For spectacular snow-covered mountain views and the chance to see wildlife, nothing beats winter hiking in Taos. And if you choose some of the lesser-known hikes, you may be out on the trail in glorious silence and solitude.
With all the sunny days, you can hike throughout the winter months. There are trails with more snow and those with less. Because the weather can change quickly and it’s difficult to predict Mother Nature’s intentions, dress in layers that be easily removed or added. Be sure to bring hiking poles for stability and some type of traction device, such as Yaktrax or MICROspikes, to ensure safe footing on snow and ice.
Trails off the beaten path
Some snow – Comales Canyon Trail
Southeast of town, several hikes start along State Road 518. These trails are at lower elevation than those near the Taos Ski Valley, but expect some snow. Comales Canyon Trail is a good choice. About 20 miles from the center of town, Comales follows a creek up a canyon lined with rock walls. The path passes through meadows on a moderate climb. It begins at 8,200 feet and climbs to 10,700 feet and meets up with a network of other trails at about the 4-mile mark. There are spectacular views of Picuris and Gallegos Peaks. Even if you don’t go all the way to the top, you will see some beautiful meadows and maybe some wildlife, such as elk and deer.
Directions: From Taos Plaza, drive south just over 3 miles on Paseo del Pueblo. Turn left at State Road 518 and go about 17 miles. Drive past the Comales Campground on your left and look for the trailhead to the right.
Less snow – La Vista Verde
West of town, out on the flat mesa, many hikes start at or follow the Río Grande. The trailhead for La Vista Verde is tucked up on a shelf between the Río Grande and the mesa rim above. This trail is relatively flat at 6,400 feet and gets lots of sun during much of the winter. It is an easy 2.5-mile roundtrip to an overlook above the Río Grande. Look for the Spanish crosses on the big boulders near the trail and the petroglyphs off the trail.
Directions: A word of caution on reaching this trailhead. There are two ways to approach it, and either one requires following a steep unpaved road, so wait until a few days after a storm before trying this one. From Taos Plaza, go north 4 miles on Paseo del Pueblo to the intersection of US64 and the Ski Valley Road. Turn left at the traffic signal and drive west 7 miles to the Río Grande Gorge Bridge. Shortly after the bridge, turn left on West Rim Road and drive 8 miles to the stop sign. Go left toward Pilar. Follow the road as it turns to dirt and descend the switchbacks until you see La Vista Verde trailhead to the left. An alternate approach is to drive south from Taos Plaza on Paseo del Pueblo/US 68 for 17 miles to Pilar. Turn north on State Road 570 and head toward the Taos Junction Bridge. Cross the bridge and go up the switchbacks to the trailhead on your right.
Taos Snowshoe Adventures
Taos Snowshoe Adventures leads tours throughout the Carson National Forest. A favorite trek is up to Williams Lake, nestled in an alpine basin below New Mexico’s highest point, Wheeler Peak.
Taos Snowshoe’s most popular snowshoe tour is described as a 4-hour winter adventure starting at $69 for adults and $59 for children ages 8-12.
For the uninitiated, there’s a 2.5-hour tour for beginners starting at $49 for adults and $39 for kids under 12.
The tour is touted as a quick winter jaunt, suitable for the whole family. Tour guests will learn how to get their gear right and pick up some basic snowshoeing techniques.
There are even full moon treks and overnight yurt trips.
Each tour includes information about local ecology, natural history and wilderness skills.
Taos Snowshoe Adventures provides snowshoes and poles, trail snacks and hot beverages.
For more information, visit snowshoetaos.com or call 1-800-758-5262.
Northside at Taos Ski Valley
Northside at Taos Ski Valley is also available for snowshoeing. A $5 day pass can be purchased in Taos Ski valley at the Chamber Visitor Center, Taos Sports at the base of Lift 1, Columbine Inn and Conference Center, Edelweiss Lodge and Spa and The Bavarian. Call (575) 776-3233 for more information and reservations or visit ridenorthside.com.
Many National Forest trails around Taos Ski Valley are accessible with snowshoes. Snowshoe up Bull of the Woods Trail from the base area parking to the Long Canyon intersection. This is a more vertical trail than the Williams Lake route. Cross the creek to the right to access Northside. Turn left up Bull of the Woods Road and continue up BOTW Road or Gold Camp Trail. This is a short loop going up to Jean’s Meadow and back down either direction.
To get in a 1-mile longer loop, add Sawmill Trail (up or down). Another fun route extension is going up Frazer Mountain Road to Bird Eye View and back down.
The more intrepid can take on Wheeler Peak Trail (No. 90) or Gavilan Trail (No. 60), both of which are accessible by snowshoes, but considered intermediate to difficult.
The Southwest Nordic Center has a yurt for rent, located near the 2-mile mark on Bull of the Woods trail in a meadow. There is a wood burning stove and space for up to 10 people. To reserve the yurt, contact Southwest Nordic Center at (575) 758-4761 or go to the website southwestnordiccenter.com for information.
To check conditions, call the Carson National Forest (CNF) at (575) 758-6200 or stop by the Taos field office at 208 Cruz Alta Road.
The rhythm of gliding along on the snow adds a pleasant dimension to the experience of being in a Northern New Mexico forest. You may be lucky enough to see deer, elk or bighorn sheep in meadows and hillsides near the trail. If you’ve always wanted to try cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, you have several options near Taos where you can learn how and also go out on your own in the forest.
Resorts and lessons: Enchanted Forest is located outside of Red River on Carson National Forest land and was established over 30 years ago. It offers more than 22 miles of trails. Some of them are gentle slopes, such as Power Puff, and others are more challenging, such as Face Flop Drop. There is also a warming yurt accessed by the March Hare Trail. From Enchanted Forest, both Wheeler Peak and Gold Hill can be seen.
At the Angel Fire Resort Nordic Center, there are opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding. More than 50 miles of groomed trails roll along the Moreno Valley canyons of spruce and pine trees, beginning at 8,600 feet in elevation. Snowshoeing is also allowed on these trails. For more information, visit angelfireresort.com or call (575) 377-4488.
On your own: About 30 minutes from Taos Plaza off State Road 518, the Amole Canyon area has a series of loops that are open for cross-country skiing. There are several beginner trails with gentle grades and some are groomed periodically. Look for the blue diamonds that mark the trails. There are courses that vary from 1 mile to more than 6 miles, and some have more challenging grades for experienced skiers.
Continuing on south past the Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, look for the Agua Piedra Campground. Near the entrance there is a log cabin. It was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and served as a warming hut for one the earliest ski areas in New Mexico. The open areas near the cabin are good places for beginners to try out their skis, and the Agua Piedra Trail and others offer more challenging terrain for advanced skiers.
On the road that leads to Taos Ski Valley, there are trailheads off to the north that direct you to gorgeous snow-covered trails with many creek crossings that are appropriate for advanced cross-country skiers, if the snow is deep. At the Ski Valley, look for moderately challenging trails like the one to Williams Lake and the steeper Bull-of-the-Woods to Long Canyon Trail.
Many of the roads in the national forest are closed to auto traffic in the winter, making them ideal wide open trails for cross-country skiing. For more information on cross-country ski opportunities in the CNF and directions, visit fs.usda.gov/ or call (575) 758-6200.
SLEDDING AND TUBING
Winter is mostly about getting down the snowy hill (you have to get up the hill, too), and there are many ways you can make this happen. If you’re looking for a fun new diversion, local resorts offer tubing hills for kids of all ages.
Of course, if you can find a hill on your own, and you have access to a sled or a tube, you can hone your coasting skills on your own time. The choice is yours, and to help you out, here is some information about the options.
The Polar Coaster
Featuring five lanes of fun, Angel Fire Resort’s Polar Coaster is one of the best tubing destinations in the southern Rockies. Weather and conditions permitting, the tubing hill is open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tubing is offered in 1-hour blocks for $25 per person. Tickets may be bought at the ticket office at the base of the mountain.
For sledders, a snow-play hill is located outside the Country Club at the Nordic Center. A single sledding hill pass is $5 per child. Sleds and discs may be rented at the Nordic Center for $10-$15. For safety reasons, the sledding hill is an activity for kids 12 and younger only (adults are not permitted to sled).
During the winter season, sledding will be available Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.–4 p.m. and daily during peak periods (conditions permitting). To confirm hours of operation, call the Nordic Center at (575) 377-4488. angelfireresort.com
Red River Ski & Summer Area
All winter tubing sessions are 1-hour long and are on a first come, first served basis. It is recommend that you purchase tickets online in advance of your trip or as soon as you arrive from the Guest Services office or at a Ticket Sales Desk located in the Main Chalet. It is required there are 10 tubes for a session to run. If a session sells out, another one-hour session will be added beginning after the first. $20 per tube.
Operational dates and hours:
Nov. 20: One hour sessions between noon-4 p.m.
Nov. 21-24: Sessions begin at 4:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 and Dec. 1: Sessions begin at 4:30 p.m.
Dec. 7-8: Sessions begin at 4:30 p.m.
Dec. 14, 2018 through March 23, 2019: Sessions begin at 4:30 p.m.
Please note that starting the second week in January 2019, there will be no tubing available on Tuesday or Thursday until February. Plan accordingly during this time if you would like to tube. redriverskiarea.com
Taos Ski Valley
Tubing was canceled last season due to hill upgrades and a new “gondolita” lift, but the Tubing Hill is back. Take a ride down the new training hill area near the Children’s Center. (575) 776-2291, taosskivalley.com
U.S. Hill & Agua Piedra Campground
There are lots of hills to sled and tube down in the area, but one of the best non-resort, public-access spots in Northern New Mexico can be found in Carson National Forest, off State Road 518. U.S. Hill is a popular spot with locals, but as you might expect, it’s a bring-your-own tube or sled experience. And getting to the top requires your own two feet. Also close by is a steep spot at the Agua Piedra Campground (Córdova Canyon) off Forest Road 708 in Vadito. Nearby Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort does not permit sledding or tubing, but sells sleds and saucers in its gift shop, or you can buy them in Taos at Walmart and Ace Hardware before you head out.
Make no mistake, a snowmobile tour will lift your spirits. Zipping through the snow on a motorized sled is a unique thrill. Here are some Enchanted Circle businesses ready to get you on your way.
A.A. Taos Ski Valley Wilderness Adventures
(575) 751-6051; Taos Ski Valley, bigaltsv.com
Located in and above Taos Ski Valley, A.A. Wilderness Adventures is one of the most picturesque snowmobile tours you will take anywhere. Let Big Al treat your adventurous side with breathtaking views of the entire Taos Ski Valley atop a trusty snowmobile. During the 2-hour tour, you will ascend from 9,000 to 12,000 feet high into the Sangre de Cristo mountains while enjoying a panoramic view, including New Mexico’s highest point, Wheeler Peak (13,161 ft.). As Big Al says, “Taos Ski Valley has a little known secret: The very same trails used for world-class hiking and horseback riding make for some of the best snowmobile rides available anywhere.”
The tour is for adults and children alike. Call to make a reservation.
Bobcat Pass Wilderness Adventures
(575) 754-2769, Red River, bobcatpass.com
Bobcat Pass Wilderness Adventures in Red River offers 1- and 2-hour snowmobile tours for riders 16 years old and up that take you through the beautiful Carson National Forest back to the Old Red River Pass, a favorite of many. The views are spectacular and will leave you with fond family memories for years to come. Bobcat Pass provides the suits, boots and helmets. Gloves and goggles are also available for rent or bring your own.
One-day advance reservations are recommended. Tours also cover the nearby Angel Fire area.
Red River Sled Shed
(575) 754-6370, 800-395-0121, Red River, redriversledshed.com
Choose a 2-hour or 3.5-hour sled tour through miles of scenic winding trails, large open meadows and amazing mountain views. The Red River Sled Shed 2-hour tour takes you on a 7-mile ride up Trail Canyon with an approximately 2,500-foot rise to the top of Greenie Peak overlooking Red River Ski & Summer Area, the Moreno Valley and Wheeler Peak. If two hours aren’t enough playtime, the longer tour makes about a 30-mile loop starting with a ride to the top of Sawmill Mountain overlooking San Luis Valley and into neighboring Colorado. Down the back side, the tour stops at the old Spanish Mine. Time is given to free ride in a large meadow.
SNOW COACH TOUR
Maybe you’re done playing in the snow, but the white fluff still beckons. Red River Ski and Summer Area has an answer: a Snow Coach Dinner Tour.
The tour begins at the Main Chalet. A warm, comfortable snow coach transports you 1,600 vertical feet to the Ski Top restaurant. Round-trip times vary due to conditions, but the average trip takes about two hours. Each Snow Coach tour can accommodate up to 12 people. There must be a minimum of eight people for the tour to go out. Reservations are required. You are encouraged to reserve tours well in advance of your arrival by calling (575) 754-2233 ext. 201 or 202 or by stopping into the Guest Services office.
Snow Coach is only scheduled to operate Thursday through Sunday. Departure times are 5:30 and 7:15 p.m.
If you would like to book a tour Monday through Wednesday, the Guest Services office needs at least two days advanced notice.
Yes, a ride in a hot air balloon is as awesome as it looks no matter the season. There’s nothing quite like a literal bird’s eye view of Taos and the Río Grande Gorge. Just be sure to dress warmly and charge your camera battery.
Eske’s Paradise Balloons
Taos Hot Air Balloon Rides
Outdoor adventurers swear nothing is better than a day out romping in the snow. That is until the snowshoes or skis come off and you head to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Then, suddenly, your “best day ever” just got better.
As one of the oldest natural health resorts in the U.S., Ojo Caliente opened its doors in 1868.
The waters at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs have been deemed sacred by the eight Northern Pueblo tribal communities for nearly 3,000 years. Pueblo ruins rest just above the property.
It is common for snow enthusiasts to end their day with a dip in a hot tub –– but those are generally chemical-ridden. Ojo Caliente (“hot eye”) boasts four different types of natural and sulphur-free, geothermal mineral waters that have flowed from a subterranean volcanic aquifer for thousands of years. In fact, Ojo Caliente is the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water consisting of lithia, iron, soda and arsenic. The layout of the property is spacious; 1,100-acres spacious. Eleven pools are filled with different types and combinations of waters with temperatures ranging from 80-109 degrees. For your relaxation experience, there are common and private pools.
Ojo Caliente is only 37 miles south of Taos at 50 Los Baños Drive, U.S. 414 via U.S. 64, which goes over the Río Grande Gorge Bridge. Ojo Caliente is a full-service spa destination. Accommodations range from the historic hotel to cottages and suites. There are also hiking trails, special spa treatments, mud pool and dining at the Artesian Restaurant. For more information, call (505) 583-2233 or visit ojospa.com.
Snowshoe, cross-country skis, pole rentals
Cottam’s Ski Shop: Taos Ski Valley (575) 776-8719; Taos (575) 758-2822
Mudd N Flood: Taos (575) 751-9100
Adventure Ski Shops: Taos north side (575) 758-9744; south side (575) 758-1167
Boot Doctors: (snowshoes only) Taos Ski Valley (575) 776-2489
Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area: Red River (575) 770-2430
Base layer: Silk, wool or synthetic material close to the skin to wick away moisture
Second layer: Add something for warmth, such as fleece or a wool sweater
Outer layer: A wind and water resistant shell
Plus: A hat, gloves and a scarf or gaiter to protect your neck. Waterproof boots and wool socks. Sunglasses, lip balm and sunscreen.