The Essential Guide to Visiting Taos, New Mexico, in the Winter

Though Taos is known for its famous ski valley and fluffy powder, there’s also plenty to do in the charming Southwest mountain town that doesn’t have to involve a single snowflake.

The Essential Guide to Visiting Taos, New Mexico, in the Winter

Taos Ski Valley has all the fluffy powder any ski bum could ask for. But there are plenty of things to do around town off of the slopes.

Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley

Nestled between New Mexico’s high desert and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos has beckoned ski enthusiasts around the planet in search of perfect alpine conditions. And while the region’s 300 inches of annual snowfall certainly does provide all the powder that ski bums are looking for, there are plenty of things to do around town that don’t require snow boots.

The Rocky Mountain town of about 6,000 boasts vibrant cuisine, culture, and architecture thanks to its unique blend of Native, Spanish, and Anglo American influences. The area is the ancestral homeland of the Taos Pueblo Indians. After the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, they established Taos as an official village of the colonial government in 1615. It became an important trading post on the Santa Fe Trail and was a lynchpin of the empire’s northern territory. In the mid-20th century, Taos bloomed into a vibrant art community—many artists were drawn to the high desert town because of its ancient pueblo architecture and unique mix of Southwestern cultures. Local Pueblo artists are keeping their heritage alive through sculpture, painting, and pottery-making to this day. In other words, Taos is a paradise for history buffs and arts enthusiasts alike.

However, if you’re looking for something active that doesn’t involve skis or snowboards, there are many other kinds of outdoor activities to partake in, too. Here are some of the best things to do in the winter in Taos:

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There are a range of slopes at Taos Ski Valley to suit skiers of any level.

Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley

1. Hit the slopes in Taos Ski Valley

Taos Ski Valley, located about 18 miles northeast of Taos, is independently owned and was initially founded in 1954 by Ernie and Rhoda Blake, a European American, ski-crazy couple who moved out west from the East Coast hoping to start a life together and to ski more often. Before they purchased the land that would become Taos Ski Valley, Ernie helped run the Santa Fe and Glenwood Springs ski areas and often flew a small airplane between the two locations—that’s how he spotted the remote valley that would become the Blakes’ future resort. Armed with Ernie’s marketing know-how and Rhoda’s no-nonsense attitude and enthusiasm for hard work, the Blakes built a warm and inviting lodge with a Southwestern spin. After 60 years of family ownership, Taos Ski Valley was sold to investor and avid conservationist Louis Bacon in 2013. He immediately sunk $300 million into the property to modernize the resort and add luxury amenities.

The slopes remain the stars of the show, though, and skiers and snowboarders will find challenges at all levels, from beginner slopes like Strawberry Hill and Rueggli to legendary steep runs like the Fabian Chute and the Cuervo Chute. If you’ve never touched a set of skis or a snowboard in your life, never fear—you can book private lessons; intermediate skiers or snowboarders can hire a guide for the day. There are also basic ski lessons available for kiddos. The Valley used to offer childcare for children aged two months to three years, but those services have been temporarily put on pause due to COVID.

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You don’t need to be an expert skier to enjoy Taos’ wintery landscape.

Photograph by Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

2. Snowshoe on Taos’s many trails

So maybe you’re not so nimble with a pair of skis or a snowboard—that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the Rockies’ magical, wintery landscape. Taos is almost completely surrounded by the Carson National Forest, one of five national forests in the state, where hikers and campers can find hundreds of thousands of acres to tramp (or camp) on. One of the most popular (not to mention strenuous) hikes is the Wheeler Peak trail, which clocks in at 7.3 miles and leads to New Mexico’s tallest summit. For something uphill but less arduous, consider the Gavilan, Italianos, Yerba, or Manzanita trails, located off of the Ski Valley Road.

3. Hit the ice

As far as winter activities go, what’s more whimsical than ice skating? Conveniently, Taos Ski Valley has a rink on the premises that finished construction in 2021. Skate to your heart’s desire or relax rink-side next to large fireplaces at the Eis Haus and on the lower plaza. But if you find yourself in town with a case of the skating bug, you can hit up the Taos Youth and Family Center, which charges just $3 for adult admission and $2 for children and seniors.

4. Soak in nearby hot springs

If you’re not exactly into the whole being cold thing, you can warm your bones at one of the hot springs near Taos. One of the most popular springs, 13 miles northwest of Taos, is Manby, aka Stagecoach Hot Springs. The water bubbles up from the ground at a toasty 100 degrees Fahrenheit and was historically used by the Pueblo people long before colonization and was later visited by Spanish conquistadors who were in search of the Fountain of Youth.

In 1906, British entrepreneur Arthur Manby used dubious means to secure land rights to the area; by 1922, he was laying the foundations of what he hoped would become a health resort. Unfortunately, the area catastrophically flooded in 1927 and Manby was never able to recover financially—the ruins of the bathhouse can still be seen today. Nowadays, the spring is a popular swimming hole for tourists and locals alike and is especially en vogue with the #VanLife crowds. A private road, Tune Drive, was commonly (but illegally) used to get to the springs, but the route became too popular and was closed off to nonresidents. The only way to get to the springs now is to float down the Rio Grande or walk along the riverbank.

Black Rock Hot Springs, named after the characteristic black moss that grows along its banks and rocky walls, is another popular option. The mud-bottomed pool—which hovers around a balmy 100 degrees—is located in a tree-laden river valley that’s also about 13 miles from Taos. There’s a short hike required to reach the springs, and parking around the trailhead can be tricky as there are only four spots, but it’s certainly worth the trouble. Four-legged friends are also allowed in Black Rock and at Manby, so feel free to bring along your pup. Be advised—clothing is *ahem* optional at both Black Rock and Manby.

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The Taos Pueblo was built over 1,000 years ago.

Photograph by Nick Fox/Shutterstock

5. Visit the Taos Pueblo

For history buffs, this stop is a must-see. The Taos Pueblo is a multi-story adobe building/community that the Pueblo people built over 1,000 years ago—it’s the only living Native American community that’s both a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark; it has been continuously inhabited for a millennia. The pueblo is believed to have been built between 1000 and 1450 C.E.; when the Spanish arrived in 1540, they thought they had found one of the fabled cities of Cibola. The adobe structure is an amalgamation of several individual homes. Made from adobe (straw mixed with mud), the buildings are internally reinforced with pine and aspen timber and topped with iconic latillas ceilings and mud roofs. Sadly, the Taos Pueblo is closed until further notice due to COVID. In prepandemic times, the community also used to host an annual three-day Taos Pueblo Pow Wow where visitors could watch Natives performers compete while performing ceremonial dances.

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The San Francisco de Asis Church was a favorite of artists like Georgie O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams.

Photograph by Nolichuckyjake/Shutterstock

6. Visit the San Francisco de Asisi Church in Ranchos de Taos

Built by the Spanish in the early 1800s during the height of their colonial reign, the San Francisco de Asisi Church is the only original, intact church that remains in the Taos area. And it also is one of the most beloved in the nation. Artists like painter Georgia O’Keeffe (who described it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards”) and photographer Ansel Adams have captured the building’s evocative facade in their work. Constructed of adobe, the church has two front-facing bell towers and is topped with three white crosses. It’s re-plastered by volunteers and parishioners every June during an event known as the “The Enjarre,” or “the mudding.” The interiors are decorated with original oil paintings including a “Mystery Painting,” which glows in the dark.

Though it’s a designated National Historic Landmark, it’s still an active church (named after the Catholic patron saint of animals, families, and merchants), so it’s advised that visitors dress modestly and be respectful if mass is in session while visiting.

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The Taos Earthships operate with a noble mission in mind and are fun to look at.

Photograph by Kent Weakley/Shutterstock

7. Check out the Taos Earthships

Located about 20 minutes from the Taos town center is a true desert oddity: the Greater World Earthship Community, a collection of 79 curious houses made from natural and upcycled materials. Off-the-grid and almost completely self-sustainable, the Earthship concept was dreamed up by architect Michael Reynolds, a staunch proponent of radically sustainable living who began his project in 1969 after buying seven acres of rugged desert land near Taos with the dream of making ecofriendly, self-reliant homes from found materials. The community is now home to about 130 people, and you can sometimes find Environmental Management students from Western Colorado University maintaining old homes and building new ones.

Most of the Earthships are made from tires tightly packed with dirt that weigh about 300 pounds each. Heavy and dense, the tires make for excellent insulation: A properly constructed Earthship heats and cools itself without the need for electricity or fire, thanks to passive solar home design. Reynolds’s creations also have intricate water collection, sewage treatment, and food production systems.

But more than being a successful ecofriendly architectural science experiment, the Earthships are just plain fun to look at. You can book a couple of nights at an Earthship (don’t worry, they’re decked out with modern amenities like refrigerators, hot water, and even Netflix that are powered by wind-generated electricity), if you’re interested in a stay well off the beaten path.

8. Spend an afternoon at a museum

Despite its small size, Taos has a good number of museums. The Millicent Rogers Museum was one of the first institutions in the state to showcase Hispanic artists, and today it specializes in Native American, Latino, and Anglo American art. Founded in 1956 by the family of Millicent Rogers (a socialite, oil heiress, and avid art collector), the museum offers a large collection of Zuni and Hopi kachina figures, jewelry, pottery, paintings, and textiles.

The Harwood Museum of Art, New Mexico’s second oldest art museum, houses an impressive permanent collection that includes the Agnes Martin Gallery, an installation of seven paintings by the abstract expressionist painter that is the only one of its kind in the world.

A few minutes away is the acclaimed Taos Art Museum at Fechin House; once the home of Russian artist Nicolai Fechin, it now exclusively features works created by the Taos Society of Artists.

However, if you’re more interested in learning about Taos’s Wild West history, you could mosey over to the Kit Carson Home and Museum near downtown. Self-billed as “Taos’ Oldest Museum,” the Spanish colonial–style adobe home was initially purchased by the fabled frontiersman (infamous for the sheer number of Native Americans he murdered during America’s Wild West era and the dime store novels that later glorified his exploits) in 1843 for his third wife, Josefa. Inside, visitors can find artifacts of Carson’s life like a horno (an adobe oven), Josefa’s sewing box, Carson’s military scabbard, as well as his trusty .50 caliber Hawkins rifle.

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What better way to take in Taos’s unique geography than from above?

Photograph by karengesweinphotography/Shutterstock

9. Catch a ride on a hot air balloon

Albuquerque may steal the spotlight when it comes to sailing up-up-and-away, thanks to its famous annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, but the ABQ isn’t the only place where you can hitch a ride in a woven rattan-stick basket. Consider taking to the skies over Taos via a local outfitter and soak in the area’s unique geography, from its ancient Servilleta Basalt formation to its river valley. And for a truly unforgettable experience, book a trip at either sunrise or sunset.

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The Blake gives skiers and snowboarders luxury, slope-side hospitality.

Courtesy of The Blake

Where to stay

The Blake

Book now: from $250/night, expedia.com

If you’re looking for a convenient place to stay slopeside, the Taos Ski Valley has the Blake, a luxury 80-room hotel with single bedrooms, deluxe rooms, suites, and penthouses. The Blake has all the trappings of a luxury ski lodge, including a pool, hausmeisters (aka hotel attendants), a fitness center, ski valets, and a restaurant, the 192 at the Blake, which serves New Mexican–inspired cuisine. However, due to COVID, the 192 currently only offers dinner services so plan your meals accordingly.

El Monte Sagrado

Book now: from $323/night, expedia.com

If you’re interested in being based closer to town, consider El Monte Sagrado, situated a few blocks from Taos’s historic downtown plaza. Owned by New Mexican hospitality brand Heritage Hotels and Resorts, El Monte Sagrado offers upscale, Southwestern-style rooms, most of which are outfitted with kiva-style fireplaces. The hotel’s eco-conscious Living Spa was named a top spa resort in America by Forbes.

La Doña Luz

Book now: from $190/night, expedia.com

For lodgings steeped in history and fancifully decorated, check out the La Doña Luz Inn. Parts of the building date back to 1802 and feature vibrant Spanish-style mosaics and paintings. Homey and distinctly New Mexican, the La Doña Luz makes a great home base during your Taos travels.

How to get there

Many airlines fly into the Albuquerque airport, from which Taos is a 2.5-hour drive. Travelers coming from Austin, Dallas, Carlsbad/San Diego, or Los Angeles can fly directly into Taos via 100 perent carbon offset Taos Air.

>>Next: 12 Must-Do Experiences in New Mexico

Mae Hamilton is an assistant editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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