A good way to start your hiking experience in Taos is an acclimatization hike or two, especially if you’re a flatlander accustomed to strolling along paths at low altitudes.
There are a dozen trails 3,000 feet lower than the lowest popular trails around Taos Ski Valley.
The following are four suggestions by William “Backpacker” Kemsley, founder of Backpacker magazine, co-founder of the American Hiking Society and Member of the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame. He lives in the mountains near Taos.
1. West Rim Trail
One of Taos’ easy, most scenic trails runs along the top of the west rim of the Río Grande Gorge from the rest area at the Gorge Bridge on U.S. Highway 64, 9 miles to State Road 567 at the south. You’ll have spectacular views of the inner gorge and likely see bighorn sheep as well. From Taos, take U.S. Highway 64 north to the Gorge Bridge. From the south take State Road 68 to Pilar, then right on State Road 570. Go along beside the Río Grande, crossing over on the Taos Junction Bridge (note the state road changes at the bridge to State Road 567) and up the canyon wall to the trailhead on the rim.
2. El Nogal Nature Trail
This is an easy two-mile loop trail tucked away between two of Taos’ most popular trails – the Divisadero and South Boundary. These are the closest trails to Taos. They are out of the El Nogal parking lot about 3 miles from Taos Plaza on State Road 64 eastbound. The trailhead is at the far end (east) of the parking lot. Take either end of the loop. The first turn to the left after crossing the footbridge follows alongside a stream, the other is straight up the hill to the trail divide where you take the left fork. Both go a mile to the next parking area around back to the starting point (clockwise around from the lower branch, or counter clockwise from the upper branch) completing the loop.
3. Vista Verde Trail
This is a little jewel where you are likely to see bighorn sheep if you go early in the morning. It’s a 1-1/4 mile trail (2-1/2 miles out and back) over relatively easy terrain. This trail has been used for over a thousand years as evidenced by petroglyphs on its rocks. There are a couple of viewing benches perched high above the Río Grande at the trail’s end. The canyon is a natural habitat for eagles. Access on State Road 570 from Pilar south of Taos, crossing the Taos Junction Bridge in about 5-6 miles, where the road changes to State Road 567. The trailhead is about a half-mile up the canyon wall.
4. Rift Valley Overlook Trails
This is a complex of some 20-plus miles of easy trails south of Taos on the east rim of the Río Grande Gorge. There are many views of the inner gorge with a couple of viewing benches overlooking the mighty inner gorge. If you are lucky you might see an eagle. Access is from two parking lots. The closest to Taos is located past the Taos Country Club at the end of County Road 110, which leaves State Road 68 about 2 miles south of Ranchos de Taos. The other is about 6 miles south of Ranchos on State Road 68 just below Stakeout Road.
— Staff report
Be safe, be prepared
Take adequate clothing, water, snacks and navigation aids when wandering into unfamiliar territory.
Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
Unless you are experienced and familiar with the area, never hike alone.