Although some Southwestern cities are sizzling in the summer, Taos Ski Valley is a rare oasis of cooler temperatures—making it an ideal destination for outdoor adventure and relaxation. Why? It’s all about the elevation, which ranges from around 9,200 feet to more than 13,000! That translates into temperatures that hover in the low 80s during the day and dip even cooler into jacket-worthy weather in the evenings.
Surrounded by tall pines and fresh mountain air, you can feel yourself not just cooling down, but calming down. It’s a place to let go and let loose, whether that means a peaceful hike up a mountain trail or an adrenaline-pumping adventure rafting down whitewater.
Here are seven reasons you should visit Taos Ski Valley this summer.
1. Enjoy World-Class Hiking
Situated in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—the southernmost stretch of the Rocky Mountains—and bordering Carson National Forest, Taos Ski Valley is a hiking wonderland, with a vast array of trails that offer everything from a casual stroll in the woods to a challenging summit trek. The most famous—and ambitious—hiking adventure is summiting Wheeler Peak, which is the state’s highest at 13,161 feet. The 13.5-mile loop (or 14.6-mile round-trip) on the Wheeler Peak Trail starts near the Twining Campground, and finishing it will certainly come with bragging rights (not to mention sore quads). You can shorten the hike by starting at the Williams Lake Trailhead, which will still require about an eight-mile round-trip of hiking.
“On a clear day, the views from the top of Wheeler let you see not just deep into New Mexico but also all the way up into Colorado,” exclaims a local outdoor enthusiast. “It’s a photographer’s dream and a peak-bagger’s fantasy.”
Hikers looking for a slightly less ambitious outing can try the Bull of the Woods/Long Canyon Trail, which is accessible from the Taos Ski Valley parking lot. Both start at the same trailhead, with the Bull of the Woods taking you 1.7 miles to a scenic pasture, while the Long Canyon route is 3.6 miles to a junction at the ridge. Other popular options include the moderate two-mile Williams Lake Trail, starting at the Bavarian Lodge (closed for construction in 2018), a great option for a hike and picnic. Grab some food to go at Bumps Market & Burrito Bar, Cafe Naranja, or the Stray Dog Cantina and enjoy the hike through aspen, blue spruce, western white fir, and bristlecone pine until you reach the lake—a scenic spot for digging into your meal. If the elevation is too much, seek lower terrain in and around Taos on the BLM public trails at Rift Valley and West Rim, near the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
No matter where you wander, be sure to check out area trail conditions, forest closures, and weather beforehand—and expect stunning views, grassy meadows, and alpine lakes along the way.
2. Brag-Worthy Mountain Biking
Excellent mountain bike trails beckon riders of all levels. In the town of Taos, the South Boundary Trail is one of the best systems in the Southwest, with trails of every variety—rocky, doubletrack, singletrack, climbing, and technical—to test your riding abilities. Another favorite is the BLM’s Taos Valley Overlook Trails, which offers 16 miles of singletrack loops with views that are just as epic as the riding.
More experienced riders won’t want to miss the Northside Recreation Area at Taos Ski Valley, a private, 1,200-acre self-guided mountain biking area (fee: $5 for hikers and trail runners, and $10 for mountain bikers). It also boasts the highest MTB trail system in New Mexico, with elevations reaching more than 12,000 feet at Frazer Mountain (11,640-foot Bull of the Woods Mountain is the other peak climbers can pedal). No matter where you are in the looped trail network, however, you can count on expansive overviews and challenging climbs.
Gearing Up Bike Shop offers bike rentals, maps, and information.
3. Fascinating Culture and Tradition
Adventure is served with a side of culture in this part of New Mexico. The people of Taos Pueblo, about 20 miles south of Taos Ski Valley, have lived in their multi-storied dwellings here for more than a millennium—in fact, this is the only living Native community in the United States that has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Tour the village with a Pueblo guide who will provide insight into their heritage. Duck into marked stores to shop for Native pottery and jewelry directly from the source.
4. An Array of Ways to Get Artsy
Taos may be an adventure capital, but it’s also an art mecca—as evidenced by the plethora of art museums and galleries within a short drive from Taos Ski Valley. Highlights include the Harwood Museum of Art, where you can trace the town’s artistic past from Taos Society of Artists to the present, and the Millicent Rogers Museum, which offers the chance to peruse the heiress’s impressive collection of traditional Spanish Colonial and Native American works. Another must-do for art lovers? A day trip to Arroyo Seco, an eclectic artists’ enclave about eight miles from Taos Ski Valley.
You can also stay in artistic style at The Blake, which opened in 2017 in the heart of Taos Ski Valley. Named after resort-founder Ernie Blake, the 80-room boutique property offers an exquisite look at the artistic heritage of the area, with decor featuring original works from names like Georgia O’Keefe, Berninghaus, and Henley—some of the masters that helped put Taos on the map as an art hotspot. Even if you’re not a guest, you can soak up the artwork in the hotel’s beautiful lobby and on-site spa and restaurant, 192.
5. Get Outdoors in Style
Heritage Inspirations Tours offers guided hikes and immersive cultural experiences in and around Taos, but its glamping excursions have earned high marks among visitors who like a side of luxury with their outdoor adventure. Guests stay in canvas tents complete with quilt-covered beds and rugs on the floor—a wonderfully luxurious home base amidst the sagebrush-covered mesas.
For a more rustic experience, camping and RV enthusiasts can also take advantage of Forest Service campgrounds in the Carson National Forest—Lower Hondo, Cuchillo de Medio, and Cuchilla are all easily accessible along NM Route 150 just below the Taos Ski Valley village, and free of charge. In addition, the Taos Ski Valley resort allows free, first-come-first-served RV parking in its lot year-round.
Always visit the Carson National Forest website before you head out to check for any fire restrictions that might be in place.
6. Live Music and Festivals
It’s an understatement to say Taos’s hills are alive with music. Each summer, aspiring and professional opera singers flock to the area for the Taos Opera Institute concerts in June. A decades-long tradition, the Taos School of Music brings young masters and superb guest musicians to the area for master classes and public concerts in July and August.
Music is just one part of the summer entertainment, which includes events like the Summer Wine Fest, Bacon & Brews, and the Up & Over 10K Trail Run—just a few of the offerings on the packed summer calendar.
7. Adventure: Llamas, Hot-Air Balloons, River Rafting, Climbing, and Fly Fishing
For a one-of-a-kind trek through the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness, join an excursion with Wild Earth Llama Adventures. Amiable trail companions, these furry friends carry your gear, leaving you free to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Taos Ski Valley area. Horseback riding is also a popular way to explore the region.
Another lofty way to experience the stunning landscapes? Soaring silently above them via a hot-air balloon ride with Pueblo Balloon. The experienced outfitter operates year-round, giving visitors a chance to fly above the dramatic vistas of the Rio Grande Gorge, an 800-foot-deep crevasse that carves the landscape from the Colorado state line to just north of Santa Fe.
The Rio Grande River winds through narrow stretches of the gorge’s basalt cliffs, churning it into thrilling whitewater. A full roster of outfitters run the waters here, particularly through the Taos Box: 17 miles of intense and thrill-inducing rapids. (There are more placid floats available, too.) If the cliffs above the water beckon, you can customize a trip with Mountain Skills Rock Climbing, whose concierge-like service will prepare a rock climbing outing for adventurers of any skill level.
The rivers and streams surrounding Taos Ski Valley are also an excellent destination for fly fishing, with a large population of cutthroat, brown, and rainbow trout waiting to be caught. Hiring a local guide is a great way to find where the fish are biting and learn the best ways to catch them. It’s yet another reason that makes summer at Taos Ski Valley so special.
Written by Ashley M. Biggers for RootsRated Media in partnership with Taos Ski Valley Chamber of Commerce.