For those visiting Santa Fe in search of art, green chiles, and desert scenery, a perpendicular pilgrimage to Taos is a no-brainer. Despite its relatively nascent (1934) incorporation as a town, the proximity to namesake Native American village Taos Pueblo means that Taos is literally on the border of one of the oldest inhabited communities in the United States! The name Taos, is derived from a Tiwa word meaning “the place of red willows.” What’s more, the Taos Society of Artists — including co-founder Ernest L. Blumenschein — and the creation of the Taos Art Colony helped establish this town of less than 6,000 as the mecca for art lovers that it is known as today.
With a culture rich in tradition, a landscape built for adventure, and an art scene bursting at the seams, it’s no wonder that so many make the hour and a half drive from the capital of New Mexico to Taos to see the historic sights, eat the local cuisine, and explore everything that this vibrant, high desert town has to offer. . . or maybe they’re just drawn to The Hum. . . look it up.
One of the biggest reasons visitors are converging onto Taos these days, though, is the introduction of Meow Wolf’s immersive weekend experience: Taos Vortex!
Meow Wolf’s Taos Vortex debuted in the summer of 2018, but returns this August 16-18 for a second go-round that promises to be bigger and better, featuring three days of live music, adventures, experimental interactions, and friends! Artists at Taos Vortex 2019 include Lykke Li, Flying Lotus 3D, and Calexico and Iron & Wine. There will also be performances from guests like Pussy Power House, a theater brunch, and opportunities to pursue additional adventures. Here’s a look at some of the activities available to Taos Vortex pass-holders, some of which are also available to the general public!
Theatre Brunch (Taos Vortex only)
A dining experience like no other! Sit in the cool oasis of the Vibe Hut, enjoy a multiple course meal catered by Dig & Serve, and delight in the surprises that ensue. A feast for all your senses!
Taos Vortex 2019’s Adventures Around are provided by Turquoise Tours and Pueblo Balloon. While these experiences are a great way to round out your Taos Vortex weekend, you can also enjoy many of the following activities whether or not you’re attending Taos Vortex.
Turquoise Tour Adventures
Visit four breweries of Northern New Mexico in one afternoon! Enjoy the sites as you taste your way through the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. Starting in downtown Taos, you’re driven to the towns of Angel Fire, Red River, and then back to Taos. The tour includes Eske’s Brewpub (New Mexico’s first brewery!), the Enchanted Circle Brewery in Angel Fire, the brand new Red River Brewing Company, and the famous Taos Mesa Mothership Brewery.
Price: $99, 4.5 hours
Ra’s Cave & SUP
Float the Rio Grande on a stand up paddleboard (SUP) to a hand-carved cave. Following a 3-4 mile float, your guide will walk you to the easily accessible underground masterpiece that is featured in the documentary, Cave Digger, with an in-floor, 4-foot drum, handcrafted bathtub, nicho seats carved into the stone walls, and an erotic, carved bedroom piece. An incredible work of art that took two years to build, this site is not to be missed and is not open to the public. The SUP float is guided and downstream without facilities available. A shuttle picks you up at the Taos Plaza.
Price: $89, 4.5 hours
Traditional Taos Pueblo Lunch
Break bread with a Taos Pueblo host inside her centuries-old traditional home in the heart of the Taos Pueblo. Your host grows most of the ingredients for this Feast Day-style meal herself and makes everything from scratch. She is especially known for her blue corn sweet tamales! This is a rare and intimate experience. Your tour begins at Taos Pueblo Visitor Center, but does not include host gratuity, transportation to Taos Pueblo (an 8-minute drive), or admission to Taos Pueblo (Adults: $16 per person, Students: $14 per person, Children 10 and under: Free).
Price: $72, 1.5 hours
Hot Air Balloon Rides
Rise early to ride the soft desert air. The views of Taos from hot air balloons are indescribable! The experienced crew and FAA certified pilots are personable, knowledgeable, and entertaining. These balloon flights soar above Taos and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, catch the breeze over the Rio Grande River, and gently flow south into the Gulf of Mexico. After the flight, celebrate with the traditional champagne (or sparkling cider) toast, where you’ll be presented with your official Flight Certificates. The flight lasts about an hour, but the memories will last a lifetime!
Not going to Taos Vortex? No worries! There’s plenty more to do in and around Taos, New Mexico, whether you’re interested in exploring the outdoors, perusing museums, or simply sight-seeing.
Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
The best way to see the most around Taos in the least amount of time is by taking the this National Forest Scenic Byway, which leads you on an 83-mile loop through uniquely New Mexican mountains, valleys, and mesas. Centered around the highest point in the state, the 13,159-foot high Wheeler Peak, this drive has everything from 2-billion-year-old southwestern rocks to the alluring Hondo Valley and the memorial of English writer and poet, D.H. Lawrence.
The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway
Driving from Santa Fe after a trip to Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return? Take the High Road. . . literally*! This winding, scenic route technically begins when you hit Española, offering breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The path will also take you to Chimayó, home of the famous El Santuario de Chimayó, a Roman Catholic church known for its mystical powers inspiring the yearly pilgrimage of thousands.
*When you’re ready to head back to Santa Fe, take the more direct “Low Road,” following along the Rio Grande!
Long before the European “discovery” of America, the ancestors of the Taos Valley inhabited the Taos Pueblo. Made entirely of adobe, elements of the present buildings were most likely constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D. Still home to around 150 Pueblo Indians (1900 live on the surrounding lands), the Pueblo is generally open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
One of the highest bridges in the United States, this picturesque steel deck arch bridge spans 1,280 feet and towers 650 feet over the Rio Grande. Just 10 miles northwest of Taos, this beauty has been featured in a number of films, owing to its cinematic grandeur.
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
Consisting of nearly a quarter-million acres of wide open public lands, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument also possesses the Rio Grande Gorge, the 10,093-foot Ute Mountain, and several other volcanic peaks. Visitors will often encounter petroglyphs and other evidence of ancient occupation.
Made of both natural and upcycled materials, Earthships are a brand of passive solar shelter pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds. Earthships are designed to address six basic human needs, including energy, waste management, sewage treatment, shelter, clean water, and food. Not only are these off-the-grid homes noteworthy for their ingenuity, but their aesthetic is something akin to desert science-fiction!
Seen enough? Ready to get your hands dirty and your feet moving? There’s no shortage of outdoor fun in Taos!
The adjacent Carson National Forest is a great place to start if you’re looking for popular day hikes. There’s also the single track loops of Taos Valley Overlook and the Orilla Verde Trails, the latter of which you can find within the aforementioned Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
Close to the Red River Fish Hatchery — and hike-worthy itself — is the Wild Rivers Recreation Area, which includes several dramatic lookouts, including the wheelchair-accessible La Junta Point. Open year-round, Wild Rivers is a great place for camping, picnicking, or possibly catching a glimpse of a mule deer or a red-tailed hawk!
Taos Ski Valley
Just to the north of Taos proper is the village and alpine ski resort of Taos Ski Valley. With 300 inches of annual snowfall and 1,200 skiable acres, clearly the slopes are the main attraction. However, the elevation offers a breathtaking way to beat the summer heat with hiking, mountain biking, and climbing.
Angel Fire Bike Park
Boasting “the best skinnies, jumplines, manicured flow, and super chunk trails the United States has to offer,” Angel Fire Bike Park at Angel Fire Resort is the largest bike park in the Rockies and features 36 trails of varying difficulty. At only 24 miles east of Taos, Angel Fire also offers zipline adventures and skiing in the winter.
Once you’ve had your fill of hiking, climbing, skiing, biking — or however you choose to shred — there are many ways to wind down around Taos.
Black Rock and Manby Hot Springs
Nestled alongside the Rio Grande River, Black Rock and Manby Hot Springs offer a free option for soaking your bones in 97-degree (Fahrenheit) waters. Just north of Taos and an easy hike away!
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa
Located west of Taos, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is known for its healing, rejuvenating, and restorative hot springs. Surrounded by beautiful scenery in a tranquil environment, Ojo Caliente is an invigorating way to enjoy the outdoors.
Taos Lilac Festival
Got the whole crew with you? If you’re visiting Taos in the spring, the Taos Lilac Festival is a family-friendly way to enjoy the flourishing lilacs of the region. There’s live entertainment, food and crafts vendors, and even a pet pageant! What more could you want?
A place like Taos, so rich in both anthropological and artistic history, has to have some good museums, right? Right!
Taos Art Museum
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House is a natural place to start your Taos museum tour. Located in the former home of Russian artist Nicolai Fechin, this museum is primarily interested in bringing awareness and patronage to local Taos artists while also nurturing their development.
Harwood Museum of Art
Located just off of the Taos Plaza, The Harwood Museum of Art is owned and operated by the University of New Mexico. It is the second oldest art museum in the state and its permanent collection includes nearly 5,000 works of art from the Taos Society of Artists, Taos Moderns, and contemporary artists.
Kit Carson Home and Museum
Not far from his eponymous park (and home to Taos Vortex) is the Kit Carson Home and Museum. This National Landmark is the former home of frontiersman Kit Carson, a Spanish Colonial building constructed in 1825, but now a museum dedicated to the trailblazer’s life.
Millicent Rogers Museum
Originally home to the art collections of 20th-century fashionista and champion of Native American rights, Millicent Rogers (and her mother), the Millicent Rogers Museum is a great place to go to check out everything from prehistoric pottery to turquoise jewelry. Seeing the artwork here is like seeing 2,000 years of southwestern history.
So, you’ve had all the fun and it’s time to refuel, or maybe you’re just arriving! Where does one go to get their grub on in Taos?
On your way from Santa Fe, stop off in Dixon for some truly authentic northern New Mexican fare at Zuly’s, a quaint, family-owned cafe that’s open primarily for breakfast and lunch.
Located in the heart of downtown Taos, Martyrs Steakhouse is a renovated adobe home that offers cocktails, New Mexican-inspired entrees, and of course, steak!
The Love Apple!
Love your food to be local and organic? Then check out The Love Apple for a taste of home-cooked, scratch-made New Mexican dishes that change with the seasons.
Mante’s Chow Cart
If you’re into straight-up, no frills New Mexican cuisine, Mante’s Chow Cart is a local hot spot where you can find breakfast burritos and authentic trujillos.
There might be a wait at this family-run mainstay, but Orlando’s comes correct with southwestern favorites like carne adovada and blue corn enchiladas.
Need a break from green and red chile? No problem! Taos has you covered.
Lambert’s of Taos
If you’re in the mood for a relaxed, slightly upscale dining experience, Lambert’s of Taos is a place where you can kick back with a glass of wine or handcrafted cocktail and enjoy a fresh, scratch-made, contemporary American dinner.
Intimate and refined, Byzantium is a moody joint with offerings like the New American shrimp pot pie or curry pork skewers. Inventive and thoughtfully-constructed!
Bella’s Mexican Grill
Looking for a modern spin on the same ol’ fish tacos and elote? Bella’s has the elevated elegance of contemporary cuisine nestled within a comfortable venue.
La Cueva Cafe
It may be small, but La Cueva Cafe packs a mighty wallop with its traditional ceviche and mole, although the New Mexican standards are also here.
On your way to Taos Ski Valley or Wild Rivers? Farmhouse Cafe is on the way in El Prado, featuring farm-to-table, GMO-free dishes like their “Garden Benedict” and grass-fed burgers. Don’t forget to check out the bakery!
Looking for a pick-me-up or a chill-me-out? Check out these Taos locales for either kind of brew!
Taos Mesa Brewing
Featuring “12 distinct house beers on draught at all times,” Taos Mesa Brewing is your best local option for a hearty porter or a hoppy IPA. Plus, they’ve got music at their “Mothership” location and a tap room in Taos Ski Valley!
The Coffee Spot
In the market for a good coffee spot in Taos? Check out The Coffee Spot! Seriously! In addition to a good cup of joe, you can grab a quick breakfast burrito or sit down for their Taos benedict.
As the sun sets on our guide, we’ve got some ideas for where you might wind down on your Taos adventure…*
*Don’t forget to check out Airbnb!
The Historic Taos Inn
Charming, romantic, and delightfully quirky, The Historic Taos Inn is considered a social hub for many locals, with the inn’s Adobe Bar acting as a de facto “living room” featuring live music on the regular. Consists of several adobe houses and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Burch Street Casitas Hotel Downtown Taos
These contemporary-style casitas are each 550 square feet of southwestern style in an open floor plan. Comfortable, relaxing, and neatly-arranged, Burch Street Casitas offer a modern retreat amidst historic Taos.
Hotel La Fonda de Taos
Located in a space once occupied by the Historic Taos Plaza’s first inn and mercantile store, Hotel La Fonda boasts a premier location, as well as D.H. Lawrence’s “Forbidden Art” collection. Walkable to numerous major sites!
El Pueblo Lodge
Within walking distance of the plaza, El Pueblo Lodge is a well-regarded lodging option originally built as a ranch over a century ago. Rooms feature an authentic southwestern aesthetic combined with modern amenities.
SnowMansion Taos Adventure Lodge & Hostel
A great option for individual travelers open to meeting new people, SnowMansion has a laid-back vibe that fits right in with the rest of Taos. Affordable, pet-friendly, and a short stroll from plenty of dining options!
Taos Ski Valley Hotel — The Blake
The cornerstone of the valley’s base area redevelopment, The Blake offers a premier and sophisticated lodging experience. It’s ideally located among retail shops and restaurants, and the 80-room hotel even offers ski-in/ski-out access to chair lift #1!