Home to the largest Pow Wow in the country, New Mexico has a deep connection to its indigenous roots. Santa Fe is a movable feast for those interested in Native American culture while Taos has one of the best preserved pueblos in the world, still inhabited to this day.
Pair these unique experiences with incredible museums, delicious indigenous restaurants, and beautiful natural wonders that are still considered sacred spaces and you can easily create an entire vacation centered on New Mexico’s First Peoples. They don’t call it the “Land of Enchantment” for nothing. Whether you’re seeking out petroglyphs or want to attend a Pow Wow, these are the best Native American cultural experiences in New Mexico!
New Mexico is home to 23 federally recognized tribes. Learn more about these tribes.
New Mexico Native American Travel Guide
Learning about America’s First Nations is an important addition to your next trip’s itinerary and it couldn’t be easier in New Mexico. Santa Fe itself is a treasure trove of Native American culture, history, and art, while other interesting museums are scattered around the state. These are some of the best Native American museums to visit in New Mexico
- Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
- Located in downtown Albuquerque, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology showcases their collections from around the world, all telling the story of mankind. While this museum isn’t solely focused on Native American culture, it does display archaeological and ethnographic materials and is dedicated to properly preserving indigenous artifacts and repatriation of remains. Their permanent exhibit, “People of the Southwest” showcases the history of New Mexico’s First Nations from their genesis 12,000 years ago. A rotating cast of Temporary Exhibits, like the recent “Conversing with the Land” and “We Were Basket Makers Before We Were Pueblo People” highlight indigenous artisans from the region.
- Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
- New Mexico is home to 19 pueblos, different groups of Puebloan peoples. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center celebrates this rich history through their permanent exhibit, “We Are of This Place: The Pueblo Story” which details everything from Puebloan pottery to how they created pueblo homes and buildings. Their gift shop is a wonderful place to purchase handcrafted Puebloan art like pottery and jewelry. Don’t miss the chance to dine at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen for a traditional Puebloan culinary experience. You can also plan your trip around the Albuquerque Balloon Festival and camp right in the parking lot!
- Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
- Created in 1937, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is a unique museum in that it was co-founded by a Navajo man, Hastiin Klah, and a white woman, Mary Cabot Wheelwright. Now the museum focuses on various exhibitions that largely center on Native American art, including baskets and silver jewelry. Santa Fe is well known for its art galleries and the Case Trading Post, located onsite at the Wheelwright Museum, features beautiful Native American artwork.
- IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
- Another museum dedicated to First Nations artisans, the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is the only museum of its kind, dedicated solely to contemporary art. There are over 10,000 pieces onsite, created from the mid-1960’s onward. Several galleries are permanent while there are also ever-revolving temporary exhibitions. This museum is a must if you find yourself in Santa Fe!
- Poeh Museum and Cultural Center
- Located in the community of Pojoaque, just outside Santa Fe, the Poeh Museum and Cultural Center is committed to revitalizing and continuing the Tewa culture. Their permanent exhibit, “Nah Poeh Meng” highlights the Puebloan perspective telling their peoples story through displays that take visitors through different seasons. The Poeh Museum is also dedicated to preserving the old ways and teaching the newest generations traditional art. They host seasonal events like the Winter’s Market to bring the community together.
- Millicent Rogers Museum
- Named for socialite and original collector Millicent Rogers, the Millicent Rogers Museum displays vast collections of work by Native Americans artists, including the famous potter, Maria Martinez. This paired with her son, Paul Peralta-Ramos’, own carefully curated collection and new works that have been donated over the years, create the museum as it is today. Witness their Native American and Hispanic artworks in beautiful form if you’re passing through Taos.
Landmarks & Historical Sites
There’s no shortage of important landmarks and historic sites in New Mexico, from astonishing petroglyphs created thousands of years ago to painstakingly built pueblos. Uncover Native American culture and history by adding these monuments, parks, and sites to your next trip.
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Its name says it all. The Petroglyph National Monument is home to one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in North America. Discover these drawings done on volcanic rock, made by both Spanish settlers and Native Americans at sites like Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and Piedras Marcadas Canyon which showcases over 400 petroglyphs.
- Bandelier National Monument
- Bandelier National Monument encompasses a vast swath of wilderness, 33,000 acres in total. Visitors will see evidence of 11,000 years of Puebloan history through petroglyphs and pueblos, along with the beautiful natural scenery and landscapes that these people cherished and respected. Hike along the Long Trail for views of “Long House” or the Tsankawi Trail to climb ladders and come face to face with petroglyphs. Bandelier National Monument is also an excellent place to go stargazing as the park is far from light pollution. They’re hoping to secure status as a designated “Dark Sky Park” in the future.
- Pecos National Historic Park
- The Pecos Valley has seen countless groups of people transiting through, and calling this area home. From Archaic peoples in 11,500 B.C.E to the Pecos People and Spanish conquistadors, this historic park has seen its fair share of both incredible industry and brutal hardships. Explore the museum for more on the park's background or take a hike on the Ancestral Site Trail which reveals both a 1717 Spanish church and Pecos Pueblo.
- Acoma Pueblo
- Considered to be the oldest, continuously inhabited settlement in all of North America, the Acoma Pueblo is an incredibly sacred place. Also known as “Sky City”, guests can tour the pueblo with a guide. Founded by Puebloan peoples in 1150 A.D., this Pueblo has never had electricity or running water. Visitors can grab a bite to eat at the Y’aak’a Cafe or peruse the Gaita’i Gift Shop for stunning souvenirs like turquoise jewelry.
- Gila Cliff Dwellings
- The Gila Cliff Dwellings are one of the most jaw-dropping sites in all of New Mexico, if not North America. These palatial dwellings, built right into the cliffs (as their name suggests), were created by the Mogollon people who lived in the area for a short period of time from 1280 until the beginning of the 1300’s. Stop by the visitors center and museum to get information on current weather conditions and which hike you should head for.
- Aztec Ruins National Monument
- The Aztec Ruins National Monument celebrates the Aztec peoples' traditional structures from a reconstructed Great Kiva to its 400-room Pueblo Great House. While this park is relatively small, guests will also enjoy the native garden that features indigenous plants. The nearby Salmon Ruins also includes a museum and homestead that visitors might find interesting.
- Chaco Canyon
- The Chaco Canyon was once a center of Puebloan culture. Great houses were built within this canyon, connected by an intricate web of roads. While it’s not entirely known what these structures were used for, they were no doubt a meeting place for ancestral Puebloans. Utilize the park’s trails, like the 9-mile loop that leaves from the visitors center, to see important sites like the Pueblo Bonito. For an in-depth look of Chaco Canyon, sign up for a guided tour through Navajo Tours.
- Taos Pueblo
- Perhaps the most famous pueblo of all, the Taos Pueblo has been an inhabited site by the Puebloan peoples for over 1,000 years. 150 people still reside in the pueblo today, despite its lack of electricity and running water. This is the perfect addition and a must-see if you’re in Taos.
Native American Restaurants
There’s no better way to connect culturally than through your tastebuds!
Be sure to include a stop at one of these Native American restaurants on your trip to New Mexico and delight in new flavors and unique dishes you can’t find anywhere else.
- AshKii’s Navajo Grill
- Located in Farmington, New Mexico, AshKii’s Navajo Grill dishes up traditional Navajo classics like “Grandma’s Boy” featuring roasted mutton on fry bread or Navajo Steam Corn Stew. This is the perfect stop after visiting the Aztec Ruins National Monument.
- Indian Pueblo Kitchen
- As a part of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, the Indian Pueblo Kitchen gives visitors a sneak peek into the indigenous culinary arts of the past. All of the recipes, like blue corn onion rings and roasted pinon triple berry salad, are inspired by traditional Puebloan cooking techniques and ingredients.
- Tiwa Kitchen
- As the sole Native American-owned restaurant in Taos, Tiwa Kitchen is paving the way for indigenous restaurants. You can’t leave without trying their claim to fame, blue corn frybread, but the frybread buffalo burger and tiwa tacos are all delicious options. Don’t forget to wash it down with a chokecherry lemonade. The owners of Tiwa Kitchen use recipes that were passed down by their grandfathers and great-grandmothers so you know they’re authentic
- Y’aak’a Cafe
- Tucked inside the Acoma Sky City Cultural Center, Y’aak’a (Corn) Cafe serves up dishes like stuffed acorn squash, green chilé pork stew, and chilé cheese fries made from New Mexico’s famous green chilés. Snuggle by the warm hearth of their central fireplace in winter or enjoy their beautiful outdoor patio come summer.
- Grandma’s Frybread Shack
- Located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Grandma’s Frybread Shack is an institution in New Mexico. Actually tucked right beside the Four Corners, their specialty is none other than freshly fried frybread. You can get it in several ways including as a Navajo taco or with cinnamon and sugar.
Native American Breweries
- Bow & Arrow
- Not only is Bow & Arrow a Native American-owned brewery, but it’s also women-owned. The brainchild of its innovative owner Shyla Sheppard, Bow & Arrow is a beautiful gathering space, serving up craft beer that is brewed on native land and uses traditional indigenous ingredients like sumac berries and blue corn. Located in New Mexico’s capital, Albuquerque, this is the perfect way to end a day of exploring the state's cultural sites.
Activities & Tours
Connect to New Mexico’s First Peoples culture with Navajo and Pueblo guides through these activities and tours.
Navajo Tours offers several different tour options that take visitors into the wilderness areas of the Navajo Nation.
The Bisti Badlands are located within New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, a beautiful and fascinating landscape of unique rock formations and desert terrain that is within the Navajo Nation itself. Your guide, a member of either the Pueblo people or Navajo Nation, will guide you through this otherworldly topography on a five-mile hike. Over the five-hour tour hikers will see famous formations like the Egg Hatchery and Stone Wings.
Chaco Canyon is one of the most important Navajo sites in the country. Explore this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside your Navajo or Puebloan guide who will further reveal this area’s ancient history. This 1.5 mile journey includes visits to Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl.
Pow Wows to Attend
Pow Wows are a wonderful way to connect with New Mexico’s Native American history in a fun and exciting atmosphere. The “Land of Enchantment” also happens to be home to the largest Pow Wow in the U.S., the Gathering of Nations. Held every April, this is a must-see event!
Below are just a few of the Pow Wows in New Mexico! See our Pow Wow Calendar for all the Native American Pow Wows in New Mexico.
- Gathering of Nations Pow Wow
- Taos Pueblo Pow Wow
- Youth Mentorship Gourd Dance
- Nakotah LaRance Youth Hoop Dance Championship
- Totah Drums of Fall
- New Mexico State Fair Pow Wow
- Albuquerque Celebrates Recovery Contest PowWow
- Socorro Recovery Pow Wow
- IAIA Fall Competition Pow Wow
In conclusion, New Mexico's rich Native American heritage is a cultural treasure that beckons visitors from all corners of the globe. The Land of Enchantment lives up to its name with a myriad of immersive experiences that allow travelers to delve deep into the history, art, and traditions of its First Peoples. From world-class museums like the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center to breathtaking landmarks such as Petroglyph National Monument and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico offers a profound glimpse into the enduring legacy of Native American communities. Whether you're savoring indigenous flavors at restaurants like AshKii's Navajo Grill and Tiwa Kitchen, exploring breweries with ties to Native culture like Bow & Arrow, or engaging in guided tours with Navajo and Pueblo guides, there's no shortage of ways to connect with and celebrate the vibrant Native American culture that thrives in this captivating state.
One of the standout features of New Mexico's Native American culture is its Pow Wows, including the iconic Gathering of Nations Pow Wow held every April. These events provide a unique opportunity to witness the vibrant dances, music, and traditions that have been passed down through generations. From the mesmerizing hoop dances to the rhythmic gourd dances, Pow Wows are a true celebration of Native American heritage and a testament to the enduring spirit of the First Peoples. Whether you plan your visit around one of these unforgettable Pow Wows or simply explore the state's cultural offerings at your own pace, New Mexico's Native American experiences are bound to leave you with a deep sense of appreciation and enchantment for the rich tapestry of history and culture that has shaped this remarkable state.
Last Updated on October 16, 2023 by Paul G