This post on the High Road to Taos first appeared in March 2011. It was updated and republished April 21, 2016.
Many visitors to Santa Fe put a day-trip to charming, historic Taos on their itinerary. They’ve heard of the town, famous for the Taos Pueblo, which dates back more than 1,000 years as well as for being a Mcca for artists. Dennis Hopper lived in Taos for years and filmed parts of his cult motorcycle film Easy Rider there.
The High Road to Taos, officially known as the “High Road to Taos Scenic Byway,” offers travelers a combination of New Mexico history and panoramic views. When you’re done exploring Taos, take the low road, along the Rio Grande River back to Santa Fe. Either way, it’s a scenic drive with some panoramic views and worth the extra time it adds to the trio. If you have time, spend the night in Taos; there’s a lot to see and do.
Setting off on the High Road to Taos
To get to the High Road take Saint Francis drive (US 285/84) at the north end of the city. If you are starting from downtown, Guadalupe Street feeds into the highway a bit past the DeVargas Center mall. On the way north you can view the unique shape of the Santa Fe Opera on your left after you pass the first Tesuque exit. If you’re interested in pueblo art and culture stop at the Pojoaque (Po’su wae geh) Pueblo’s Poeh Cultural Center & Museum. The museum focuses on the artists of the six Tewa-speaking Pueblos of northern New Mexico. Their permanent exhibition, Poeh Meng (Tewa for “Along the Continuous Path“), offers a time-line for the pueblo’s people. Admission is free. While there visit the Tower Gallery next-door. Renowned Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor, Roxanne Swentzello shows and sells her moving figural sculptures. Then continue north. Look for NM 503 on your right a bit after Cities of Gold Casino. You’re on the High Road.
Estella del Norte Vinyards
As you begin to head into the mountains on Route 503, look for the sign for Estrella Del Norte Vineyard on the left. Not only is this place dripping with charm, you can taste and buy local wines and local artisanal food products. Stroll through their sculpture garden nestled among grape vines. Further up the road, you’ll get to Nambé, home of the Nambé Pueblo and site of the original factory famous for the metal ware that bears that name. Look for a left turn onto NM 98 which will take you to the quaint village of Chimayó.
Nambe Trading Post
Up the road a piece in the small hamlet of Nambe you’ll see a sign on your right for the Nambe Trading Post. The shop, located in a historic log building built in the 1930s, is packed with carefully handpicked merchandise. Discover pottery from local Pueblo artisans, Navajo rugs, Hopi and Zuni katsinas (carved representations of spirits), traditional Plains Indian bead and quill work, as well as new and pawn Native American jewelry.
Santurio de Chimayó
Chimayó is famous for three things, it’s church, Santuario de Chimayó, its chile and its weaving. The church, the result of a reported miracle, is dubbed the “Lourdes of the United States”. People tell of being healed by the “miracle” dirt in the church.
Rancho de Chimayó
Hungry? Stop for a bit of lunch at Northern New Mexico food at Rancho de Chimayó. You can feast on the famous Chimayó chile and other Northern New Mexican favorites at this local favorite, that’s been serving food to locals and travelers for over 50 years.
The distinctive Chimayó weaving that the town is known for has been passed down through families for generations. Visit one of the weaving shops while here. Two of the most renown families who have shops are the Ortegas and Trujillos. St.
After Ortega’s Weaving, take a right turn onto NM 76. A bit up on the right you’ll see the sign for
owned by award-winning weavers Irvin and Lisa Trujill0. Stop to view the weavings and then continue north on NM 76
NM 76 winds through old mountain villages settled hundreds of years ago by Hispanic immigrants. Rumor has it that until the mid-1960s, English was rarely spoken here; they spoke a version of Spanish that had close ties to 17th Century Castilian. It is also believed that Conversos and Cryto-Jews (Jews forced to convert by the Spanish Inquisition) settled in these mountains.
Truchas, a bit up the road from Chimayó, is where Robert Redford filmed The Milagro Beanfield Wars in 1988. Stop and look at the views of the Truchas Peaks and check out the Los Llanitos Cemetery with its unique “ghost bike”, a tribute to a deceased biker. The town, settled by artists in recent years, has a number of art galleries to visit.
In Las Trampas, take a right and view the historic church, circa 1760. Artists who cannot afford Santa Fe rents or who want to get out in the country have moved to these mountain towns and opened galleries. A highlight of the year is the High Road Art Tour held over two weekends in September.
The last stretch
About five miles past the village of Peñasco, make a left turn onto NM 518. The road goes through Kit Carson National Forest with its Alpine landscape and beautiful views. When the road meets Route 68 at Rancho de Taos, turn right, Taos is minutes up the road.
Ranch de Taos
When you reach the junction with NM 68, take a quick jog to the left. It will take you to the historic Rancho de Taos Plaza the site of San Francisco de Asis Church. This iconic adobe church, dating to the late 18th Century, inspired artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe to draw and paint it and photographers including Ansel Adams to photograph it.
The trip via High Road to Taos is about two hours without any stops and stopping is half the fun. Take some time to explore the galleries, museums and historic sites in Taos. You can also choose to go up on the low road and back on the high one.
Heading back on the low road
Return to Santa Fe on the Low Road. It wends its way through the area between the Rio Grande Gorge and the mountains and then opens into the Rio Grande Valley. If they’re open, make a stop at the Classical Gas Museum to see the vintage gas station memorabilia and then fuel up on a delicious and juicy green chile brisket burrito at Sugar’s a roadside stand before heading back to Santa Fe.
Both roads get you to Taos, but the old song is true – the low road will get you there faster. The trip via the low road is about 1½ hours (less if traffic is light). When you have time, take the High Road to Taos. You’ll take in a lot of the areas history and culture and the views are supreme. It’s worth the extra time!
Have you driven the High Road to Taos?
If you want to experience the High Road with a guide, contact check out our travel-planning and tour business The Santa Fe Traveler.
If want to grab something to eat while you’re in Taos, here are a few suggestions.