Taos is located in northern New Mexico in the San Juan mountains and is my absolute favorite place to visit. There is so much to do there and the culture is so interesting. I’ve already written a blog about the AMAZING place we stayed at https://laurenssuitcase.com/2020/07/27/road-trip-diary-hotel-luna-mystica-in-taos-nm/. Now I want to tell you all the awesome things you can do there.
This is a super obvious one considering the San Juan’s are right there. Hiking is also the main reason my boyfriend and I spent a few days here. Taos is located about 20 minutes from the highest peak in Mew Mexico, Wheeler Peak! If you are an experienced hiker, this is a MUST DO! It was extremely hard but totally rewarding.
Some things to know before climbing Wheeler Peak
-This is rated as a hard difficult level on All Trails. They aren’t kidding. The hike is about 8.2 miles out and back and over 3,000 feet of elevation. I’ve climbed 14ers with less of an elevation gain.
-Leave early. I don’t like to be on the trail any later than 6 am. This has a lot to do with weather because pop up thunderstorms are incredibly common during the summer. I also like to beat the traffic, especially the kooks and Jerry’s who have no clue what they are doing and don’t start till noon. It’s pretty funny to be descending already as you pass people in sandals, shorts, and cotton t shirts starting the trail.
-If you decide to do this, don’t let the weather below fool you. The elevation is over 13,000 feet and the wind is SERIOUS up there. Wear pants, bring multiple layers. We put on about 3 extra layers going up and took them all off on the way down.
-Stop at the rock pile areas to see the cutest marmots and pikas! Apparently they will eat crackers if you bring them.
-Hiking poles aren’t necessary, but they were super helpful!
-Bring PLENTY of water! I brought a full 2 L pack and then an extra liter bottle.
-Bring food! This is a long hike, but you never know what will happen so it’s always a good idea to have something more than just a granola bar.
-Gloves… oh my gosh I thought I was going to get frostbite on my hands. This was such a rookie mistake I made that I will never make again.
If I’ve totally freaked you out and you are like “heck no” to Wheeler Peak, I get it! It’s very important to mentally check in and decide if a serious summit is right for you. There are still a ton of hikes in the area! For example, Williams lake is at the same trail head as Wheeler and is a much more mellow hike and I saw a ton of kids on it. You can also use the app All Trails to find hikes in the area.
2. Hot Springs
This is one of the things I’m most excited to share! That’s because I found FREEEE hot springs and my blog is all about saving that money. Typical hot springs can cost up to $30 a person!!! I found Manby Hot springs via All Trails but it’s super important to read the reviews and comments because the coordinates based off maps will take you done a super treacherous road. But don’t fear, I’m gonna tell you everything you need to know now!
To get to these hot springs, you need to take 64 out of Taos and turn right on Tune Rd. If you are staying at Hotel Luna Mystica, the turn off is right there near the airport. You look for the airport and then Tune Rd (you can use your gps to find this road). There is a slight issue some may not be comfortable with… there is a no trespassing sign on Tune Rd that says the road is for residents only. Well… keep going. If you aren’t comfortable with this, I totally understand! If you are cool with being a little sketch ball like me, you continue on Tune Rd all the way to the Rio Grande and take a left so you don’t literally drive your car into the river. The trail head is also towards the left if you are looking at the river. PS, there is a sign on your way that says “gps wrong, no hot springs access” lol no keep going!
The hike is extremely easy and we saw kids coming up on our way down. It’s only 0.5 miles down and 0.5 miles back up and 285 ft of elevation gain (on your way back up). You will have multiple hot pools with varied temperatures to choose from and an insane view of the Rio Grande.
3. Rio Grande Bridge
This is just a super easy thing to do and a must see in Taos and it’s FREE! The Rio Grande is massive and the bridge is a great way to see it. There are also vendors there usually selling a ton of different things and is actually my favorite place to buy jewelry. These people actually sell their stuff to the stores in town but those stores up charge all the items so this is your best price. Bring cash! If you go soon during Covid, you can find a lot of the vendors at the speedway in town instead of the bridge.
4. Purchase jewlery, pottery, art, handmade items, etc.
I have bought my favorite items of clothing and accessories in Taos. You can find amazing turquoise and opal here! Be careful though, a lot of the fancy jewlery stores are charging an absurd amount. I try to buy from vendors and people who made it themselves. You can usually do this at the Rio Grande Bridge, the speedway in town, or the Taos downtown historic square.
I was recently told that if you really want the best deals on jewlery to check out Running Bear in the town Gallop. Apparently a lot of other stores buy their stuff directly from them so this is the best deal.
My favorite place to buy tourist items like stickers and t shirts is I Love Taos (the love is two chili peppers making a heart). They have so much to choose from! Little pricey, but that’s tourism for ya.
On our trip we have lived on sandwiches so we can splurge on New Mexico’s amazing food. The number one thing you have to get there is the green or red chile! It is ten times better there than ANYWHERE! The reason why is because there is a town in New Mexico called Hatch. This is where the best chiles come from! It might sound familiar because hatch green chile can be found in cans even out East. In Taos, the chile is so fresh because it’s basically local. If you are lucky enough to visit late summer around the chile festival the town hosts, you can find some amazing things with chiles in them even at the grocery stores. My favorite thing we got was red and green chile wine and green chile bread. I currently have 5 bottles of the wine I’m bringing back east… it’s THAT good.
If you are looking for specific restaurants, my personal favorites are Orlando’s and Alley Cantina. Currently Alley Cantina is closed, but keep checking whenever you get out there! I sort of like Orlando’s more because there are more options of the New Mexican food style, but also the service at Alley Cantina blows. I’ve had bad servers every time I’ve been there and so have some of my friends. The food is toooo good not to go back though. Another famous favorite is Lotaburger. This is a New Mexican food chain and is famous for their green chile burgers.
Side note: if you don’t love spicy food, it’s okay! There’s so many other mild options you can enjoy. I just like my food so spicy that I start to sweat 😂.
6. The Earthship Houses community
This is something new to me that I recently learned about because of one of the women selling her pottery at Rio Grande. This is only a few miles past the Rio Grande bridge so it is a super easy pit stop. It’s free to go check out the visitors center and a few of the front houses, but you have to pay to go on a tour to see the insides. We only walked around because *ballin on a budget.*
The earth houses are a completely sustainable community and the houses are all made out of recycled materials. The houses are SUPER cool to look at. They look like a mixture of Star Wars and castles. For sure worth checking out and going into the visitor center to read about them. A little cult like but still very cool.
I hope some of this information is helpful and please feel free to reach out with any other questions! I hope you get to go enjoy Taos and love it the way I do.