I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Taos lately with family, and while we mostly end up popping over for shopping or dinner, I’ve been making more of an effort to explore the area.
On my latest trip, I blocked off a couple of days to knock out my growing list of “things to do in Taos” – travel blogger style.
Now, you could spend a lifetime exploring the great outdoors here…hiking, fly fishing, skiing, etc. Northern New Mexico is an outdoorsman’s (woman’s?) paradise.
But it’s also a hub of Native American culture and home to an art scene that’s drawn a community from all over the world.
Taos is a little more quaint than nearby Santa Fe and has a lot of the same things to offer, but on a smaller scale. It’s not nearly as overwhelming and although it packs a punch when it comes to things to do, it’s much more easily visited in a long weekend (or even a day trip).
Okaaaay, so like I said, I did a LOT on my latest trip to Taos. I’ve pretty much been to every museum and “attraction” in the area and I’m going to break down my favorites, the “don’t miss” ones, which ones might be worth your time if you have a niche interest, and frankly, which ones can be skipped.
I’ll also share my list of things that I haven’t gotten around to yet for even more inspiration.
So here we go!
My Favorite Things to Do in Taos
This is it. This is your must do, #1 priority, can’t miss thing to do in Taos.
For starters…while this is a don’t miss experience, it’s not an “attraction.” The Taos Pueblo is a living Native American community that’s been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark, but it’s also a home.
Before you visit, you should read this to better understand Taos Pueblo and the Red Willow People. It was a little confusing to me at first (I’m from Oklahoma where Native American tribal structures and relationships look a little different), but generally here’s how I understand it (and hopefully this helps you!):
Taos is the name of the town in New Mexico, yes, but it’s taken from the Taos Pueblo Indians. They are the Taos people (“tribe” isn’t as commonly used here as it is in other places like Oklahoma) and their nickname is the “Red Willow People.”
Taos Pueblo is one of 19 New Mexican Pueblos.
“Pueblo” is both the term for the actual dwelling that these people live in (houses made of adobe), but “Pueblo Indians” or “Pueblo People” or even “Pueblo Tribe” also refers to the collective groups of Native Americans living in the southwest who all share these similar agricultural, religious, and cultural practices.
Depending on where you’re from, you may be more familiar with other groups of natives like Plains Indians (Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa) or Eastern Woodland (Iroquios, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek). Pueblo Indians are a collection of tribes just like those.
There are Pueblos in other states (mostly Arizona) and there are other Native American tribes in New Mexico that are not Pueblo Indians (like the Navajo). This site helps explain the distinction/relationship between “Pueblos” “Tribes” and “Nations” and how groups of Native Americans are classified in New Mexico.
The Taos people speak the Tiwa language (plus a combination of English and Spanish) but some may be hesitant to speak it in front of you. Younger people (that I observed in the Pueblo) are more comfortable speaking English even when addressing older ones who are speaking to them in Tiwa.
There’s a distinction between the Taos Pueblo and Taos Pueblo Land. The Taos Pueblo (you’ll hear people say “in the Pueblo”) is the walled off “historic” section where about 150 people still live full time. Geographically, it’s relatively small. Outside of THE Pueblo, the Taos Pueblo people have 99,000 acres (what some call a reservation) where other tribal members choose to live. IN the Pueblo, there’s no running water or electricity. Outside the Pueblo, but still ON the Pueblo lands they live in modern housing.
The prepositions are confusing ; ) But basically the Taos Pueblo people have lands and the Taos Pueblo (that you’ll be visiting) is a tiny portion in the middle of that. Hope that makes sense!
And one last thing that I (someone who lives in Oklahoma and is native) find interesting…these Pueblos are on each tribe’s original ancestral lands (at least predating the Spanish), not on reassigned lands. While each Pueblo may have lost or gained back (read about the Taos Pueblo and Blue Lake) a portion of their lands in dealings with the Spanish and US governments, they have retained at least some part of them continuously (including their pueblo dwellings) which makes them pretty distinct from other Native American tribes in the US.
The Pueblo only recently reopened from its COVID closure (it was closed for over 2.5 years to protect the community) and there’s a lot of buzz and appreciation about being able to reenter the community.
Here’s what you need to know about visiting the Taos Pueblo:
The Pueblo is open Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) from 9AM to 4PM. 4PM is the latest you can enter the Pueblo (it’s when the last tour starts) and you will be escorted out promptly at 5PM.
It’s $16/adult, $14/senior and student, children 10 and under are free.
Tours are offered frequently throughout the day and last about 20 minutes. The tour guide usually sits near the entrance to the Pueblo to let visitors know when the next tour is.
Many residents have shops and restaurants in their homes. Obviously you only enter buildings that are clearly marked as such with signs. In general, don’t take photos inside their homes (even if they’re businesses) unless you specifically ask (and some have signs saying not to).
You can’t photograph any tribal members without their permission (you really shouldn’t ever photograph people without their permission anywhere ; )
Cash is king and it’s always good to have some with you. On the day I visited, their credit card machine was down at the admission window so we couldn’t have gotten in without cash. Tip the tour guide. Plan to pay for food and small purchases with cash. Vendors selling more expensive jewelry and art purchases usually accept credit cards via the Square app.
If you’re at all interested in buying turquoise jewelry, this is the place to do it! A lot of what they sell in the galleries and shops in Taos and Santa Fe comes from the Pueblos and it’s more fun to get it straight from the source-from the artist who actually made it.
Don’t miss out on the fry bread! There are several little restaurant shops and most serve Pueblo/Indian tacos, but my favorite is the fry bread. Get it with toppings like cinnamon, powdered sugar, chocolate, and carmel.
There is plenty to explore in the Pueblo and you’re welcome many places but be careful to respect boundaries (they’re always clearly marked) of portions that are off limits.
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
This is really something to see and it’s not for the faint of heart. I believe the gorge is about 600 feet deep at the point the bridge crosses, and while I don’t think it’s particularly scary driving across it, walking across it feels like an extreme adventure. At least to someone who’s afraid of heights ; )
If you’re coming from Taos, you’ll have to actually drive across the bridge to the rest stop on the other side to actually get a good view of the bridge (it sits down in the gorge with a low profile).
Most people park on the Taos side of the gorge to walk out onto the bridge.
The suicide prevention hotline sign really sets the scene here. It is DRAMATIC. Obviously there’s railing, but it feels very open and the bridge moves a fair bit when cars drive over it.
I had to put my head down and just focus on the edge of the sidewalk nearest the lane to make it out to the center of the bridge. And then be very still and slowly look over the edge once I made it. I swear, I am so fun ; )
But if you can at all manage it, the view and the experience is unmatched. Well, not necessarily unmatched because of what I’m about to tell you about next, but the fear factor here makes it quite exciting.
Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument
Okay, the bridge gets all the glory here mostly because of the adrenaline rush and also because it’s pretty close to Taos, but what you really want to see is the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument up by Questa. It’s about 40 miles north of Taos, but it’s 100% worth the drive.
I feel pretty proud of finding this spot. It’s rated pretty high on TripAdvisor as a “thing to do in Taos”, but nobody really says why. Pretty drive, nice scenery, blah blah blah.
In all honesty, I drove all the way out there on a wild goose chase because I was pretty sure they would have a stamp for my National Parks Passport and IT DIDN’T LET ME DOWN.
Yes, it was a nice drive, yes we saw pretty scenery, oh darn, the visitor center was closed and I couldn’t get my stamp. But hey let’s pull into this one turn off on the way back that says there’s an overlook. We haven’t actually gotten to see the river yet, maybe it’ll be something.
Umm, y’all. It was something. It’s the La Junta Point Overlook. And you are overlooking the point where the Rio Grande and the Red River converge IN A CANYON. Down at the bridge, they’ve already converged and it’s just one canyon. Up here, you can see both of them flowing in a gorge on either side of you and the point where they meet. Like 700 feet below you. Geez.
So yes, it’s spectacular (you can stand at the railing and just look around forever and be impressed) and also we say mama and baby bighorn sheep, but also it’s very accessible. You park in the parking lot, walk down a paved sidewalk and boom there you are.
I will 100% be researching coming back to do a big hike in the area (I am not a hiker unless it’s truly something special so that gives you an idea here), but besides the sheer grandeur, part of what makes this place so great is how easy it is to experience.
Yes, it’s a bit of a drive, but we came back with my elderly grandparents (who are both in wheelchairs) and they were able to see this. It’s a super easy stop with little kids. And even though you’re standing on top of a 700 foot gorge lookout, it’s not in the least bit scary for people with a fear of heights. Trust me ; )
And you’ll be happy to know that the visitors center was open on my second trip (Thursday to Sunday, middle of the day hours if they have someone to staff it) and they do in fact have a passport stamp. It’s actually one for the Wild Rivers Scenic Area that they have in the visitors center, but I found out that the official Rio Grande del Norte National Monument stamp is currently at the Bureau of Land Management Field Office in Taos (near the Walmart). Another adventure for another time.
But definitely don’t miss seeing the hummingbirds at the feeder outside the visitors center (you should be able to see it even if it’s closed). I’ve never seen so many hummingbirds in my life!
San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church
Completed in 1816, this Spanish colonial church is a National Historic Landmark made completely out of adobe. The view from the back is what you’ll see from the street (it’s hard to tell it’s a church), but it’s definitely worth exploring. If you want to make it a little mini trip (it’s in Ranchos de Taos just south of Taos), stop in the Chimayo Trading del Norte for some fabulous turquoise jewelry and have lunch or dinner at Ranchos Plaza Grill.
We are now entering the museum part of our list ; ) Let’s start with the art museums
Harwood Museum of Art
I love a museum where the building and architecture are as much of an element of the experience as the actual art on display.
The building was purchased in 1916 by Burt and Lucy Harwood and the Harwood Foundation was formed in 1923 making it the second oldest in New Mexico. But the structure is so old that they’re not sure exactly when it was built.
This place is an absolute treasure, and I couldn’t have been more impressed. The inside feels like a cozy hacienda and features an impressive collection of art from Taos’ prolific creative community.
When I visited they had the temporary exhibit New Beginnings: An American Story of Romantics and Modernists in the West and it fit into the museum so perfectly.
Harwood Museum of Art is definitely worth your time in Taos whether you’re an art lover or just enjoy a museum with a strong sense of place.
Open Wednesday through Sunday, 11AM to 5PM. $10/adult and $8/senior and student. Free admission for 18 and under, University of New Mexico faculty and students, military and family, and tribal members.
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
Called the Taos Art Museum, the museum features mostly the work of famed Russian artist Nikolai Fechin who immigrated to the US and settled with his family in Taos for a while starting in 1927.
While the museum’s collection of Fechin’s paintings are impressive, it’s the home itself that’s the real stunner. The entire home was built by Fechin himself and features EXTENSIVE woodwork and craftsmanship.
A good house museum is one of my absolute favorite things and this is one of the more unique ones I’ve ever visited. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11AM to 5PM. $10/adult, $9/senior or military, $6/student, children under 12 are free.
And don’t miss going through the giftshop to see the Fechin Studio.
Millicent Rogers Museum
This was my least favorite of the three art museums. It’s located just outside of Taos near El Prado with amazing views of the mountains and the drive out is really pretty, but even though the museum itself is partially housed in a 1920s hacienda, it lacks the charm of the Harwood and Fechin House.
I think a lot of people are drawn here because of Millicent Rogers herself. She was a socialite, fashion icon, heiress, general “it girl,” etc. who became famous for her southwestern style and jewelry collection in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.
The museum is mostly her personal art collection, and while it’s very extensive I think it just hit me funny because most of it seems like things that you can currently buy in Taos and Santa Fe and there wasn’t much context as to why certain pieces were special.
My observations were that it attracts an older audience. Hey, if you’ve got time it’s definitely worth a visit, but if you’re only going to visit a few places in Taos, it wouldn’t be high on my list.
I did however really love the gift shop. They had a great collection of turquoise jewelry and books.
The museum is only open April through October, but during that time it’s open every day from 10AM to 5PM. $10/adult, $8/senior, $6/students and military, children under 6 are free.
Okay, let’s wrap this up with the house museums. There are quite a few in Taos and I’d say they’re in varying degrees of being worth your time. But depending on what you’re most interested in, some of these are definitely worth checking out.
La Hacienda de Los Martinez
This is one of the few remaining haciendas built during the Spanish colonial era that still exists. Built in 1804 by the Martinez family, it’s been near perfectly preserved and is a window into another way of life.
Now here’s the deal…this place is historically and culturally VERY important as a living history museum, but it’s not necessarily the quaintest place.
Honestly from the outside it looked a little sketchy and it was definitely an odd vibe since I was by myself and didn’t even see anyone else there (besides the person at the front desk) for about 20 minutes.
So I’m saying this to check your expectations. This was a working farm house. It’s pretty large, but it’s very simple. And parts of it look a little rundown, but I read that they’re working hard to recover from the COVID closure and it’s just taking a while to get some of the maintenance and landscaping back in order.
Anyways, you’ll learn a LOT about what life was like for people in this area hundreds of years ago, just don’t expect a stylish or very grand home.
I would recommend this for history lovers and people wanting to gain an appreciation for what life was like for the people of Taos in the 1800s.
Open Monday through Saturday, 10AM to 5PM and Sunday from Noon to 4PM. Admission is $10/adult, $8/senior, and $5/child.
Blumenschein House and Museum
This was my personal favorite of all of the museum homes in Taos. It’s also next door to the Harwood Museum of Art in downtown Taos so it’s a really convenient stop.
Ernest Blumenschein was an American artist and a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists.
Not only is the home filled with a great collection of art by all members of the Blumenschein family and other Taos based artists, but it’s absolutely packed to the gills with European and Spanish Colonial style antiques and the family’s personal possessions.
As a person who really loves design and interiors, I enjoyed walking through and looking at all of the rooms. The house still feels full of life, like the family just stepped out and will be back any minute.
Open Monday through Saturday, 10AM to 5PM and Sunday from Noon to 4PM. Admission is $10/adult, $8/senior, and $5/child.
And well, it goes downhill quickly from here ; )
Kit Carson Home and Museum
Spend any time at all in Taos and you’ll get familiar with the name Kit Carson in a hurry. Pretty much everything is named after this guy.
Kit Carson was the quintessential American frontiersman…fur trader, wilderness scout, Indian agent, and eventually a US Army Officer during the Civil War. He became famous for his “bravery” and was the frequent subject of dime store novels and general fanfare celebrating his contributions towards taming the American West.
But viewing his “accomplishments” (which included conquering Native American tribes like the Navajo by destroying their food supplies and getting them moved onto reservations) in the local area where so many visitors now travel to experience one of the rare centers of Native American culture left in the US, it feels a little “interesting.”
Whether you view Kit Carson as problematic or a legendary American figure, here’s what you need to know about visiting the home and museum:
Parts of the inside of the home are interesting and “aesthetic,” but the outside courtyard area (which you can view without going into the museum) is the prettiest part.
You’re really not going to learn a whole lot about Kit Carson by reading anything in the museum. They leave the background info to a 20 minute viewing of a History Channel segment in a little theater across the way.
Also, very little in this museum actually seemed to be anything from Kit Carson himself. Example, they didn’t have his Civil War Army uniform, they had one that “might have been like one he would have worn.”
And a lot of it was like that. Random reference, but any Gilmome Girls fans? This felt like that episode where Old Man Twickham died and left his house to be turned into a museum and it was full of weird stuff that couldn’t be historically verified. Hey, it’s a letter from George Washington! Oh but it’s dated 1937. Hey it’s possible that this was a Civil War cannon ball! Etc.
It’s a really convenient location in downtown Taos, so it might be worth 30 minutes to an hour or so if you’re interested.
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11AM to 4PM. Admission is $10/adult, $8/senior, $7/veterans and students, children 12 and under, first responders and active military, Freemasons, and Taos County residents are all free.
Gov Bent House & Museum
Straight up, here it is…this place is so ridiculous but we had so much fun.
Charles Bent was the first Territorial Governor of New Mexico and he was scalped and killed by Pueblo warriors during the Taos Revolt in 1847.
Really the only thing of historical merit here is the literal hole in the wall that Gov Bent tried to escape through before he was killed. And it really doesn’t even feel like a house. The TripAdvisor reviews are right…it kind of feels like a collection of junk (there are literally boxes stacked up in places).
But there is some FUN junk haha. My cousin and I laughed so hard going through here and felt like it was totally worth the $3 to peak inside.
The 8 legged “freak” was really the highlight for us.
It’s hard to figure out the hours and it seems to be pretty hit or miss if they’re open.
Things I Haven’t Done Yet But Look Interesting
Wild Earth Llama Adventures: A llama carries your picnic while you hike through the mountains? Sign me up.
Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu: Tour the ranch property that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe’s most famous paintings. There’s even a small house museum in the area where she lived. It’s about 60 miles from Taos.
Couse-Sharp Historic Site: You can tour the small campus in the middle of Taos where the Taos Society of Artists began (including both the former homes and studios of E. I. Couse and J. H. Sharp, the artists who founded it). Tours must be scheduled in advance with a docent and last about 2 hours.
Taos Farmers Market
Rio Grande Rafting Trips
Rock Climbing with Climb Taos
Horseback Riding at Cieneguilla Stables Taos
Taos Balloon Rides
Hiking…more on all of this to come!
Where to Stay in Taos
I actually always stay in Angel Fire (about 40 minutes away) with family when I’m in this part of New Mexico, but here’s what I’ve gathered:
El Monte Sagrado Resort & Spa: This is the place I would stay in Taos. It has a nice resort feel and it’s far enough from downtown that it’s more peaceful.
Hotel Willa: I’ve got my eye on this place as a more budget friendly option, but it’s still a long way from being fully renovated.
Where to Eat in Taos
My must eat places are Orlando’s for lunch or dinner and Michael’s Kitchen for breakfast, but read this post for way more recommendations and reviews.