How to Make the Most of One Day in Taos
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The more I explore New Mexico, the more I fall in love with the Land of Enchantment. There’s something special about this part of the Southwest; maybe it’s the food or culture, or perhaps the history of peoples and the natural landscape they called home.
Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico’s high desert, Taos has long enchanted travelers and enticed them to stay. As the man sitting next to me at dinner advised: Taos is dangerous – first you arrive to visit and then you find yourself moving here. Even if you’re short on time, it’s dangerously easy to let the air in Taos work its magic; as little as one day in Taos is enough to enchant you and inspire a return trip, if you’re anything like me.
Many people visit Taos as part of a larger New Mexico itinerary, and thus may not have several days to spend exploring the city’s art galleries, hiking its trails, and admiring its many lovely angles – from buildings to beautiful vistas. If you’re planning a trip that will take you through Taos and want to make the most of your time there, this post will help.
Below, you’ll find advice on what to do for one day in Taos; it could also be split into two half-days (an afternoon and the following morning). This barely scratches the surface of what Taos has to offer, but allows you to sample the many cultures that make up this community of artists and travelers who have returned to settle down. Be warned though: once you’ve spent even one day in Taos, you’ll likely want to plan a return trip!
In this post, I promote travel a destination that is the traditional lands of the Pueblos, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), Tigua (Tiwa) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
How to Travel to Taos
You might already know how you plan to get to Taos, but just in case you don’t, I want to get these important logistics out of the way.
While there is a small regional airport in Taos, this isn’t necessarily a cost-effective or time-efficient way to reach Taos due to its limited flight options. Instead, you should drive to Taos.
There are two routes to reach Taos from cities further south like Santa Fe and Albuquerque: U.S. Highway 68 is the easier drive and passes through Española and Pilar, but many people take “The High Road to Taos” on NM 76/75/518. I drove both: I took US-68 into town and the High Road back out to Santa Fe; hands down, the High Road to Taos is the best route between Taos and Santa Fe if it makes sense for your travel plans.
The Best Things to Do with One Day in Taos
Whether you’re planning to visit Taos on a day trip from Santa Fe or staying here for two nights as part of a New Mexico road trip, be prepared: this is a full day to make the most of the short time you have. So rise and shine, and let’s get out to spend a jam-packed one day in Taos!
Enjoy New Mexican Breakfast
Before getting into the day’s activities, it’s important to have a good breakfast, right? If you need a bite and cuppa joe to start your day, head to La Cueva Cafe. I was torn between the Enchiladas de Huevo con Mole Poblano and the chorizo Omelet Mexicano; I went for the enchiladas and think there was no better way to set out on an adventure than with a belly full of mole.
Explore Taos Plaza
Start off in the center of it all: like neighboring Santa Fe, Taos is built with a central plaza and streets radiate from this central area. Taos Plaza is surrounded on all sides by businesses, restaurants, and accommodations, but it’s fun to take a stroll around the whole square to see it all.
You can admire the architecture of the Hotel La Fonda de Taos, which harkens to the cliff-and-cave-dwelling style of the Ancestral Puebloan people who once called this area home (and whose evidence you can see more authentically at nearby Bandelier National Monument).
The Historic Courthouse is also a must-see – if it’s (re)open during your visit; inside, there are four beautiful 1930s murals commissioned by the WPA. (The Courthouse is currently marked as permanently closed, though you can see photos of them in the windows of the building.)
There are also a number of shops and galleries to explore or at least window-shop. Taos Mercantile and Taos Trading Post are both modern takes on the old stores you might have once found around the plaza, whereas Taos Mountain Candles is a great spot for nice-smelling souvenirs that fit easily in your suitcase.
Take a Self-Guided History Walking Tour
Once you’ve warmed up your legs exploring the Taos Plaza, it’s time to set out on a self-guided walking tour of some other historic sites. A few years ago, a now-defunct group put together a guide to help you, but I used that to create my own Taos self-guided walking tour as well as the video above.
You’ve seen a few already – stops 1-3 on my route (Taos Plaza, Hotel La Fonda, and the Historic Courthouse), so now let’s explore a bit more. Over the course of the 1.8-mile route, you’ll visit other significant sites, including the Harwood Museum (originally built in the early 19th century and an important institution in Taos’ art community past and present), and the Blumenschein House (where Ernest Blumenschein, one of the founders of the Taos Art Colony, lived and worked).
You will also visit the Historic Taos Inn (where you can stay!), and the Kit Carson Memorial Historic Cemetery (where the famed frontiersman is buried along with other important Taoseños). The tour ends at the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, which is worth heading in to explore if you want to soak in more of Taos’ artistic heritage.
Be sure to check out my full post about the walking tour if you’re keen to pack a lot in during a short time.
After all that walking, it’s time for lunch; The Gorge Bar & Grill is a great option overlooking Taos Plaza and their outdoor seating is shaded. The nachos are absolutely massive and a great option if you want leftovers to snack on later.
Visit Taos Pueblo
The modern city of Taos takes its name from the huge Taos Pueblo (pueblo coming from the Spanish conquerors who settled in the region later). In any case, it’s a short drive from the historic district in Taos to Taos Pueblo, and well worth a visit if you want a better context for the true history of the area.
Taos Pueblo is considered one of the longest continuously-inhabited communities in the U.S., with over 1,000 years of history on the site. The best way to learn about it is on one of their 30-minute guided tours which start every 20-30 minutes depending on the season. You can also visit the Taos Pueblo Collective to meet with local artists and find unique souvenirs.
One note during your visit: be sure to ask permission before photographing any members of the Taos Pueblo community, as a courtesy to their cultural practices.
See the Rio Grande Gorge
After a visit to Taos Pueblo, continue making your way north out of town on U.S. Highway 64; you’ll soon cross the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Pull over and park at the rest area on the west side of the bridge, and walk out to view this feat of engineering.
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, called the “Gorge Bridge” or the “High Bridge” by local Taoseños, spans almost 1,300 feet across the Rio Grande gorge, which is some 600+ feet deep. It’s the 10th-highest bridge in the U.S., and you can walk out across it to look straight down at designated areas if that kind of thing doesn’t make you weak in the knees.
Hike along Vista Verde Trail
If you’re up for a little adventure, the rest of your afternoon will suit you nicely. From the Rio Grande Rest Area, continue west on U.S. 64 for a short time to turn on West Rim Road (also called County Road CB-115). After about 10 miles, the road turns to dirt and begins descending into the gorge; follow it down to Vista Verde Trail.
This trail came highly recommended to me, though I was unable to hike it during my Taos visit due to thunderstorms (for safety, never hike on the mesas during thunderstorms!). It’s a 2.3-mile out-and-back trail with minimal elevation changes but excellent scenery and the chance to try and spot petroglyphs and other rock carvings from later visitors.
Before setting out, be sure to check recent reviews of the trail so you can plan accordingly for the conditions.
Raft on the Rio Grande
The best way to finish your one day in Taos is by sitting down to relax, right? You know me – I’m never one to waste time on a short trip, so how about sitting on a raft floating down the Rio Grande instead?
Los Rios River Runners offers two evening floats down a calmer part of the river plus dinner; the Sunset Dinner Float is more conventional, whereas the Native Cultures Feast and Float is even better thanks to the presence of a local indigenous community member who teaches about the history of people in this area before introducing you to a feast of indigenous foods (i.e. all foods you would find here before European settlers arrived).
I did the Native Cultures Feast and Float during my evening in Taos and it was an incredible experience: so peaceful to be on the river (especially after my 12-day Alaska float earlier in 2022) and fascinating to try decolonized dishes.
Where to Stay in Taos
After all that fun, you might want to stay a night in Taos (assuming you didn’t stay the night before so you could have as much time as possible today!). In any case, here are some suggestions for where to stay in Taos:
- My top suggestion is The Historic Taos Inn, which you will have already walked by on my Taos self-guided walking tour. I stayed here both nights of my time in Taos and love the combination of rustic charm (wood and leather furniture, fireplaces, courtyards) and modern comforts. If you’re seeking dessert after your dinner feast, be sure to try their green chile cheesecake chimichanga. Rooms start from $174/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- You can also stay at the already-passed-on-the-walking-tour Hotel La Fonda de Taos, right on the historic plaza. Rooms are a little more dated but still very comfortable and authentic style. Rooms start from $189/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- For something completely different, consider booking at the Taos Earthships. These unique architectural structures north of Taos draw visitors during the day but also offer nightly rentals (two-night stay required).
And that covers it – everything you need to know to make the most of one day in Taos, whether it’s as a Santa Fe day trip to Taos, or part of a larger northern New Mexico road trip as I was doing. Have any questions about things to do in Taos with only one day, or other Taos travel questions? Let me know in the comments below!
mary k greenwood
I love to read your posts about the skies and now I am reading your travel adventures. I use to live in Albuquerque, New Mexico and skied Taos and went to Santa Fa. We also drove up to Durango in Colorado to ski. New Mexico is such a beautiful state and the weather is great I could snow ski one day and play tennis the next day. My favorite food in New Mexico and I have not found anywhere else was the puffed sopallias with honey drizzled in them.
Where do you live in the mid west? I am from Minnesota and use to watch the northern lights up by Bemidi when I was in college. And we could see them from our dock in Prior Lake until someone put up a huge light and blocked the night sky- boo hoo! Now we live in Georgia and don’t see them anymore but do have beautiful skies (if I can stay awake to watch!)
Thanks for the tips on sky watching. I even bought a telescope but have not mastered it yet-soon!
Hope you had a merry Christmas and have a wonder 2023!! Mary G
Thanks for reading and commenting, Mary! I’m in the Cleveland area now, but am always on the move! 😉 I hope you had a lovely holiday season too, and your new year is off to a great start.
I am planning a visit to Taos this summer and want to take a bus from Santa Fe rail station to Taos. Can you please provide some information on this . I do not want to rent a car. Plan to fly into Santa Fe from DC or fly into Albuquerque,take the train to Santa Fe and then the bus. I would come on a weekday . Thanks
Suraksha, hi, this is something you should Google to see what travel options there are. I do not have any info about a bus to Taos.