The small city of Taos punches above its weight by offering numerous cultural opportunities and a large variety of dining, shopping, and history. However, its surrounding areas are an equally powerful draw. From hiking the tallest peak in the state to soaking in the Rio Grande, Taos County can provide days of adventuring at every time of year.
Just an hour-and-a-half drive north from Santa Fe, Taos is great for a day trip or a couple of overnights while visiting beautiful Northern New Mexico.
14. Explore the Arts
(image via Millicent Rogers Museum)
The nearby Millicent Rogers Museum has some of the largest collections of Native American and Hispanic art in the state. The museum is based on the collection of the namesake oil tycoon granddaughter who was an early champion of Southwest art. The museum’s pieces range from pottery (including works from the Taos Pueblo people), jewelry, figuring, arts & crafts, and more.
The Taos Art Museum at Fechin House features works by the Taos Society of Artists so that you can get a true sense of the local art scene. The former house of Russian architect Nicolai Fechin, which now makes up the museum, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Admission is $10 at each location.
13. Earthship Biotecture
(image via Earthship)
Taos is the national hub of earthships. These iconic homes are built in the architectural style of Michael Reynolds and are designed to be entirely self-sustaining and off the grid. Earthship shelters with passive solar heating and cooling are made of up-cycled and/or re-cycled and natural materials. These include things like old tires and adobe mud.
Most uniquely, though, is the aesthetic of earthships, which is often compared to the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. You can rent an earthship as a vacation rental (don’t be intimidated, the environmental technology functions like any normal house). But if full-time living is too much, you can simply tour the Earthship Visitor Center, which offers $8 self-guided tours most days of the year.
12. Drive the High Road
If you’re headed to Taos from nearby Santa Fe, plan some extra time and take the “High Road.” A 105-mile route that takes about 2.5 hours, the High Road journey will bring gorgeous views. Allow yourself plenty of time to stop and take in the scenery, as well as to visit the quaint Spanish colonial-era villages along the way.
Enjoy scenes that inspired the art of Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams. Stop to experience the quietude of historic churches such as the Santuario de Chimayó, known for its healing soil. No matter where you stop along the way, the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos is a perfect way to experience the beauty of Northern New Mexico.
11. Taos Ski Valley
(image via Ski Taos)
Northern New Mexico is full of ski areas, and the premier spot is just 20 minutes outside of Taos. Taos Ski Valley is the most full-service ski area in all of New Mexico, with a Rockies-style ski village full of restaurants and shops. Of world-renown is The Boot Doctor, a shop where anyone ready to commit to buying their own skis and boots should stop.
With 110 trails and 14 lifts, Taos Ski Valley has a massive summit elevation of 12,400 feet–nearly 2,000 feet taller than most peaks in New Mexico. A renowned hotel is on-site along with endless vacation rentals. Parents of young kids can even pay a premium for on-site childcare while they hit the slopes. In the summer months, hiking and mountain biking is just as amazing on the ski mountain.
10. White Water Rafting
Visitors may not associate New Mexico with getting out on the water, but Taos has some of the best—and more affordable than Colorado—white water rafting around. The Rio Grande runs right through the Taos area, and white water rafting outposts offer something for rafters of all adventure levels.
From an easy couple of hours on the calmer parts of the river, great for families with kids or folks who just want to get on the water for half a day, to day-long adventures complete with a riverside lunch, to overnight camping options, companies like Far Flung Adventures have skilled river guides who not only know the river like the back of their hand but can share about wildlife and the area’s history along the way.
9. Carson National Forest & Wheeler Peak
(image via Maureen Lunn)
With more than a million acres of deep forest, Carson National Forest sits to the north of Taos and includes the Taos Ski Valley and Wheeler Peak, which sits at 13,161 feet. Hundreds of trails around the area offer a full spread of options for day-hiking, backpacking, mountain-biking, camping, and winter adventures like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. For those up for a full-day climb to New Mexico’s tallest peak, start early from the Taos Ski Valley main entrance and head up the Bull of the Woods trail for the 8ish-mile (one-way) climb, with stunning views at every turn.
Make it an out and back on Bull of the Woods for the most enjoyable hike, but for those with cardio stamina who want to achieve the peak with less mileage (and therefore a more steep, difficult climb), take the Williams Lake trail route. For this option, come prepared with healthy knees and hiking poles, as the slippery rocks on this climb are an extra challenge. In winter, enjoy a couple of days of skiing at Taos, which is the state’s premier ski area.
8. Hike to an Alpine Lake
Those who don’t crave the ultimate peak experience should take the 4-mile out and back to Williams Lake, which is the lower part of the path up to Wheeler Peak. Views of the lake at all times of year are dazzling as the pristine lake lies amidst the surrounding mountains and alpine forest.
Pack a picnic and take the 2-mile mild hike up to the lake. Relax, and enjoy a more leisurely return as the walk up is more of an incline, but still accessible for many levels. At the base of the trailhead lies ski lifts (often open for mountain biking in the summer) and Taos skiers’ favorite beer joint, The Bavarian Restaurant, perfect to close out your hiking day.
7. Taos Pueblo
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited by members of the Pueblo tribe for more than 1,000 years. With multiple stories of a massive adobe structure, the Pueblo is also host to events such as the annual San Geronimo Feast Day, where visitors are invited to participate in the culture, festivals, and enjoy the traditional foods.
Taos Pueblo is a hub of Native American, Spanish, and New Mexican cultures, and tourists are invited to honor these cultures with a respectful visit.
Check if Taos Pueblo is accepting guests before your visit here: https://taospueblo.com
6. Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
One of the highest bridges in the United States, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge sits 650 feet above the Rio Grande River and is a hub for views of the massive gorges and canyons that hold the river’s flowing waters. Constructed starting in 1963, the bridge was known as the “bridge to nowhere,” as the funding wasn’t available at the time to continue the road (now U.S. Route 64) on the other side.
The bridge provides parking areas and a safe walking path for visitors to enjoy the views from the center point. Look down for white water rafters enjoying the water, locals soaking in the hot springs, and diverse wildlife including Bighorn Sheep.
5. Soak In a Riverside Hot Spring
The Rio Grande is also home to natural hot springs, which visitors can enjoy free of both charge and fanfare along the water’s edge. Manby and Blackrock Hot Springs are in the same stretch of river, about a 20-minute drive from the city of Taos. Both can be crowded at the nicest times of day for soaking, so give yourself plenty of time in case you need to sit and enjoy the river views while you wait for the pools to clear out.
Blackrock can be accessed easily with a short walk along the river from the parking areas at the John Dunn Bridge. Manby visitors should have a 4-wheel drive or plan to take it slow on the long, rural roads to its trailhead. From there, it’s an approximately 1-mile hike down into the gorge to get to the pools. Both springs are usually in temperatures ranging in the 90s, depending on how high the river is.
4. Visit Arroyo Seco
(image via Paul Sableman)
A quaint village sits halfway between the city of Taos and the Taos Ski Valley which is a great place to spend a few hours of leisurely shopping and dining. Arroyo Seco is about a 15-minute drive north of Taos and is home to a variety of tourist-friendly shops, including handmade art and ceramics.
Grab an ice cream at Taos Cow, a healthy smoothie or breakfast at The Wake & Take, or a gourmet meal at ACEQ. Visit Logan Wannamaker Pottery for a handmade souvenir or peruse the many other locally-owned shops offering a variety of fun, unique New Mexican goods.
3. Look for Bighorn Sheep at Vista Verde
(image via Maureen Lunn)
If you’re headed south out of Taos, make plans for a leisurely hike on the Vista Verde trail. Stop at the Rio Grande Gorge Visitors Center about 15 miles south of the city and chat with the Park Rangers first, as the trailhead is not always easy to find without their guidance. As you drive along the river toward the trailhead, look for Bighorn Sheep as you go.
Once at the trailhead, it’s an easy 3-mile out and back with a unique desert landscape (which means full sun; so bring your hat and sunblock) with striking views of the Rio Grande from above as you near the end of the loop. Vista Verde is a favorite hike for locals and tourists alike looking for big views without big climbs.
2. Eat and Drink Local
(image via The Burger Stand at Taos Ale House)
Taos’s food scene is much like across the state—New Mexican joints with smothered chile plates and breakfast burritos are plentiful, but mostly the locals drink a lot of beer! From Taos Mesa Brewery to Eske’s Brewpub & Eatery, The Burger Stand at Taos Ale House, and Outback Pizza, these local joints are favorites of tourists and locals alike with full food menus and impressive beer options.
For finer dining (and drinking), visit Parcht on the Plaza or make a reservation at the renowned farm-to-table restaurant, The Love Apple. Or, grab a low-budget diner-style breakfast or lunch at Taos Diner, or some lighter fare at Manzanita Market.
1. Stroll and Shop at Taos Plaza
(image via Zeality)
Taos’s biggest draw, the Historic Taos Plaza sits in the center of town with traditional adobe architecture full of shops and restaurants. Summer evenings often provide free outdoor concerts and other events, but year-round the Plaza welcomes visitors from all over the world to enjoy the history and shop everything from high-end crystal, stones, and cowboy boots to a more affordable wand of dried sage or touristy trinket.
The area’s development dates back to the 1700s when the fortress-like layout of the Plaza reveals its history of Spanish settlers and Pueblo revolts—though today’s modern structures were rebuilt in the 1930s. Whether a history lover or a shopper at heart, the Taos Plaza is the ultimate gathering place and the hub of Taos culture.
Interested in More Suggestions?
As you can see, Toas has a lot to offer everyone. If you are looking to do more in the surrounding area, check out other weekend trips from nearby Taos.
These areas are perfect for a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore our favorite things to do or peruse some pre-built itineraries.