A mountain town of fewer than 500 residents, Red River, New Mexico, manages to always have something going on. From bluegrass festivals to classic car shows to Oktoberfest, the residents of this former mining town love to have fun! Located on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, Red River also offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure and has gained a well-deserved spot on many families’ annual vacation calendar.
With multiple events every month, it can be tough to narrow it down, so we put together this list of 11 of the best events to help you plan your next trip to northern New Mexico.
1.Red River Songwriters’ Festival in January
Founded in 2012 by Drew Kennedy, Josh Grider, Walt Wilkins, Susan Gibson, Brandy Zdan, and Kelley Mickwee, the Red River Songwriters’ Festival is a popular event that almost always sells out (tickets are limited to keep the event intimate). This event is a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with some very talented artists. Besides watching live solo, duo, or collaboration shows and stumbling upon impromptu jam sessions throughout the day and night, there are also delicious food and ice cold beers to be had.
Be sure to give yourself some time to head up the mountain and take a few runs on your skis or snowboard during the downtime. The Red River Ski & Summer Area has been family-owned for more than 50 years and has great outdoor activities for the whole family. They offer lessons for all ages and at the end of the day, mountain tubing. We recommend you buy tickets in advance for this super-popular activity.
2. Mardi Gras in the Mountains in February/March
If any small town in the mountains can do a wild but family-friendly Mardi Gras, it’s Red River. What started off as a fairly low-key event in 1992 has now turned into a week-long celebration with live music, parades with decorative floats and people walking on stilts, bead throwing, a Children’s Masquerade Ball—and one for adults, too—and of course, colorful costumes and masks.
It will feel like you’ve been transported to New Orleans with all the Cajun music, dancing and food (oh the food!). Get your fill of shrimp, crawfish, authentic gumbo, and check out the drink-making contest. Opening day includes the Burning of the Wild Tchoupitoulas Tree, which is a 7-foot tall paper maché figure that serves as the festival’s mascot of sorts. There’s not only a kids’ parade, but two children from the ski school are crowned king and queen and lead it. This event is fun for the whole family and not to be missed.
3. Bacon and Brews in May
Kick off summer in Red River at Bacon and Brews. Taste beverages from breweries and wineries all over New Mexico, including Red River’s very own brewing company, and eat as much bacon as your heart desires. The two-day event includes games, music, dancing, and offerings from local vendors, so it’s the perfect place to have a little fun and get a one-of-a-kind souvenir to take home.
If you’ve been looking for a chance to brush up on your cornhole skills or challenge your family members to an oversized Jenga game—all with a side of crispy bacon—this is your chance!
4. Classic Car Show in June
Red River Classic Car Show is an annual car show held in the beginning of June at Brandenburg Park. You’ll see more than 100 cars including classics, antique trucks, lowriders, hot rods, and show cars. With raffles, a sock hop, neon parade at night, live music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, dancing, and games for children, there’s a lot packed into this one-day event. Keep an eye out for the Pink Ladies walking around for a cool photo op with your kids.
There is an admission fee for adults, but the event is free for kids.
5. Art and Wine Festival in June
Every summer on Father’s Day weekend, Red River hosts its annual Art and Wine Festival in Brandenburg Park. More than 50 vendors from around New Mexico flock to the mountain town to share their wine and spirits. The three-day event also features photography, art, and pottery, a silent and live auction, a cookout, and food tents. Entertainment for the kiddos includes things like face-painting, spin art, chalk drawing, and more.
6. Michael Martin Murphey’s American Westfest in July
This festival was started in 1986 by Michael Martin Murphey and is known as the standard by which all other Western festivals are measured. Murphey was a key figure in helping pioneer the music scene in Austin, Texas, 50 years ago, and he’s doing the same in Red River.
The family-friendly Western extravaganza includes Western art, craftwork, and vintage clothing. Kids love watching historical reenactments of frontier life with folks dressed up as cowboys, Native Americans, mountain men, cavalry troops, and more. Families can enjoy the chuckwagon dinners, cowboy camps, Native American villages, and other exhibits throughout the long weekend.
7. Larry Joe Taylor’s Hot Chili Days, Cool Mountain Nights Festival in August
This four-day festival includes live music all weekend from a variety of musicians, including Larry Joe Taylor & Friends, at several venues around town. One of the draws of this festival is being able to see world-class musicians performing at historic venues like the Motherlode Saloon. It’s not uncommon for folks to sit down for a strummin’ session with the musicians, so be sure to bring along your guitar!
Just as big as the music is the food, with the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) Cook-Off, and the New Mexico State Green Chile Championship taking place during the weekend. New Mexicans take their green chile very seriously, so this is your chance to taste the best of the best!
8. Southwest Pickers and Bluegrass Traditional Music Festival in September
At this annual event, you can look forward to bluegrass, old-time and American bands, instructional workshops, dancing, food, and a beer garden. This festival draws some of the country’s best musicians—and even the occasional Grammy nominee—as well as workshops on harmony singing, barn dances, and contests for flatpick guitar playing, songwriting, banjo playing, and vocals, including duos. There are many activities just for kids, like sing-alongs and pick’n circles.
9. Red River Folk Festival in September
This three-day festival in September is great fun for the family, as it’s a combination of two events: the Red River Folk Festival and Aspencade, an arts and crafts fair. You’ll hear music floating through town all day and there are handcrafted items, home furnishings, specialty goods, jewelry, furniture, pottery, and food vendors on display at Brandenburg Park. There’s plenty of room for the kids to run around and fall is a beautiful time of year to visit Red River, as the leaves are changing and the air is getting crisp.
10. Oktoberfest in October
Oktoberfest in Red River is something everyone should experience. For the kids, there are fun activities like stein holding, chicken dancing, yodeling, brat eating, and Miss and Mr. Oktoberfest contests. For adults, there are activities like the “Mega Mustache” pub crawl, stein holding contest, obstacle courses, and keg-carrying contests. There’s also a microbrew contest, German “Oompah” polka music, and dancing is highly encouraged.
11. Torchlight Parade and Fireworks every Saturday from November through March
This 45-plus-year event is a winter tradition in Red River and happens every Saturday during ski season. Watch as skiers glide down the mountain in unison, red torches in hand, and then stick around for the fireworks show that night. The parade is a local favorite and is put on by instructors, ski patrollers, and locals. It’s quite a sight to see them all come down the hill in the dark with only their torches to lead the way.
Know Before You Go
Many of these events are very popular and some have limited tickets available, so plan ahead and book your tickets early. When it comes to accommodations, Red River has everything from cozy cabins to condos to lodges.
Red River is easy to get to from many major cities, including Albuquerque, Dallas, and Denver. It is a mountain town, so give yourself extra time if you’re driving up in the winter.
Written by Melanie Hamlett for Matcha in partnership with New Mexico Tourism Department.