The immensity of the Rio Grande Gorge, the sprawling basalt flows of the Taos Plateau volcanic field, the looming, jagged peaks of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range: Taos, New Mexico is hallowed ground. Boasting an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, the semi-arid, high-mountain desert is a stunning synthesis of geography.
The area is also marked by complex history. The modernized city of Taos is no more than a mile south of Taos Pueblo, an ancient area belonging to the Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people. Although Taos has been occupied by the Pueblo for almost a millennium, the area was first “discovered” in 1540 and established as Don Fernando de Taos following Spanish conquest in 1615. For three subsequent centuries, the city was the center of bloody conflict, as the land was fortified by Spain, Mexico, and finally, the United States.
Shortly after New Mexico was admitted to the U.S. as its 47th state in 1912, artists flocked to Taos to paint local scenes of Native Americans and its inspiring landscape. While the days of Georgia O’Keefe are now numbered, Taos is still a haven for artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and like-minded free spirits.
Looking for a southwestern escape? Immerse yourself in the mystic mountain town with these insider tips.
No matter the time of year, Taos offers up outdoor activities for any predilection. And at the heart of the town’s outdoor scene is Taos Ski Valley, the ideal destination for year-round recreation.
Visiting in the winter? You’d be remiss to not hit the slopes. Featuring a one-to-one ratio of expert to beginner terrain, the ski resort offers some of the best powder in the Rockies. If you’re looking for a challenge, the Kachina lift, constructed in 2014, reaches 12,481 feet, the highest elevation of any triple chair in North America.
Come summertime, the slopes bloom into a verdant valley, offering tourists activities as diverse as mountain biking, full moon hikes, and scenic chair rides. And because the village of Taos Ski Valley is located within the Carson National Forest, with the Wheeler Peak Wilderness area bordering much of the south, hikers and backpackers can find plenty of trails to meander down.
Doubling as a bakery and restaurant, Michael’s Kitchen has been serving up classic New Mexican breakfast and lunch food since 1974. The place is consistently busy, but always laid back and friendly. Boasting an eclectic menu, diners can opt for ubiquitous diner options such as pancakes and steak and eggs or New Mexican classics such as Huevos Rancheros and a breakfast enchilada.
If you have a sweet tooth, order a pastry or two—we recommend the apple fritters and éclairs.
As previously discussed, Taos is steeped in rich art history. The town features innumerable art galleries, many of which are located on the Taos Plaza, the centrally located main strip within the downtown historic district. Planning a visit? Check the art calendar for more information on events, exhibits, and workshops.
In addition to more traditional artistic endeavors, Taos still retains an outsider undercurrent. And perhaps nothing quite epitomizes the weird and wonderful better than the Earthship structures strewn throughout the desert on the outskirts of town. Conceptualized by Michael Reynolds in the 1970s, these passive solar homes promote radically sustainable living and emphasize an off-the-grid lifestyle that minimizes reliance on public utilities and fossil fuels. Often horseshoe-shaped and constructed with reclaimed materials such as tires, aluminum cans, and glass bottles, the Earthships are simultaneously humble and otherworldly.
For those looking to further their knowledge, the Earthship Biotecture Vistor’s Center is located northwest of Taos in the town of El Prado and offers a self-guided tour through a fully-functioning Earthship.
Whereas many Taos dining staples embrace their New Mexican roots, Gutiz opts for a Latin-French hybrid. And trust us, this is an entirely good decision. Staples, including the Green-Chile-Sausage Bowl—a hearty helping of sliced sausage, three beans, onions, tomatoes, and a healthy dousing of green chile sauce—epitomize the Land of Enchantment’s love of hatch chiles. For those looking to embrace their inner Francophile, selections such as the Brie Omelet and Parisian Crepe are wonderful riffs on French classics.
And believe what you’ve heard. The chocolate truffles are damn near perfect.
For a truly New Mexican experience, be sure to hit up one of the many hot springs that populate the area—whether at a lavish, spa-like resort or a locals-only secret spot. For the full experience, be sure to hit up Ojo Caliente, located about 40 miles west of town. Boasting everything from immersive, therapeutic massage and bodywork packages, to mud pools and hot springs, the mineral spring resort and spa is as relaxing and lavish as it gets.
For a more rustic (and dare we say, more authentic?) experience, ask a local for their favorite soaking spot. We won’t give any secrets away, but there are several hotspots located just outside of town along the Rio Grande. While you may not get pampered by a certified masseuse, the springs are a great place to enjoy a canned beer while resting your bones after a long ski or hike.
Still not convinced that Taos is a foodie town? Wait until the dinner hour strikes. While the town boasts a formidable dining scene that includes everything from down-home New Mexican cooking to refined global fare, we’re partial to the Love Apple, located on Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, just outside the plaza. Housed in a former Catholic church built in the 1800s, the Love Apple is a diminutive, local gem that’s as charming as it is romantic.
Once you get over the ambiance (and it’ll take time, trust us), it’s time to revel in the goodness of the restaurant’s excellent wine list and kitchen’s local, organic home cooking. Specializing in New Mexican traditions with a French-inspired twist, the menu rotates seasonally, so it’s worth conversing with your waiter about local sourcing and availability and current specials.
We’ve already blogged about the cosmic vibes of Taos Mesa Brewing (and a certain corresponding music festival)—so you know we’re partial to the brewery. Located a bit off the beaten path, in the middle of the sprawling desert, the unique location really can’t be beat (plus, it boasts the “best mountain-view sunsets,” those of which we can’t really debate). Embodying the aforementioned aesthetics and philosophies of surrounding Earthships—including reclaimed materials and eco-aware intentions such as solar power and water catchment techniques—the structure itself ain’t so bad, either.
Grab a brew (at any given time, there are nine to 12 in-house variations) and a patio seat and drink in the view.