There are several reasons that New Mexico is fondly referred to as “The Land of Enchantment,” and once you’ve traveled the Enchanted Circle, you’ll have a new appreciation for the nickname, too. An 84-mile byway circling Wheeler Peak, the Enchanted Circle showcases the best of New Mexico’s unique heritage and picturesque landscapes. Along the way, you’ll traverse valleys, mesas, mountains, national forests, and some of the state’s most culturally rich towns and villages.
No matter what season you travel the Enchanted Circle, you’ll also have ample opportunities to explore the outdoors, whether you prefer hiking, biking, rafting, horseback riding, skiing, or snowboarding.
With so many options, it can be challenging to craft an ideal travel itinerary. To help you map out your own adventure, we’ve put together this list of the highlights along the Enchanted Circle (and a few tips to make the most of your trip!).
Towns and Must-See Attractions
The Taos Pueblo has been around for more than 1,000 years, and though the town has evolved over the centuries, it has remained true to its roots. Spend some time in Taos to absorb the rich history and culture — which shows itself in the Southwestern pueblo and colonial-style architecture — the delicious (and often spicy) cuisine, the colorful art galleries, and the luxurious spas and hot springs. Regardless of your personality and preferences, you’re bound to find something entertaining here.
Taos is the largest and most popular town on the Enchanted Circle, and it’s a wonderful spot to make your home base. If you don’t end up staying at the Taos Inn, at least stop by the onsite Adobe Bar or Doc Martin’s for a margarita. This iconic inn is located in the heart of town and has served the city’s visitors since 1936.
Angel Fire is a marvelous mountain community that sits 8,500 feet above sea level. The winters here provide a snow-packed oasis for skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers, and the summers are ideal for playing golf, hiking through Carson National Forest, and mountain biking the nearby trails. The chairlift at Angel Fire Resort runs year round, shuttling visitors to 10,677 feet. From the top, you can see as far as Wheeler Peak and Eagle Nest Lake State Park, so don’t forget your camera! When it’s time to return to the base, choose to either mountain bike, hike, ride a zipline, or simply grab a ride on the chairlift back down.
Arroyo Seco isn’t technically on the Enchanted Circle, but it’s a great side trip. (If you were already planning on driving to Wheeler Peak or to Taos Ski Valley, it’s really not out of your way.) Located just seven miles up the mountain from the town of Taos, the tiny adobe village is rich in history and is known for its abundance of art galleries, its delicious New Mexican restaurants, and the historic Mission-style church that sits in the town center.
The town is home to a thriving community of artists who work to produce high-quality ceramics and jewelry, as well as fine art paintings and photography. You can also shop for antiques, browse boutique clothing stores, and visit Weaving Southwest, which crafts handwoven, hand-dyed yarns and sells tapestries, rugs, blankets, and other woven items. Before you leave the village, drop into Taos Cow for delicious ice cream in unique Southwestern flavors like Chocolate Rio Grande with piñon nuts, dark chocolate, and pecans.
Questa is a small, historic village that offers a peaceful respite from the resort towns along the Enchanted Circle. There is trout fishing for every skill level in the surrounding lakes, and the nearby trails showcase northern New Mexico’s natural beauty. If you venture to the center of town, you’ll find a breathtaking church that has stood since the mid-1800s.
Along the Enchanted Circle, Red River is a hot spot for entertainment and adventure. Throughout the year, the town hosts a wide variety of lively festivals and events, from an annual bluegrass festival in summer to Oktoberfest in fall, the winter torchlight parades, and even Mardi Gras in the Mountains in February.
While Red River is known as a great place to celebrate the seasons, it’s also know as a top spot for exploring the outdoors. Blessed with beautiful forests, mountains, and streams, Red River has an extensive system of trails for hikers and mountain bikers, while anglers can chase trout in local rivers and lakes. Plus, the Red River offers awesome whitewater rafting, and families can enjoy an adventure together on the ziplines and aerial ropes courses at the Red River Ski & Summer Area.
If you’re looking for a taste of the Old West, you should definitely visit Eagle Nest. Its Western-style downtown area includes a saloon with swinging doors, plus fun shops with sterling silver jewelry, antiques, leather goods, pottery, and more. Main Street is less than a mile long, but there is plenty to do. Take a moment on your trip to walk up and down the street and grab a meal in one of the restaurants or cafes.
Before you leave, head out to Eagle Nest Lake State Park. This spectacular mountain lake has some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the region, as well as an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities and gorgeous views. It’s an ideal spot for a picnic.
Tips for Roadtrippers
Stretch Your Legs
The ultimate bucket list item in northern New Mexico is summiting Wheeler Peak (which, at 13,065 feet, is no small task), but if you’re looking for something a little more manageable, there are plenty of shorter trails as well. It’s a good idea to stretch your legs along the drive, so stop at one of the countless trailheads in the area and experience New Mexico’s natural beauty up close.
There is so much to see and do on the Enchanted Circle that it would be impossible to plan it all out. Make time to see the things that are really important to you, but otherwise, leave your schedule open. Stop in the small towns (or at an interesting lake or trailhead) and just wander around. You never know what you might find!
Ask the Locals
If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee, a scenic trail, or a delicious and authentic New Mexican meal, the locals are your best resource. Strike up a conversation with someone who knows the area and you might just discover a hidden gem.
Eat Green Chile at Least Once
The state is famous for its green chile, and it would be a shame to leave without trying it at least once. New Mexicans like everything with green chile, from breakfast burritos to burgers to a plate of enchiladas. It’s the state specialty, so dig in and enjoy!
At some point during their tour of the Enchanted Circle, many people have a moment when they realize that they’ve come to a truly special place. It might be while soaking in a hot spring, carving through knee-deep powder, wandering through ancient adobe structures, or while watching a true artist craft something stunning. When you venture to a place that claims to be “enchanted” you have high expectations, and remarkably, the Enchanted Circle lives up to its name.
Written by Sarah Strohl for RootsRated Media in partnership with New Mexico.