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From the towering mountains that you can see from anywhere to the shops, galleries and restaurants of downtown, the magic of Taos speaks for itself.

A Visitor’s Guide to Taos, New Mexico

Arts and recreation come together for a perfect summer road trip that speaks for itself.

If you’ve visited, you know. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll know soon enough: There’s something special about Taos, New Mexico. The iconic, small mountain town—located approximately five hours south of Denver—is a carnival for the senses. From spicy green chile to fast-flowing rafting waters to desert sunsets that have long inspired artists, Taos has something for everyone. Yet somehow, this Soul of the Southwest still remains fairly undiscovered, meaning you can explore its trails and pueblos and galleries sans crowds. Want to catch that Taos feeling? Here’s how.

Mesa taos
Taos’ soft color palette and ethereal skies have been inspiring creatives for many
generations.

Become One with Mother Nature

With 594,000 acres of public lands, there are no shortage of adventures to be had in Taos. Outdoorsy folks of all persuasions—bikers, horseback riders, hikers, fishermen, and kayakers—will all find their packs here. Water babies should head directly to the mighty Rio Grande and its Class IV whitewater (local rafting guides say 2019 water levels are the best they’ve seen in 25 years). Thrill-seekers can ride the infamous Taos Box, a 17-mile stretch of intense rapids at the base of the Rio Grande Gorge, while those on a quest for a little less of an adrenaline bump can cruise the more leisurely Rio Chama.

stars taos
Day or night, Taos’ skies never disappoint. Thanks to plenty of open space and almost no light pollution, Taos is a premier spot to stargaze.

Looking to lace up your hiking boots? Take your pick from the miles and miles of paths that snake through the towering peaks surrounding Taos. (On any outing, keep in mind Taos’ nearly 7,000-foot elevation; drink lots of water and give yourself time to acclimate.) Beginners: Point your shoes toward the West Rim Trail that runs alongside the stunning Rio Grande Gorge. (Watch out for bighorn sheep!) For a moderate-rated option, the 3.7-mile (round trip) Williams Lake Trail brings hikers to a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by trees and craggy rock. Those seeking a true challenge should check out Bull of the Woods Trail. The 14.5-mile, out-and-back route leads hikers through pastures and gentle switchbacks to Mt. Walter (the second highest point in New Mexico). From there, it’s up, up, up to the grand reward: Wheeler Peak, the state’s highest point at 13,159 feet.

rafting taos
The RIo Grande offers everything from fly fishing and casual floats to white-knuckle Class IV rapids.

Take A Dip

Once your calves and quads are thoroughly burned out, rejuvenate them in one of the myriad hot springs peppered around town. Among our favorites: Manby and Black Rock hot springs, both located north of Taos. An easy 15- to 20-minute walk from Manby’s parking lot takes waders to two sand-bottomed and rock pools situated in the ruins of an old stagecoach stop. Black Rock and its two mud-bottomed rock pools are nearby, on the west bank of the Rio Grande; they require a short 10-minute walk from the primitive parking area. Water temperatures at both hot springs hover around 97 degrees and—heads up—clothing is optional.

Hardwood taos
The Harwood Museum of Art is one of the many galleries and museums that offer
compelling exhibitions, as well as permanent installations, year-round.

Get Crafty

Taos’ ethereal sunsets, soft, desert palette, and seemingly endless horizon have stirred artists from Georgia O’Keefe to Ansel Adams. See what that inspiration created at any of the nearly 100 art galleries and museums in town. This summer, don’t miss Judy Chicago: The Birth Project from New Mexico Collections at the Harwood Museum of Art (running June 2 through November 10); Chicago is a renowned American feminist artist who was named to the 2018 Time 100 list. Or, let your own creativity take over by fashioning a dreamcatcher at the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo with local tour operator Heritage Inspirations or making your own souvenir at one of Taos Clay Studio’s daily pottery classes.

pueblo taos
Taos Pueblo is both an architectural marvel and the longest continually inhabited
community in America.

Plan Ahead

There’s no bad time to visit Taos, but there are some special events that are worth planning a trip around. Check your calendars for these fun-filled celebrations:

Plan your trip at Taos.org.

The editorial staff of 5280 had no role in the preparation of this content.