Taos, New Mexico, is a fantastic place to visit in summer as a family. We used to go every year when I was young, and I wanted my kids to experience what I loved as a child: gorgeous scenery, yummy food, an artistic, counterculture way of life and the natural world.
It may be known as a ski resort during the winter but here are the things no family should miss when visiting during the summer.
1. Spend the day in the Taos Plaza
In the centre of town sits this old-fashion square, perfect for a morning or afternoon of shopping, browsing, and eating. Originally built for defense with all the windows facing in, it plays host to concerts in the summer, shady trees and benches anytime, and is ringed by shops and galleries of Native American art and souvenirs. Pick up a carved walking stick, handmade cards by a local artist, fresh juice from a stand, a candle or even a pair of cowboy boots. Then head upstairs to The Gorge Bar & Grill for margaritas, crispy fried green beans, the carne adovado plate and cheese quesadillas for the kids. Go before you’re famished, in the event that there’s a wait for a table on the shaded terrace, with its pleasing view of the square.
2. Have fun at Twirl, the independent toy shop
Visiting this quaint toy store is like stepping back to a time before big-box retailers. Expect to spend at least half an hour playing and exploring the nooks and crannies, no matter what age your kids. Younger ones will also love the programmes (music classes, a play room) and the outdoor play space. http://www.twirltaos.org/
3. Take a hike
Tramp up to Williams Lake or, if your family is very hardy, up to Wheelers Peak. On our first visit to Taos, we made it up to Williams Lake, a 2-mile walk that you can do with younger kids and that yields beautiful views of the cold lake and the mountains rising above. Our tween and teen insisted they wanted something more difficult. So on our next visit we set off to the top of the peak — the highest natural point in New Mexico. Toward the top, we were panting and taking breaks after every hundred steps before the exhilarating moment we reached the top. “I didn’t think y’all would make it,” said a 60something hiker who passed us earlier on the trail. In the summer, plan your walk Thursday – Sunday so on the way down you can stop at the Bavarian Lodge & Restaurant (oh yes) for a stein and a well-deserved snack. The Williams Lake trail
4. Visit the Gorge Bridge
Even if you don’t get vertigo, your legs may go a little jelly on what is officially known as the Rio Grand Gorge Bridge. It stretches 565 feet above the Rio Grande River and is the 7th highest bridge in the States. Expect striking views in each direction (you can see storms rolling in from the faraway mountains) and a regular stream of people walking out to its small viewing platforms. Bring some small bills to shop for souvenirs at the artisan tables on the west side (where you can find inexpensive jewellery and, er, knives) or pack lunch and eat at one of the picnic tables on the overlook. This is a great vantage point for those nervous of being suspended hundreds of feet above the picturesque rocks far, far below.
5. Dip into ice cream at Taos Cow
Get a taste of old Taos and its hippie vibe at this ice parlour and cafe in Arroyo Seco, about 10 minutes’ drive up toward the ski valley. Arroyo Seco has a cluster of cute shops and on Saturdays works up a real bustle of visitors. Visit Taos Cow at any time for all natural, rBGH-free ice cream which features local ingredients like fresh raspberries, pistachios from nearby Alamogordo and pinon nuts. Bon Appetit named it a top 10 ice cream shop in America. Taos Cow
6. Marinate in the hot springs
I grew up visiting hot springs in Taos with my parents during the ’70s when “clothing optional” seemed a motto for the town’s entire hippie population. These days, that still holds at the hot springs down by the Rio Grande, so be prepared. As a kid, I was surprised to see the bearded naked adults (and that was just the women!) hanging out at these pools, but it pales in comparison to the surprise of slipping into 97-degree water as the river rushes just beside you. The 2 public pools are easily accessible so they can get busy and save some energy for a walk back up to your car at the end of the visit. Information about the hot springs
7. Trick the kids into enjoying galleries on Kit Carson Drive
Taos has a rich culture of art and creativity but if your kids are like mine, they howl with protest if you so much as mention seeing “art”. Fool them by suggesting a stroll down Kit Carson Road just off the main road (Highway 64) that cuts through town. The street is awash in small galleries, perfect for quick tours or just window-gazing. Our kids were delighted with a shadowed sculpture and fountain garden we discovered down a narrow passageway, and a visit to admire the jewellery at El Rincon Trading Post (dating from 1909) turned into a long eccentric chat with the owner about Native American turquoise and a look round the back room and its Old West artifacts. The Kit Carson Home and Museum, free to children under 12, honours the legendary frontiersman who was famous in his own time, his exploits celebrated in dime novels. This stretch is just opposite the Taos Plaza so you can do one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
8. Ride a horse in the ski valley
A ride on one of the wide ski valley trails during the summer months is perfect for beginners and city slickers, even if these slow, well-trained animals won’t hold big thrills for true horsewomen and -men. You can opt for one hour rides or longer, including an outing where you pack a lunch and eat on the trail. Yeehaw.
9. Eat New Mexican food…and pizza
Casual dining is what works best here and two places rise to the top of the heap. The casual vibe makes them particularly family-friendly:
— Orlando’s New Mexican cafe – Utterly delicious food nachos, tacos, enchiladas, margaritas and uber-fresh guacamole, best eaten outside under an umbrella in the fenced-in patio
— Taos Pizza Outback – calls itself a “legend” and pretty damn near right. Sit outside under the shade tree and enjoy dough made from organic flour with seasonal toppings. Fab salads too with their homemade basil-parmesan vinaigrette
10. Browse at the Overland Sheep Company
The shop stocks high-end leather, sheepskin and fur alongside massive cowskin rugs and other items perfect for your luxury mountain shack. If you’re like me, you’ll go from rack to rack petting the items and wondering why you never before acquired an alpaca cape with fox trim. Behind the main building sits a little landscaped garden with pond and a cafe overlooking an array of kinetic wind sculptures for sale. Sit and be mesmerized by the whirling metal flowers and undulating shapes.
11. Visit the Taos Pueblo
Take a tour through this Native American community in an actual pueblo with multi-storied adobe buildings continuously inhabitated for more than 1,000 years. Guides will tell you how these buildings are made and maintained, you can buy beautifully made jewellery from the artisans who create it and eat traditional fry bread. It’s a chance to understand the unique, rich heritage of this Taos and the Native American community that lives here as well as see how a people can have a completely different way of life in the midst of a modern community. Fascinating. More information on the Taos Pueblo
12. Go up and away in a hot air balloon
You can take balloon rides practically anywhere these days, but floating across the Rio Grande Gorge, quietly sailing over miles of sagebrush and scrub, skimming across the surface of the river then toasting it all with Champagne or juice afterwards — well, that’s a version that ticks all the boxes in my book. Be forewarned that your head gets hot from the burner and your feet can get wet from the basket dipping into the river. Ah the trails of the modern explorer. We flew with Pueblo Balloon Company, where they not only encouraged us to take a quick tour inside the balloon once we were on the ground, the pilot even enlisted the kids to walk up over the billowing fabric to help deflate it while the crew rolled it up. Younger kids may get bored and all “flyers” must be able bodied.
We stay not in Taos itself but outside of the little village of Arroyo Seco, which means at night there are no lights to interfere with the view of the entire firmament spread out above you. This summer the Milky Way was like a bright stripe in the middle of the sky. Use a smartphone app, brush up on your constellations or just take turns pointing out your favourite stars.
How to get there
Fly into Albuquerque, the closest major international aeroport, with direct flights from the UK, then hire a car to drive to Taos. (You’ll need a car in Taos to get around as there is virtually no public transport.) Drive time to Taos is about 2 and a half hours. We have also flown into Denver and driven from there, about 4 and a half hours.
Have you visited Taos and have a tip? Do any of these activities intrigue you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments! Leave me a note below!