El Malpais is a great day trip from Albuquerque for anyone ve enjoys scenic drives and/or hiking. It also combines well with nearby El Morro.
The landscape is quite barren, though there are also peaks at prior volcanic activity in the area as well (in fact, with a permit, there are several lava tubes you can explore). Even though these badlands cover a lot of ground, you can see much of the area easily simply by following the main park road. Compared to my home on the east coast, the rocky plateaus form an entirely different type of backdrop, but one that is magnificent in its own way.
One of the park’s most famous landmarks is La Ventana Arch, which is only a few minutes walk from the nearest parking area. While there wasn't a lot to explore in this particular section of El Malpais, it’s worth a stop.
By far, though, my favorite part of the park was at the Sandstone Bluffs, an area with panoramic vistas, jutting rock formations, and snowy mountain tops in the background.
Plan on spending an hour or two simply to drive through the park and see the landscapes; longer if you intend on hiking