11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Taos
Located at the base of the tallest peaks in New Mexico, 400-year-old Taos is a friendly little town long known as an artist's colony and center for outdoor activities. In Taos, you can go from hot-air ballooning and river rafting to touring art galleries and impressive museums. There are many other things to do, such as hiking, skiing, fishing and sampling the excellent restaurants.
Nearby, visitors can learn about a thousand years of history at a still-inhabited Native American pueblo. Conveniently situated just 70 mi northeast of Santa Fe, Taos caters to travelers while avoiding the feeling of a tourist town.
See also: Where to Stay in Taos
1 Taos Pueblo
On the northern edge of the Taos sits a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark: Taos Pueblo. The Native American community has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years, and is comprised of stunning multi-storied adobe buildings set against the backdrop of forested and snow-capped peaks.
Despite its reputation as one of the more private and secretive pueblos in the southwest, Taos Pueblo eagerly welcomes visitors to its 95,000-acre community of 4,500 people. The pueblo offers an impressive tour with plenty of photographic opportunities. There are also public dances at various times during the year, as well as locally produced arts and crafts with a focus on jewelry.
Location: 120 Hwy to Town of Taos
2 Hot-Air Ballooning
Given the location of Taos on a vast high-altitude plateau between two mountain ranges, the area is well known among ballooning aficionados as one of the world's best places to fly. Taking off from the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge, Taos-based pilots fly visitors down into the bottom of the great gorge to dip the basket in the river, look for wildlife and explore ancient petroglyphs from the air. After that, tours lift over the great volcanic plains of the west mesa for a view that reaches well into Colorado and to the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
3 El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
Looking north from Taos all the way to the Colorado border, pretty much everything you can see is part of the vast El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument established in 2013. The monument encompasses nearly 250,000 acres of public land. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the monument covers a wide range of ecosystems from the rugged wide-open grasslands and sage-dominated range to the alpine slopes of 10,093 ft Ute Mountain and the 900 ft depths of the Rio Grande Gorge. Located between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo range, the monument highlights the great Rio Grande Rift system.
The monument offers a wealth of outdoor recreational activities including rafting, camping, hunting, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and wildlife viewing. Be sure to stop in at the Wild Rivers Recreation Area and the Orilla Verde Recreation Area for more information, spectacular views and trails.
4 Harwood Museum of Art
Located on historic Ledoux Street, the Harwood Museum of Art contains an impressive and wide-ranging collection of art from northern New Mexico and southern Colorado including works from Native American, Hispanic and Anglo-American settlers and artists. The collection of sacred carved figures known as "santos" and the nearly 20,000 photographic images dating to the 1800s are particularly impressive.
The Harwood collection includes famed landscapes and portraiture works from the well-known Taos Society of Artists (1915-1927) as well as contemporary pieces. The museum also serves as a research center, holding vast quantities of prints, letters, photographs and drawings highlighting the outstanding art history of the region.
Address: 238 Ledoux St, Taos
5 Colombine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area
Covering 30,500 acres, the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area is the largest road-less area and one of the most ecologically significant pieces of land in the southern Rocky Mountain ecosystem. With peaks reaching over 11,000 ft, clear mountain streams, spruce-fir forests, alpine meadows and expansive high-altitude grasslands, the region offers outstanding opportunities for non-motorized outdoor recreation.
Located just a 15-minute drive north of Taos, the area is crisscrossed by a 75 mi trail system that is well-developed and diverse enough to offer a spectacular hiking experience for any fitness level. At 12,115 ft, Lobo Peak is New Mexico's 33rd highest peak - though you might think you were on top of the world thanks to the stunning view of Wheeler Peak, the surrounding mountains and the Rio Grande rift valley below.
6 The Rio Grande Gorge and The Gorge Bridge
Northwest of Taos lies the 900 ft deep Rio Grande Gorge. The river gouged this impressive feature from a great volcanic plain over millions of years. Along US Route 64, the gorge is spanned by a boldly engineered bridge that towers impossibly high above the river far below. The stunning views can be accessed from the parking and picnic area on the rim of the gorge, along the rim's 9 mi hiking trail or by simply walking out onto the bridge along the raised sidewalks for a breathtaking experience. For photographers and painters, viewing a sunrise or sunset along the rim offers up amazing artistic opportunities.
7 The Millicent Rogers Museum
Millicent Rogers was the granddaughter and heiress of one of the original founders of Standard Oil. Escaping what she felt was the drudgery of her East Coast existence, the socialite came to Taos and put her money into the Taos art colony, supporting both struggling artists and also many of the impoverished Native American children of the region. Originally opened in the 1950s, the museum initially boasted Rogers' impressive personal collection of Southwestern art.
Today, galleries feature an extensive, quality collection of Native American and Hispanic Art as well as Anglo-European works. Items on display include jewelry, textiles, pottery and tin-work, as well as contemporary arts and crafts. Among the represented artists are Maria and Julian Martinez. The Millicent Rogers Museum also boasts an impressive view of both the snow-capped peaks to the east and the expansive plateau and volcanic structures to the west.
Address: 1504 Millicent Rogers Rd, Taos
8 Hacienda de los Martinez
On the banks of the Rio Pueblo in Taos is the Hacienda de los Martinez, a fully restored Spanish Colonial building from 1804. Strategically located at the terminus of the Camino Real, the Martinez home became an important trade center in the early 1800s. Known throughout the region as a large and well-established cattle ranch run by a trusted family, the imposing structure was originally built by Severino Martin - a name which was later changed to Martinez.
Today the home serves as an outstanding historical museum with 21 rooms and two courtyards highlighting life in Taos before the New Mexico territory was taken over by the United States. Check the museum's calendar to see about upcoming exhibitions and craft demonstrations, which change regularly through the year.
Address: 708 Hacienda Rd, Taos
9 Ernest Blumenschein Museum
Just next to the Harwood Museum of Art on Ledoux Street is the adobe house of the artist Ernest Blumenschein, one of the iconic figures of the early Taos art colony. This is one of the most beautiful collections of art in the entire Southwest. As the story goes, on September 3rd, 1898 while driving the famously muddy roads of northern New Mexico, the wheel on his wagon slipped onto a deep rut and broke. Burt Phillips and Blumenschein tossed a three-dollar gold piece to determine who would carry the wheel to the nearest blacksmith for repair. Blumenschein lost the toss and so made the 20 mi trek to Taos with the broken wheel. Thus began a great experiment in American art.
Blumenschein and Phillips spread the word about the beauty of Taos and urged other artists to come and see for themselves. In July of 1915, Joseph Sharp, Blumenschein, Phillips and fellow artists Oscar E Berninghaus, E Irving Couse and W Herbert "Buck" Dunton created the Taos Society of Artists. The entire home is open to the public, with artwork by Blumenschein and other Taos artists.
Address: 222 Ledoux St, Taos
10 Taos Plaza
Located right in the center of Taos, the historic plaza still serves as the center of cultural life in this little town. The plaza is not only an attraction for visitors, but a place where locals come to gather and host community events. During the summer, numerous musical events are held on the plaza. Small shops, galleries, and restaurants can be found on the edge of the plaza, but it does not have an overwhelming tourist feeling. This is a top place to find good food, meet locals and get a feeling for the town.
11 Kit Carson Museum
Just a hundred yards east of the Plaza is the house of the legendary and controversial pioneer/scout/fighter and settler Kit Carson (1809-68). The home was built in the 1820s and purchased by Kit Carson in 1843. Carson raised his family here and the home served as one of the centers of life in Taos for decades. The museum is small but offers valuable insight into the history of Carson's life, the history of Taos, the settlement of the Southwest and the varying regional cultures.
Address: 113 Kit Carson Rd, Taos
Where to Stay in Taos for Sightseeing
To experience some of the historic and southwestern charm of Taos, the best place to stay is in the center of town, near the Plaza. Here, you'll find the greatest concentration of historic buildings, restaurants, shops, and entertainment options that give the town its unique vibe. Budget hotels are available south of the city center along the main four-lane highway leading into town, but these are still relatively convenient. Below are some highly-rated hotels in good locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The luxurious El Monte Sagrado is a 10-minute walk from Taos Plaza. Set on beautifully landscaped grounds, the hotel features an award-winning spa and indoor saltwater pool and hot tub. Offering an unbeatable location right on the Taos Plaza is the historical Hotel La Fonda de Taos, with a variety of rooms and suites with Southwestern décor, including some with kiva fireplaces. The rooms have been recently renovated and upgraded to offer the latest amenities. Also with a convenient downtown location, El Pueblo Lodge features a variety of room styles in four separate buildings spread out over a three-acre property, and includes a seasonal outdoor pool and year-round hot tub.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the heart of the action and steps to everything is The Historic Taos Inn. The inviting lobby and rooms are decorated in Southwestern style, and many feature genuine kiva fireplaces. A five-minute drive from the center of town is the Hampton Inn Taos. This hotel has recently been renovated, comes with breakfast, and has an indoor pool. The Sagebrush Inn & Suites is in the same area and has large rooms, an outdoor pool, and is surrounded by a number of good restaurants.
- Budget Hotels: The recently renovated Quality Inn offers rooms with mini fridges and microwaves. In the same area is the Super 8 Taos, with basic but clean rooms and a complimentary breakfast. In a similar category and located next door is the Days Inn of Taos. This hotel has a limited number of pet-friendly rooms for an additional charge. All of these are located outside of the main downtown area, about a five-minute drive away.