Albuquerque sees the most visitors in the summer, when road-trippers and Route 66 pilgrims pour in—and hotels adjust their rates to meet the higher demand. But even in the high season, it’s not too pricey (maybe a 25% markup). Nor is it ever too crowded, though you may want to book smaller hotels a month or so ahead. Sure, temps can soar to the 90s, but it’s a dry heat. And in July and August, the heat is tempered by what the locals call "monsoons"—short but intense afternoon thunderstorms that blacken the sky for 45 minutes or so, then evaporate, leaving only the smell of ozone behind. You can keep cool by heading to the mountains to the east and, in fact, it’s the only sure time for hiking, as any other time of year, you risk being caught in a snowstorm. But don’t forget a sweater—even in July, the temperature can drop 30 degrees at night. The other time hotel prices spike is during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the first two weeks of October—rates are as high or higher than summer, and you should make reservations several months in advance.
Travelers often skip Albuquerque in the winter—though a few misinformed folks show up here expecting a Phoenix-like escape, then have to make an emergency parka purchase. But central Albuquerque, in the lowlands by the river, stays relatively balmy—it can freeze, but rarely snows. By contrast, Sandia Peak gets enough snow to support a ski area. Either way, the sky is nearly always clear and, at night, the air is crisp and smells of wood smoke. If you visit during the winter, you’ll have museums and other sights entirely to yourself, and in December, you’ll see the oldest parts of the city lit with luminarias. And at Christmas, many of the nearby pueblos hold ceremonial dances that are open to the public. Outside of the holiday season, you can easily make a spur-of-the-moment trip to Albuquerque—there will be plenty of hotel rooms available.
In the fall, aside from the two weeks that is the Balloon Fiesta frenzy in October, Albuquerque is calm, and the days are cool and crisp. It’s probably the best time to visit, and made even better by the fact that hotel rates are lower than in summer. September is a favorite season for food fans, as the green chile harvest takes over the state. In every supermarket parking lot, you’ll see giant drum roasters set up to singe the skin of burlap sacks of chiles—the smell permeates the air and makes spice junkies salivate. With wildflowers in bloom in the mountains, the spring is beautiful, but it can be surprisingly hot and windy.