A Weekend Guide to Visiting Taos, New Mexico
May 13, 2021
Table of Contents
The small city of Taos, New Mexico is located 80 miles north of Santa Fe and is known for its incredible art scene, world class skiing and proximity to the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains. Taos is home to one of the highest bridges in the United States, the highest elevation triple chair lift in North America and the only living Native American community to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. It’s truly an enchanting place that has something for everyone.
This guide will cover where to stay, when to visit and some of the top things to do in Taos, New Mexico.
Taos receives snow in the winter and has warm, dry summers. Any time of year would be good for visiting Taos, but it could change what you might do there. This guide will draw upon what it's like to visit Taos in the springtime.
If you’re interested in skiing, February or March will be the best time to visit.
I visited in April and had wonderful weather with very little crowds. In April, Taos averages a high of 62 and low of 30, and in May it averages a high of 72 and low of 38. While the weather is mild, April tends to be the windiest month of the year and trails tend to be muddy as the snow melts.
In the summertime, temperatures tend to have highs in the 80s and lows in the 40s and 50s. The slightly cooler temperatures in the summer are due to the high elevation. This makes Taos a wonderful destination to explore the outdoors without high heat. Summer is the peak season for travelers visiting Taos so you may experience high crowds.
If you visit in the fall, you can see beautiful fall foliage transform the landscape around Taos. Temperatures in October average a high of 66 and low of 32. If you visit in October, you may want to combine your trip with a visit to Albuquerque to experience the annual hot air balloon festival (about 2 hours from Taos).
There is a huge variety of places to stay in Taos, whether you are interested in a luxury hotel or a quirky Airbnb. Most of the accommodations in the area do a beautiful job of incorporating the unique charm of New Mexico with adobe walls, warm colors and enchanting decor.
During my trip to Taos, I opted to stay in a unique Geodesic Earth Dome Airbnb just north of the city. The dome is 30 feet wide with a bed in the loft space and the kitchen, bathroom and living space down below. This Airbnb has a skylight letting in plenty of natural light, a composting toilet and a clawfoot bathtub. Colorful bedding, books about New Mexico travel and friendly outdoor cats made this place extra special. The dome is only about 10 minutes from downtown Taos and I highly recommend it for couples and solo travelers.
Another unique accommodation I recommend is the Enchantment Yurt in Dixon, New Mexico. It is located 30 minutes outside of Taos right on the Embudo River. I met the owner at a winery and could tell how much care goes into the property. It is very close to two New Mexico wineries and the host sometimes offers incredible Farm to Table cooking experiences. This is a wonderful option if you’re looking for a local and off the beaten path experience.
If you’re at all interested in off-the-grid living, consider sleeping inside of an Earthship near Taos. I’ll talk more about Earthship Biotecture down below, but you have the opportunity to stay overnight in an eco-friendly home that is entirely self-sustaining. There are multiple options of Earthships to rent, including the first ever Earthship. The Earthship known as the Hobbit House was built in 1979 and has been refurbished.
There are also plenty of hotel options in Taos if that’s more your speed. For a luxury experience, check into the gorgeous El Monte Sagrado Hotel. The accommodation has an award-winning spa, an upscale bar with a large anaconda sculpture and stunning suites that include the option of a hot tub or fireplace.
El Pueblo is a more affordable option within walking distance from Taos Plaza. The adobe-style building comes equipped with a pool, an included hot breakfast and spacious rooms.
If you’re interested in a romantic bed & breakfast experience, take a look at Hacienda del Sol. The adobe walls, arched doorways and handcrafted quilts and rugs make this hotel a charming place to relax with your significant other. Breakfast is served everyday in the dining room with colorful table cloths and dishes.
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is an icon and must-see destination near Taos. The bridge is considered to be 650 feet tall, making it the fifth highest bridge in the United States. (Although the exact height is disputed with an argument over how bridge heights are measured). There is a decent sized parking lot on the west side of the bridge with a bathroom and sometimes gift vendors. You can park there and walk across the bridge. Walking across the bridge is not for those afraid of heights. The bridge shakes a bit as cars drive across and the winds were pretty high when I visited. As long as you hang on tightly to your things, it’s incredible to gaze down at the river 100’s of feet below.
For the best views of the bridge, you can hike the West Rim Trail from the Rio Grande parking area. The trail is 3.7 miles with minimal elevation gain. There is no shade on this trail so come prepared with proper sun protection. You will also get a great view from the parking area if you’re not interested in hiking.
Bighorn rams frequent this area and climb around the gorge rocks. I saw several right off the road near the bridge. If you see them, make sure to keep a wide distance.
Earthship Biotecture is a unique destination not far from the Rio Grande Bridge. It’s a community of homes built entirely off-the-grid. The community is self-sustaining and made up of homes built with natural and repurposed materials such as bottles and cans. Each home collects rainwater that is used multiple times and even handles heating and cooling without burning fossil fuels. The community also has a greenhouse where food is grown, a self contained sewage treatment system and solar and wind energy. There are now Earthships all over the world, but they were first built in Taos by Michael Reynolds and his team.
Visitors take a self-guided tour of the visitor center containing exhibits on how the community operates and how the homes are built. The tour will walk you through a beautiful greenhouse and explain how the community operates. There is also an informative movie and photo slideshow about the Earthships. Finally, you can walk on the roof and see how rainwater is collected. You cannot go inside an actual earthship with the self guided tour but they are visible from a distance. If you’re fascinated by the Earthships, they offer overnight stays in some of the homes for a unique and special experience.
Taos is home to a few hot springs that result from magma deep in the earth. I visited Black Rock Hot Springs, a spring about 25 minutes from Taos that is located right on the Rio Grande River.
The dirt road to Black Rock Hot Springs gets very bumpy at times. I entered from the east (the side closer to Taos) in a low clearance vehicle. It made it just fine, but I was too nervous to take the other road to the west when leaving. The road looked even worse from that direction with large and uneven holes.
There are only a few parking spots at the trailhead for the spring. If you can’t get a spot, there are a few more places to park about a quarter of a mile down the road next to the John Dunn Bridge. There are bathrooms next to the bridge on both sides of the river (I did not check if they were open or well maintained). This is a popular spot for people to enter the river for rafting and paddling.
To reach the hot spring, it is a 0.3 mile round trip hike. The trail begins flat before descending about 70 feet to the Rio Grande River. The trail has a little bit of rock scrambling at the end as you climb over some rocks to reach the spring. Also note that the rocks can be slippery because of how smooth they are. I slipped and fell on a rock that wasn’t even wet! All Trails ranks this trail as easy but I would consider it to be more moderate.
Check the hiking route and recent reviews of Black Rock Hot Springs on All Trails before you visit. As of this writing (June 2021), it looks like a recent mudslide has closed the nearest parking area, making the hike longer.
When you reach the spring, there are two small pools. When I visited, only one was warm. During the springtime, the extra runoff can cause there to be extra cold runoff water in the pools. The pool further from the river was warm but not overly hot. The temperature can vary depending on the time of year.
The pool furthest from the river is small and can only comfortably fit about 5-6 people. The one closer to the river is a little bit bigger. Go as early as you can because this spot gets crowded and the pools are small. I arrived at about 9:30 AM on a Friday and there was only one person there when I arrived, but several more when I left.
Also note that it is common for people to enjoy the hot springs nude, but no one did while I was there. Black Hot Hot Springs is such a special place to visit. It’s magical to soak in a warm pool in contrast to the cold Rio Grande flowing feet away. If you visit, please respect this place by leaving no trace and being kind to the landscape and the others around you.
Taos Pueblo is a Native American community located right next to the city of Taos. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. Typically, visitors can take a guided tour and learn about the history and heritage of the community. You can also visit galleries with local art, shops for handmade goods and eat at the local cafe. Currently, all of Taos Pueblo is closed due to Covid-19 so check their website before visiting.
The drive between Santa Fe and Taos has beautiful scenery. There are two options for your route between the cities. The River Road takes an hour and a half and follows the Rio Grande River. Along the way, you’ll pass wineries, breweries and small towns. If you visit on a weekend, make a stop at the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo. This quirky museum has an impressive collection of gas pumps, neon signs and gas station memorabilia. I also highly recommend stopping at the Vivác Winery, which I discuss further in the wineries category below.
Another option is to take “the High Road” between Taos and Santa Fe. This route follows routes 518, 75 and 76 through the mountains. The drive takes a bit longer, 2 and a half hours with no stops, but has beautiful views along the way. You’ll drive through mountain towns and past several stunning churches. Great places to stop include the San Francisco de Asis Church, the San Jose de Gracia Church and the village of Truchas. Truchas is home to Truchas Peak, the second highest peak in New Mexico. Getting to the peak requires a long and difficult hike, but there are still beautiful views of the valley from the town.
Off of the river road, you can take a detour at Pilar to get a quick taste of the mountain views on the High Road. This scenic drive begins at a turn off from Pilar and eventually connects to US Hwy 64. The drive begins along the Rio Grande River on Highway 570 where you’ll have beautiful views of the river. You’ll pass some campgrounds and trailheads along the way, then cross over the Taos Junction Bridge. From there, ascend up switchbacks on a dirt road as you climb up the gorge surrounded by beautiful views. My low clearance vehicle made it on this road but we had to take it slow. You might spot some bighorn sheep along the way. The road meets up with Highway 570 very close to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
Taos Plaza is the main town square in downtown Taos. It’s an urban park space surrounded by shops, restaurants, galleries and hotels. It’s worth spending some time walking down the alley’s and exploring the beautiful downtown area. Walk down Teresina Ln and enjoy wandering in and out of boutiques and gazing at art.
Places to visit include Coyote Moon for local paintings, jewelry and pottery, op.cit. for books and the Kimosabe gallery for Southwestern art. If you visit on Saturday morning, be sure to explore the Taos Farmers Market inside of the plaza square.
Taos is an amazing place to hike if you’re visiting during the warmer months. Most notable nearby is Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. Here are some trails to consider near Taos.
- Wheeler Peak: Wheeler Peak is the tallest point in New Mexico at roughly 13,159 feet. The trail to the top is 8.1 miles round trip and rated hard. It has almost 3,000 feet in elevation gain and the top third portion of the hike is mostly hiking on scree (loose rocks). If you decide to do this hike, make sure you are well prepared with a map, plenty of water and sturdy hiking shoes.
- Rio Grande Gorge West Rim Trail: The Rio Grande Rim Trail is 3.7 miles and doesn’t have too much elevation change. The trail provides amazing views of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and is a great place to spot big horn rams scaling the rocky gorge.
- Devisadero Peak: Devisadero Peak is a 5.6 mile loop trail with incredible views of the valley below. The peak is a beautiful spot for sunset. Follow the trail counterclockwise to reach the peak quicker.
- Traders Trail: Traders Trail is a 3.3 mile hike that leads to the Rio Pueblo de Taos River. The hike is quick and relatively easy with beautiful views throughout.
I didn’t know this until I visited, but New Mexico is home to the oldest wine country in the United States! Grapes were first grown there in the 1600s by Spanish settlers. There are three wineries located between Taos and Santa Fe along Highway 68 or the River Road. They are all at least 30 minutes from Taos.
I visited Vivác Winery and had an amazing time. The winery has been open since 1998 and has a beautiful vineyard and tasting room. There is a nice outdoor patio to sit at as you enjoy a wine tasting, a cheese board or their exquisite chocolate truffles. The wine tastings have generous pours and the people are so kind here, this place is truly a gem.
The other wineries nearby are La Chiripada Winery and Black Mesa Winery. La Chiripada is the oldest winery in Northern New Mexico and has been making wine for 35 years. Black Mesa Winery is located exactly at the mid way point between Taos and Santa Fe, and also operates as a cidery.
There are many wonderful opportunities for white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking near Taos. One of the most popular areas is located in Questa, New Mexico, 30 minutes north of Taos. From Questa, the Wild River Recreation Area has rapids of varying difficulties.
For beginners, the Orilla Verde Recreation Area just south of Taos is a good choice for a more leisurely journey.
Bearclaw Bakery is a wonderful place for breakfast. They offer fresh baked goods, large breakfast portions and coffee. I had the huevos rancheros breakfast and it was a huge portion of delicious home fries, eggs and green chile sauce. The sauce was fresh and deliciously spicy. Bearclaw Bakery even has green chile croissants, which sound incredible but include bacon (I’m a vegetarian).
Wild Leaven Bakery is another wonderful bakery in town known for their freshly baked bread. They are family owned and use local ingredients to support New Mexico farmers and ranchers. Visit for fresh sourdough, flaky croissants, muffins and more. If you order ahead of time, you can pick up fresh and delicious pizzas on Saturdays.
The Taos Mesa Brewery opened in 2012 and is a great place to visit for local beer, pizza, sandwiches and more. There is a taproom located in the heart of downtown Taos and a larger brewery, known as the Mothership, located outside of town. The Mothership is currently closed due to Covid-19, but the Taproom is open. Their house baked focaccia bread blew me away. It’s served with whipped butter and was so fluffy and full of flavor. I also really enjoyed the brewhaus veggie sandwich and the barleywine aged with rinconada cherries. This is a great stop to enjoy a hearty meal, sit on a spacious patio or to watch the game.
La Cueva Cafe traditional Mexican food that is prepared fresh daily. They offer ceviche, enchiladas, rellenos and more. In addition to a large menu of Mexican specialities, they serve delicious margaritas. The owners are from Mexico and take a lot of pride in the restaurant.
Are you also visiting Santa Fe while you're visiting New Mexico? Read my guide on the capital city of New Mexico!
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