When the sun warms and the days grow long, there is no better place to spend your time than in Taos Ski Valley. Located in the Sangre de Cristo mountains—technically the Southern Rockies—the valley boasts a rich cultural heritage, a laid-back community atmosphere, and spectacular views of and from the high-alpine peaks surrounding it.
It’s a wonderful destination for travelers year-round, but the summer boasts a particularly enticing blend of relaxation and adventure. And no one knows the area better than the locals, so we tapped into their recommendations for planning your next trip.
1. Start Your Morning Right at a Local Cafe
If you’re one of those people that can’t really get their adventures started without a strong cup of joe, then you’ll feel right at home in the Taos Ski Valley. Every morning, its coffee shops are buzzing with locals and visitors alike—most of them conferring at a table about plans for the day. Taos local Krista Reeves loves Black Diamond Espresso, situated at the base of what will be the ski area’s high-speed Lift 1. Cafe Naranja is another centrally located option. The restaurant offers two impressive outdoor patios, a full espresso bar, and breakfast specialties like breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros.
2. Embark on a New Outdoor Adventure
In the winter, it’s all about skiing and snowboarding. Summertime in Taos and Taos Ski Valley opens up a whole new array of outdoor adventures. With its backdrop of mountains and rivers, it’s the perfect place to try something new: take a horseback ride through the valley, cool off while rafting the river on an exciting day trip, or test your downhill mountain-biking skills.
3. Explore on Two Wheels
Taos Ski Valley boasts a head-spinning array of options for two-wheeled spinning. Road enthusiasts love the 83-mile loop around Taos Ski Valley and Taos, with Wheeler Peak near the center, that’s known as the Enchanted Circle. Another popular route is the ride from Taos to Taos Ski Valley along State Route 150, which offers some 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Intermediate and expert riders flock to the Northside Recreation Area for a true taste of alpine biking. You will have to crank through a couple of hours of challenging uphill riding, but the spectacular views, quaking aspens, and thrilling downhills make the grind totally worth it.
4. Learn How to Send a Pitch
No idea what that means? No worries—the superb, experienced staff at Mountain Skills will have you well-versed in climbing parlance, as well as basic skills, in no time. Local guide Jay Foley and his team are adept at helping newbies (as well as expert climbers) reach new heights, quite literally. Learn new skills while appreciating the landscape of Taos Ski Valley from a whole new perspective from climbing spots such as Ernie’s Crag and the Bavarian Cliff.
Mountain Skills guides are adept at making the experience “not so scary” for first-time climbers, who include everyone from families to large groups, says office manager Donna Foley. “People are just blown away,” she says. “They come out really not knowing what to expect, but we start out with something really easy and then work up from there. It usually exceeds people’s expectations. They finish with a lot of confidence, and it’s just a really exciting day.”
5. Hit the Trails
The best way to escape the summer heat is in the mountains, and Taos Ski Valley offers plenty of opportunities for exploring on foot. Ambitious hikers won’t want to miss one of the area’s signature adventures: summiting Wheeler Peak. At just over 13,000 feet, the mountain is the tallest in New Mexico, offering spectacular views and a killer workout.
The Williams Lake Trail is another popular hike in the area. It’s about four miles out and back as you can climb two miles to the namesake lake (which sits at more than 11,000 feet) and enjoy a picnic on the rock that awaits you—you’ll know when you’ve found it. For extra bragging rights, hike the extra two miles to the summit of Wheeler (the trails intersect, and according to locals, the extra steps are well worth it.).
Taos Ski Valley natives also recommend the Gavilan and Italianos trails along Road 150, on the way up to Taos Ski Valley. Grab a stick as there are numerous creek crossings on Italianos, and be sure to take a picnic lunch to enjoy while soaking up the stunning landscapes and mountain streams.
“Emerging from the cool shade of the tall firs and aspen into the sunlight expanse of Gavilan’s broad, wildflower-laden meadow just before the final ascent to the ridgeline feels like a benediction,” says Sanda Pecina, a local who hikes daily. “And, Italianos, with its constant sound of rushing water and many stream crossings simply washes your stress away. It’s pure heaven.”
Wherever you hike, come prepared for a long day, bring plenty of water, and dress in layers for late afternoon showers. (And be sure to check for forest closures and hiking conditions before you go.)
6. Spice Things Up with Local Flavors
After a long day adventuring and exploring around Taos Ski Valley, you’ve certainly earned some culinary rewards. Two highly recommended local favorites are Cafe Naranja and Stray Dog Cantina, where you can dig into hearty, locally inspired dishes. Open for breakfast and lunch (it’s closed during the summer from Tuesday-Thursday), Cafe Naranja is located in the back courtyard of the Edelweiss Lodge & Spa and is a crowd favorite during the winter for its ski in-ski out convenience. But it’s equally awesome in the summer for breakfast and lunch, with a mostly local crowd that feasts on cheddar cheese biscuits with green chile gravy, burritos smothered in homemade red or green chile, and massive lobster sandwiches. At Stray Dog Cantina, a down-home spot smack in the heart of the village, grab a table on the patio and order up a legendary fresh-squeezed margarita. You can’t miss with any of the restaurant’s filling, Mexican-centric plates, but be warned that its legendary house-made chile is, as the website warns, “...not for amateurs. It’s extra tasty, but it can be spicy. It’s serious chile.”
And speaking of chile: You’re bound to see or hear “Christmas” at most Taos Ski Valley restaurants. But it’s not a reference to the holiday itself (even though winter ski season is always top of mind); instead, it refers to the style of serving both red and green chile sauce on classic dishes like huevos rancheros or burritos. It’s a true New Mexican cultural and culinary experience.
7. Get Cozy with Wildlife
While the skiers have left the slopes, you won’t have the stunning outdoor landscapes entirely to yourself during summer in Taos Ski Valley. Instead, you’ll likely be making friends with local wildlife: marmots and pikas on the hiking trails; elk and deer grazing and sitting amongst wildflowers; and bighorn sheep and their families wandering near waterways like the Rio Hondo stream; and, of course, birds and squirrels everywhere. If you’re really lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a bear or wildcat.
8. Soak up Arroyo Seco’s Historic & Artistic Vibe
Locals will be quick to tell anyone visiting that they can’t leave without stopping in the nearby town of Arroyo Seco. Nicknamed “Seco,” this charming little haven sits about halfway between Taos and Taos Ski Valley and is filled with traditional adobe structures, colorful art galleries, excellent restaurants, and quirky shops.
9. Make Friends with Locals
Part of what makes Taos Ski Valley such a memorable destination is its friendly locals. Take it from someone who lives here: “When you come here, it’s almost shocking how well people know one another and embrace the lifestyle,” says resident Ashley Arabian. While you’re here, strike up a conversation with someone on the trail, a bartender, or barista, and you’re likely to learn about their favorite spots, too.
Written by Sarah Strohl for RootsRated Media in partnership with Taos Ski Valley Chamber of Commerce.