Roswell, New Mexico: 5 Bucket-List Worthy Things to Do in the Famous Alien Hotspot

Roswell, New Mexico

Mention Roswell, New Mexico, and most imaginations jump straight to aliens and flying saucers, which isn’t surprising given the area’s tie to the legendary 1947 UFO incident and the popular sci-fi TV drama that bears the city’s name. 

Founded in 1870 by pioneering rancher Van Smith, Roswell cradles over 12,000 years of Native American presence by the Mescalero Apaches and Comanches. Long before the city became known as the alien capital of the country, the town’s roots were as a campsite along the legendary 1860s Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail. 

Today, visitors can relive the old west at Roswell’s Heritage Farm Museum while the Roswell Museum displays 10,000 years of regional artifacts. Art lovers can browse the collections of native crafts and fine art at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. For outdoor enthusiasts, you can visit the red rock trails and Bottomless Lakes State Park. And, most importantly in our book, the whole family can geek out at the International UFO Museum and Research Center.

As someone that has been to Roswell, New Mexico, countless times (and had to convince non-alien enthusiasts to come with me), I’ve put together my top 5 suggestions for places to visit in the alien-centric city. There’s truly something for everyone, regardless of whether they believe in ET.

Explore the Natural Beauty at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Bitter Lake

The Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge
4200 East Pine Lodge Road
Roswell, NM

For those who prefer the outdoors and nature, Roswell has the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It was originally designated as the Carlsbad Bird Refuge in 1935. But the place that we know today opened in 1937 and serves as a sanctuary for some of the state’s most rare and unusual creatures.

Visitors can closely observe animals in their natural habitat within the refuge’s 24,563 acres. The Refuge is located in southeast New Mexico, where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, including the Pecos River, and the Roswell Artesian Basin. The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Refuge, and it is open from Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Discover the Artistic Side of Roswell at the Roswell Museum and Art Center & the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art

Roswell Museum and Art Center
1011 N. Richardson Avenue
Roswell, NM

Another one of my favorite things to do in Roswell is explore its diverse art. The Roswell Museum and Art Center was founded in 1935 and opened in 1937. Over time, it’s expanded into a 50,000-square-foot space containing 12 galleries dedicated to art and history. The museum also includes the Robert H. Goddard Planetarium and the Patricia Lubben Bassett Art Education Center.

(Personal note: I’ll never forget looking at the sun through a special solar filter telescope during my visit to the Planetarium. I can still remember seeing flares coming off the sun. It was such a cool and memorable experience for a science nerd.)

Visitors can see works of art by Peter Hurd, Henriette Wyeth, and Georgia O’Keefe, as well as the Aston Collection of the American West. Not to mention, depending on the timing of your visit, the museum hosts various events throughout the year, including Second Saturdays for Roswell residents and classes under the Museum’s Art Studio Program.

The Roswell Museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art

Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art
409 E. College Blvd. 
Roswell, NM

Another option for art lovers, who also consider themselves history nerds, is the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum started as a private collection of oilman and self-taught artist Donald Anderson. In 1967, he would start the Roswell Artist-in-Residency Program, attracting artists from all over the world over the years. Then, in 1994, the museum opened to the public to showcase the art made by the artists from the program.

Since that time, over 500 diverse works of art have filled its 12 galleries. From paintings to photos, prints, drawings, and sculptures, the art has highlighted the diversity of the program over the decades. 

Today, the Anderson Museum is operated by a non-profit organization. It’s open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekends. 

Visit Historical Landmarks, Including Historical Center for Southeast New Mexico & White Sands National Park

Historical Center for Southeast New Mexico
200 N Lea Ave
Roswell, NM

For history buffs, I have two recommendations for places to visit: one in Roswell, and one is about a two-hour drive away. 

First, there is the Historical Center for Southeast New Mexico, which is adjacent to the Historical Society of New Mexico. The Historical Center contains archives of more than 14,000 rare books, photos, and documents to look through. 

While you’re there, consider visiting the History Society of New Mexico as well. The house-turned-museum was built by rancher James Phelps White, later becoming the Historical Society. The museum is free to visit. And, it offers guided tours for those who want to learn more about those who lived at the historic residence.

White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park
19955 Highway 70 W.
Alamogordo, NM

The white gypsum dunes of White Sands National Park are roughly a two-hour drive west from Roswell, New Mexico. The route will take you through the Tularosa Basin pass the Sacramento Mountains and the Old West towns of Picacho and Tularosa. 

I still remember taking the road trip, and when the glittering ivory dunes first appeared at the horizon. They’re absolutely stunning and massively sprawling.

Established as a national monument in 1933 and later redesignated as a national park in 2019, White Sands National Park is known for its expansive gypsum dune field, the largest of its kind in the world. The park’s unique landscape results from the gradual dissolution and deposition of gypsum from the surrounding mountains.

The area has witnessed significant historical events, serving as a testing ground for military activities during World War II, including the first atomic bomb test, codenamed Trinity, in 1945. Today, the park is a testament to natural beauty and pivotal moments in American history. (Personal note: Watch Oppenheimer before you visit.)

Have Some Fun For the Family at Spring River Park & Zoo

Spring River Park and Zoo
1306 E. College Blvd.
Roswell, NM

On a lighter note than White Sands’ history, if you’re taking a family trip to Roswell, you might be looking for something a bit more exciting for the younger family members.

If you have little ones with you, consider visiting Spring River Park and Zoo. The entire park and zoo sits on 30 acres of land and offers a number of activities for the whole family. There’s a ranching exhibit, an antique carousel, a train ride, and playground for kids and a toddler program called PreKritters and Keeper Chats.

Geek Out Over UFOs and Aliens at the International UFO Museum and Research Center

UFO Museum in Roswell

International UFO Museum and Research Center
114 N. Main Street
Roswell, NM

I had to save the best for last! Obviously, if you’re going to Roswell, New Mexico, you have to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It’s the most important stop and arguably the most necessary place to visit if you’re planning a trip to Roswell. 

It’s not surprising that Roswell has fully embraced the UFO theme. I mean, even their McDonalds looks like a UFO! It’s a major source of tourism for the city, so of course, they have a UFO museum.

The International UFO Museum and Research Center, founded in 1992 by Glenn Dennis, Walter Haut, and Max Littell, is located in the heart of the downtown district. Most of the museum’s exhibits revolve around the infamous 1947  Roswell incident. However, it also highlights other UFO sightings and incidents around the world. 

In addition to the exhibits, guests can also explore the more than 55,000 documents that talk about alien life and UFOs. From audio recordings, newspaper stories, photos, pamphlets, DVDs, and even autopsy reports, there’s no shortage of content you can do a deep dive into.

If you’re trying to figure out the best time of year to visit Roswell. I would argue that you should go during the annual UFO Festival that the museum holds. While exact dates vary each year, it’s always in the beginning of July (timed to align with the 1947 incident). UFOlogists will come in from all over the world to hold panels, sell their books, and take part in various events across the event. I’ve been to the Festival three times, and even outside the event itself, the city is thriving during this period. So many alien and UFO geeks pour into the city, and it’s just a wonderful (though crowded) time to visit.

Emma in Roswell
Me in Roswell, New Mexico in 2013

Final Thoughts from a Geek Who Loves Roswell, New Mexico

It’s also important to note that the infamous 1947 UFO crash actually occurred closer to Corona, New Mexico, nearly 75 miles northwest of Roswell. Roswell gained notoriety and became synonymous with the incident because it was the largest nearby city and home to Roswell Army Air Field.

After the debris was recovered, the military transport flew the material to Roswell’s airfield to examine it. Local media heard whispers of a “flying disc” recovery, and the Roswell Daily Record famously printed the first story claiming a crashed flying saucer had been found. Of course, later, the government stated it was merely a downed weather balloon. However, the government’s story of exactly what happened has evolved over the years – and, in my opinion, will likely continue to evolve. (Personal note: I am a believer in the incident.)

Emma in Roswell
Me at the Supposed Crash site of the 1947 UFO (more specifically at the debris field of the crash)

What Is the Best Time to Visit Roswell?

Roswell is a small town, but for fans of science fiction and alien lore, it’s a mecca. There may not be as many UFO-themed things to do in the city as you hope if you visit outside of the annual UFO Festival. So, I would encourage you to keep that in mind during your trip planning. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve visited Roswell, New Mexico, numerous times. I’ve even been on a dig at the alleged 1947 UFO crash site, one of my favorite core memories. If you have questions about planning a trip, post them in the comment section below, and I’ll do my best to offer advice and help!


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