, and the Silver City's surroundings are awash with autumnal hues. Meanwhile winters see temperatures dip down to between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit, with Silver City and surrounding Gila Wilderness potentially seeing snow. It'll be beautiful but can be unpredictable.

There are also several events that add a flavor of local culture to your journey, and if you take the Direct Route you can enjoy the Deming Duck Races in August and Luna County Salsa Festival in July.

A detour through the White Sands National Park allows you to witness the Elephant Butte Balloon Regatta in August and the Trinity Site Open House at the White Sands Missile Range in April and October. Both are epic events.

Upon reaching Silver City, you can immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Silver City Blues Festival in May or get creative at the Silver City Clay Festival in July. This city certainly always has something going on.