Take the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe, New Mexico along the scenic byway to discover every-changing unique geological land formations, historic landmarks, adobe architecture, and signs of Spanish influence in the area.
Scenic Byway – High Road to Taos
Exploring this scenic byway can be done as a day trip while staying in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The journey takes the High Road to Taos Pueblo, one of North America’s oldest communities. Traveling along the route takes just over two hours without stops, as you wind through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, quaint towns, Pueblo villages, small farms, historic sites, desert, forests and rolling hills.
Take the River Road back on the return trip to Santa Fe from Taos. This road follows the Rio Grande River.
Enjoy the narrow canyon views and the fertile fruit growing areas.
The round-trip route will take 3 1/2 to 4 hours without stops.
We suggest when you are in the area, checking out the impressive long span Rio Grande Gorge Bridge for stunning views of the Rio Grande Rift and a visit to Taos Pueblo, one of North America’s oldest communities.
Don’t miss our guide to Santa Fe, New Mexico and be sure to check out the best road trip from Tucson to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Historic Churches on the scenic High Road from Santa Fe to Taos
The scenic High Road to Taos from Santa Fe provides access to numerous historic adobe churches.
The churches display a unique adobe architecture brought together by the melding of cultures through New Mexico’s 500 years of history.
Photographs of the outside of the churches are permitted in most cases. Some Pueblos will charge a fee to take photographs.
Always respect the privacy of worshipers. Taking photos inside the churches is not allowed.
To find out more about the rich history of these churches along the route, visit the museums along the way to Taos or in Santa Fe.
The thick adobe walls are made out of a mud mixture comprised of clay, sand and straw.
Each year in June, parishioners and volunteers gather to re-mud the church in a project called, “The Enjarre”.
The entire outside of the church is re-plastered to renew its protection from the weather.
Here is a map to find all the churches along the route or nearby in northern New Mexico.
Chimayó Plaza del Cerro
Stop in Chimayó, founded in 1730, one of the best examples of a preserved fortified village found in New Mexico.
Historic Chimayó is where you will find renowned weavers from the Ortega and Trujillo families. Their craft has been handed down through eight generations.
The handwoven fine wool Chimayó blankets, clothes, rugs, purses and clothes are famous.
In the store, watch as weavers use the looms to create new pieces showcasing their ancient craft.
Find out more about the history of the Oretega family and the traditional art of weaving in Chimayó.
Sacred El Santuario de Chimayo National Historic Site
El Santuario de Chimayo is a well-preserved sacred adobe church. The earth on which this church stands is believed to have miraculous healing powers.
Many people make a pilgrimage to Chimayo, especially during the week before Easter.
It is said that when the earth is made into mud with water, it can be applied to the skin or taken internally to cure whatever ails a person.
Ranchos de Taos Plaza
The Ranchos de Taos Plaza historic district has 21 buildings to explore including the San Francisco de Asis Church shown below.
San Francisco de Asis Church National Historic Landmark
San Francisco de Asis Church is a National Historic Landmark. The church, built by the Spanish in 1772, is made from straw and mud and is one of the oldest standing sites in Taos, New Mexico.
This historic landmark is one of the most photographed and painted churches in the region.
San Francisco de Asis has been used in the works of renowned American photographer Ansel Adams and artist Georgia O’Keeff.
I obviously do not have their keen artist sense, as their views are from the back of the church, featuring the impressive sculptural lines of its architecture.
The church stands four miles outside of Taos in the Ranchos de Taos Plaza.
Things to do in Taos, New Mexico
Taos Historic District
The Historic District of Taos is located in the middle of the town, centered around the Taos Plaza. This area began, when the first families starting arriving in 1796.
Today, buildings surrounding the area date from 1930. Over the years, earlier structures were destroyed by fire.
The Plaza has shops, galleries and, at various times, live music and open markets.
Taos Art Galleries
There are 70 art galleries and studios in Taos showcasing the works of the local, vibrant arts community.
Most of the galleries are found in the downtown area and feature a wide variety of mediums, revealing the rich culture and imagination of this unique area.
Take a tour of some of the many museums to learn more about the history of the land.
Learn about legendary Old Wild West characters, Indigenous and Spanish culture and see displays of church artifacts.
Kit Carson Museum
The Kit Carson Museum National Historic Landmark is filled with Spanish-Colonial furnishings representing the era when the famous American frontiersman Kit Carson lived here.
The one story adobe home, built in 1825, was occupied by Kit Carson, his wife Josefa Jaramillo and their children for 25 years, from 1843 until 1868.
In 1868, Carson and his wife moved to Boggsville, Colorado. Sadly, both died that same year in Boggsville and their bodies were returned to Taos.
They are buried in the Kit Carson Cemetery.
Shopping in Taos, New Mexico
Look for colourful, southwestern style handmade items while shopping in Taos.
Browse through the many stores to find Indigenous-made drums and moccasins, a variety of leather goods, smudge sticks, brightly coloured woven blankets and locally foraged piñon nuts
What are pinon nuts?
Pinion nuts have a smooth delicate flavour and is an important food staple in New Mexico. The nuts come from the pinon pine trees grown around Taos, New Mexico.
Pinion trees can live to be more than 1,000 years old.
Wineries and Craft Beer in Taos
Wines in Taos
Taos and the state of New Mexico started making wine in 1629. Hard to believe, but true.
Production levels dropped completely during the early 1920s when vineyards were destroyed by extensive flooding from the Rio Grande River.
Families began rebuilding the wineries again in the mid-70s.
Stop at one of the many wine tasting rooms to experience the flavours from grapes grown in New Mexico. Please note, many of the tasting rooms are closed at the moment.
In the winter, and summer, Taos holds annual wine festivals bringing in national wines.
Craft Beer in Taos
Brewery Tap Rooms located in historic downtown Taos, feature fresh craft beer and offer a selection of artisan cuisine.
Taos Mesa Brewing serves up wood-fired pizza. They also serve cider, distilled spirits and a selection of canned beer brewed in other areas of New Mexico.
Eske’s Brew Pub is also located in the heart of Tao’s historic district. The beer is made under their 100-year-old adobe house.
Taos Pueblo UNESCO World Heritage Site
Taos Pueblo is one of North America’s oldest and best preserved communities. These lands have been continually inhabited by the Red Willow people for more than 1,000 years.
The village rests at an elevation of 7,200 feet at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Northern New Mexico, just one mile from Taos.
Developed in the 1970s, the Earthship Biotecture is located 20 minutes northwest of Taos, New Mexico.
This off-the-grid community relies on the technology of generating its own sustainability. The Greater World Earthship project of eco-friendly housing was started more than 50 years ago by forward-thinking American architect Michael Reynolds.
Each structure is built with recycled and natural materials. All units are designed to be self-sufficient and use their own renewable power for heating and cooling.
Water is harvested from rain and snow, with each drop being used up to four times. Organic food is produced in specially designed vertical hydroponic planters. Sewage treatment is contained.
Self-guided tours are available and you can even stay in an Earthship. There are several buildings available for rent for an off-grid luxury experience.
Scenic Highway to Rio Grande Gorge
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
The Rio Grande Gorge area is home to Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Download a map of the area.
The Rio Grande National Wild and Scenic River System in found within the National Monument.
There are plenty of hiking trails to explore in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Before hiking here, you should get acclimated to the higher altitude.
The South Rim Trail is an easy to moderate nine-mile hiking and bike trail. The trail starts at the parking lot of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and runs south to Orilla Verge Recreation Area. Find out about more trails in the area.
Watch for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, often spotted in the Rio Grande Gorge.
Rio Grande Gorge
The remarkable Rio Grande Gorge area of New Mexico offers great natural outdoor opportunities to explore, from white water rafting, hiking and thermal hot springs to crossing over one of the top 10 highest bridges in North America.
Marvel at the geological features of faulting and extensive signs of volcanic activity in the region. The rugged terrain of vast plains, rivers and steep canyons is scattered with resting volcanic cones.
The impressive long span Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, called the “most beautiful steel bridge” in North America, offers stunning views of the Rio Grande Rift.
Find out more about this out of the world seismic experience.
Where to stay in Taos, New Mexico
Find romantic, historic inns and unique bed and breakfasts in Taos. Some. like the La Dona Luz Inn, offer rustic rooms with fireplaces all within walking distance to the main downtown plaza.
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