When summer temperatures start to rise, heading to the desert might be the last thing on your mind. However, the arid state of New Mexico features many wonderfully cool and diverse areas perfect for exploring. If you’re looking for New Mexico vacation rentals and attractions that offer something different from the standard beach getaway, check out these fun towns.

1. Santa Rosa

blue hole scuba site in santa rosa
Source: Flickr/Deborah Lee Soltesz

Known as the scuba diving capital of the southwest, this small town offers a refreshing oasis in the middle of the desert. Its most famous attraction is the Blue Hole, which is a crystal-clear, 81-foot deep artesian spring that remains a cool 62 degrees all year. If you prefer a more cultivated place to swim, head over to Park Lake in town. Every summer, the town erects a floating playground, opens the water slide, and rents out pedal boats for you to use to explore the pond. There’s even a shallow water area for children too small to on the main equipment. For more water fun, Santa Rosa Lake State Park and Perch Lake have fishing and boating opportunities.

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2. Jemez Springs

jemez river
Source: Flickr/I am New Mexico

This little mountain town may be known for its hot springs, but there are plenty of ways to cool down as well. The town itself is quirky and a bit of an artists’ colony, so it’s easy to find old-fashioned adobe vacation rentals or hidden mountain cabins. Towering pine trees cover the mountains surrounding the town, which makes it easy to stay cool on a hike, and the lush green meadows are dotted with wildflowers. Plenty of cold mountain streams run through the area and are perfect for wading and splashing.

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3. Sandia Park

sandia mountains
Source: Flickr/Ryan Schreiber

If you want the beauty of a mountain cabin while still having easy access to city nightlife, Sandia Park is a great choice. This town lies about half an hour outside of Albuquerque and is nestled at the base of the Sandia Mountains. The mountains themselves offer plenty of opportunities for hiking and mountain biking. Albuquerque hosts plenty of fun summer festivals, with the most popular being Summerfest, which occurs one or two weekends every month and includes a free concert and other entertainment.

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4. Elephant Butte

sunset at elephant butte
Source: Flickr/Rohit Chhiber

The small town of Elephant Butte is the perfect place to stay if you want to spend your time on the water. It is located just outside of Elephant Butte State Park, home to the largest lake in the state. Locals flock to the area every summer to boat, fish and swim, but the relatively remote location makes it easy to avoid the crowds and find a quiet place to yourself on the water. If you get tired of swimming, there is also a five-star golf course, Sierra del Rio, located nearby.

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5. Cloudcroft

a railroad trestle in cloudcroft
Source: Flickr/Allen Sheffield

Nestled high in the Sacramento Mountains is the rustic mountain town of Cloudcroft. The pioneer-style, log cabin aesthetic immediately makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and the 9000-foot elevation ensures that it never gets too hot to explore. Cloudcroft is the perfect place to stay if you want to find a vacation rental where you can explore miles of trail right from your backyard. It’s also close to White Sands National Monument, which is a must-see expanse of pure white gypsum dunes that stay cool even in the summer.

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6. Chama

the narrows steam train
Source: Flickr/Drew Jacksich

Named for the Rio Chama that cuts through the valley, the small town of Chama, New Mexico, is full of summertime adventures. The mountains around the town are popular among hikers and skiers, and the river offers excellent fishing. Chama is also the home of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which let you experience a tour in an old-fashioned steam engine. Visit in early August to take part in Chama Days, an annual festival celebrating the area’s heritage.

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7. Carlsbad

carlsbad caverns
Source: Flickr/LoadedAaron

While the broad, cool Pecos River cuts through town and offers plenty of recreational opportunities, the main summertime attraction in Carlsbad lies underground. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to more than 119 caves, several of which are open for exploration. The main cavern can be accessed by a steep but simple switchback trail or an elevator from the visitors center. From there, you can engage on a well-marked, self-guided tour. In the evening, you can return to watch the bats depart from the cave. July and August are the best months for bat-watching.

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8. Quemado

two elk bulls grazing

If you want a taste of old-fashioned country life with amazing outdoor recreation opportunities, the tiny town of Quemado is a great place to find a vacation rental. There’s plenty of hiking nearby, and Quemado Lake is known as one of the best trout fishing spots in the state. It’s also home to a large elk herd, and sightings are common. If you’re feeling hungry, head a bit to the east to visit the aptly named community of Pie Town, which is famous for its great food and green chile apple pie.

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9. Taos

the harwood museum of art in taos
Source: Flickr/Ron Frazier

Taos is known for its skiing, but during the summer its wildflower-covered meadows and cool mountain temperatures draw in plenty of visitors. The town itself offers plenty of fantastic shopping, dining, and art exhibitions, and every Thursday during the summer months there is live music and entertainment on the Plaza. Las Fiestas de Taos is another popular festival that occurs in late July and celebrate the rich, multicultural history of the area.

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10. Grants

el malpais
Source: Flickr/Bureau of Land Management

Grants is billed as the land of fire and ice, and that’s never more obvious than in summer months. It is well known for El Malpais National Monument, which consists mostly of rugged black lava rock, which provides a stark contrast to the richly forested Mount Taylor, an ancient volcano that today offers some of the best hiking and wildlife viewing in the state. Another great place to visit is Banderas Volcano and Ice Cave. The cave, which is only open during the summer, remains covered in a layer of ice even on the hottest days.

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