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Take a road trip from Santa Fe to Taos

Hit the road together and discover the perfect mix of art, architecture, dining and nature.

By Cassandra Brooklyn | February 22, 2024

When it comes to Southwestern art, culture, food and history, New Mexico certainly doesn’t disappoint. The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway, which connects Santa Fe and Taos, is one of the best places in the state to find a fabulous mix of all the above, and more. Whether you’re seeking Native American art and architecture or hiking and hot springs, here’s what you need to know to plan the perfect New Mexican road trip.

Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico

Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the country, and there’s no shortage of history here. While you’ll find plenty of modern architecture and attractions, a large part of the city’s appeal is the Pueblo-style buildings that line the streets and the history accompanying them. Make Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza your home base tobe within walking distance of many of the main attractions like the city’s cultural hub, Santa Fe Plaza. There, you’ll find the adobe Palace of the Governor at the New Mexico History Museum and a variety of unique shops and street vendors selling Native American-made jewelry, textiles, pottery, paintings and handicrafts. You’ll also be within walking distance from the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, home to the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States.

Savor local food and culture

The Southwest is known for its unique and flavorful cuisine, and one of the best places to sample New Mexico’s version of it is at The Shed. A Santa Fe dining institution since 1953, the restaurant is housed in a circa-1692 hacienda with a bright and colorful patio that’s as Instagram-worthy as the food. The restaurant is renowned for its blue corn specialties and enchiladas, including “Christmas style” — smothered with both red and green chile sauces. Ask about the cantina’s seasonal cocktails or choose from their extensive selection of mezcals and two dozen types of margaritas. For entertainment as unique as your meal, head to the nearby mysterious Meow Wolf, an immersive multimedia art installation with over 70 rooms created by local and community artists. Families with children will enjoy the whimsical, kid-friendly installation, but it also makes for a great date night or evening out with friends.

Soak in thermal waters

After a few days exploring all that Santa Fe has to offer, begin the 2.5-hour journey to Taos. Drive about an hour northwest through the stunning Valles Caldera National Preserve, passing the famous Los Alamos National Laboratory along the way. If the forested views weren’t rewarding enough, the Jemez Hot Springs certainly will be, as the rustic chic bathhouse has a small set of natural hot springs affording stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Soak, relax and rejuvenate yourself before hopping back in the car to cruise the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway. About halfway between the bathhouse and Taos, stop in the village of Chimayo to buy locally grown red chili powder and to visit El Santuario de Chimayo, a national historic landmark and one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in the country. Grab a bite to eat at the pueblo-style Rancho de Chimayó before continuing to Las Trampas, where you’ll find the San Jose de Gracia de las Trampas, a mission church that was built between 1760 and 1776 and is one of New Mexico's best-preserved examples of Spanish Colonial architecture.

Explore Native American culture and heritage

At the entrance to the Taos area, don’t miss the famous San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church. Marvel at the historic adobe architecture, which gets a new coat of mud every spring, before heading inside to admire the intricate paintings. Continue your historical journey in Taos Pueblo, about a 7-minute drive north of Taos, where you’ll find this ancient village belonging to the Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Pueblo Indians. Not only is this a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. Take a guided tour of the site or check ahead to see if any special events are happening during your visit. While Taos Pueblo occasionally closes to the public for ceremonial purposes, visitors are welcome at some events such as Native American dances, feasts, powwows or certain religious ceremonies.

Experience nature at its finest

Taos is considered one of the most beautiful destinations in the country for skiing and snowboarding, but these are far from the only opportunities for adventure. Take a short hike at the Gorge Bridge or, for something more intense, head 25 minutes north to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and its nearly 243,000 acres (98,000 hectares) of public land. Hike, mountain bike, kayak or even white-water raft while keeping your eyes open for bighorn sheep, mule deer, black bears, coyotes and the newly reintroduced North American river otter.

Rest and rejuvenate

After a busy day of driving and exploration, enjoy some well-deserved relaxation at Hotel Don Fernando de Taos, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, conveniently located less than 2 miles (3.21 kilometers) from downtown shops and galleries. The hotel’s Puebloan-inspired art, architecture and design blend seamlessly into the stunning Southwestern landscape and provide a relaxed setting during your stay. Spend a few hours lounging by the pool before heading out for dinner around town. Consider Love Apple, which specializes in New Mexican fare made with local and organic ingredients or the Taos Mesa Brewing’s Tap Room, where you can pair wood-fired pizza with small-batch craft brews. Soak in the authentic New Mexico charm of your surroundings to round out your epic Southwestern road trip.

No matter when you decide to visit, New Mexico always has something unique to offer. Whether you’re heading on a romantic weekend escape, a family vacation or a fun-filled getaway with friends, you’ll find plenty to see and do in Santa Fe, Taos and everywhere in between.

Cassandra Brooklyn is a freelance writer and guidebook author specializing in travel, accessibility, sustainability and all things outdoors. Originally hailing from the Midwest, she now lives in New York City but escapes to adventures around the world as often as possible. As the caregiver of a disabled parent - and as a hyper involved auntie of three - Cassandra is especially passionate about accessible, inclusive and multi-generational travel. She's the author of the cycling guidebook, Cuba By Bike, has contributed to multiple guidebooks about Egypt, Portugal and the United States, and has bylines in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, Forbes, The Daily Beast and Lonely Planet, among others.

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