This Small New Mexico Town Offers Hot Air Balloons, Horseback Rides, and Some of the Best Hikes in the American Southwest
There are plenty of mountain towns with endless sunshine and communities that attract and inspire world-renowned artists — but there's only one Taos. The small New Mexico town set against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains has it all: a rich Indigenous heritage, historic adobe buildings, and enough galleries and hiking trails to satiate both artistic and active travelers.
"Taos has a unique blend of history, culture, and community that can only be found here. As the soul of the Southwest, we have more than 1,000 years of Indigenous culture, a vibrant arts scene that has inspired legends, and a small-town feel," Karina Armijo, director of marketing and tourism for Taos, told Travel + Leisure by email.
And while Taos draws both winter and summer travelers, it's a particularly special place in the spring, when the crowds lessen and you can hop between seasons — hitting the slopes one day and flying down mountain bike trails the next. That's to say nothing of the food (shout-out to the New Mexican green chile) and art, which are both next level and available year-round.
What to Do in Taos
If you're holding onto the final remnants of winter, head approximately 30 minutes north of town to Taos Ski Valley, an area known for being steep and deep (more than half of the ski runs are expert level and 300 inches of snow is the annual average). Just keep in mind the ski area's closing day is April 10.
If you're craving warm-weather fun, spring is whitewater rafting season. Float the river with Los Rios River Runners or ride a horse across the mesa and enjoy lunch before descending into the Rio Grande Gorge for a rafting excursion.
Armijo says one of the best ways to take advantage of Taos' 300-plus days of sunshine is by getting "high amongst the clouds in a hot air balloon" or "mountain biking the trails of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument."
What to See in Taos
Taos is an artsy enclave that has attracted and inspired artists like Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams. Among the area's many art galleries (perfect for creating a self-guided walking tour), you'll find work by legendary names as well as local creatives whose pieces showcase the town's Indigenous history and high-desert flora and fauna.
If you time it right, you might catch the Taos Lilac Festival (May 20-22), which includes live music, local food vendors, and arts and crafts. Throughout the summer (May through August), the outdoor Taos Summer Music festival draws artists like ZZ Top and Ben Harper, and come September, art installations and performances take over Taos for The Paseo Project.
Where to Eat and Drink in Taos
In addition to enjoying the town's art, festivals, and activities, Taos serves up some delicious New Mexican cuisine. You can nosh on tamales smothered in Oaxacan-style red mole at The Love Apple, which is housed in an old 1800s church, or down a plate of blue-corn chile rellenos and a glass of horchata at El Conejo Cocina.
And after a long day on your feet (or on your bike or skis), nothing tastes better than a lager or IPA from Taos Mesa Brewing. Their downtown taproom is convenient, but for the full experience, head to "The Mothership" on the Hondo Mesa. It has everything from live music to stellar stargazing and sunset views — and plenty of beer.
Where to Stay in Taos
El Monte Sagrado may be just a few blocks from Taos' historic plaza, but it feels worlds away thanks to the waterfalls, ponds, and cottonwood trees surrounding this oasis. You can pamper yourself in The Living Spa, enjoy a free yoga class, or grab a drink at the Anaconda Bar, which has a giant anaconda sculpture winding through it.
For history and ease, it's hard to top the Taos Inn, which operates out of an 1880s adobe building right off the plaza and houses two stellar eateries and watering holes: Doc Martin's, a New Mexican spot, and the Adobe Bar, nicknamed "The Living Room of Taos."