New Mexico, which bumps up against Colorado’s southern border, tends to be a lesser known trip destination for Denverites. While the majesty of the Rockies captures us many a weekend, the high desert that surrounds Taos, New Mexico holds hidden gems like countless hot springs, both desert and mountain landscapes, raging rivers and canyons. Plus, the authentic New Mexican food you haven’t been able to get anywhere near Denver can finally be found.
While the drive seems a little daunting, an action-packed three-day-weekend is easily within reach. This guide will detail how we did it, along with lots of other options for your trip into the heart of the southwest. We’ll list stops to make along the way, where to stay (both for campers and glampers – no judgment) and share our hiking and hot-springing guide. This unique setting is sure to captivate the most loyal Coloradan with its adobe dwellings and dramatically changing landscapes, one trip just might not be enough.
How to Get There
Approximate drive time from Denver: 4.5 – 6 hours
Adam’s Mountain Cafe, Manitou Springs – This quaint restaurant is a good greasy food alternative that will leave you energized for the drive ahead. Adam’s makes just about anything you could be craving from ramen to sandwiches to pizza, but its plant-based focus is what keeps things light.
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs – If there’s a perfect spot to get out of the car for a few minutes and stretch your legs, Garden of the Gods is it. Located right off the highway, this National Natural Landmark will break up the drive without adding too much to your travel time.
Rocco’s Riverside Deli, Pueblo – For a quick bite, hit the deli drive-thru for some fast but delicious sandwiches with lots of variety.
Covered Wagon, San Luis – Stop at the oldest town in Colorado for your first go at cheap, authentic Mexican food. Get your fill of enchiladas and tacos on the final stretch to Taos.
Taos Diner, Taos – We stopped here for breakfast on the way out and it was probably the best food we got in Taos. Order the breakfast burrito “Christmas style” to eat like the locals that surround you in the diner.
Where to Stay
- Near Taos – There aren’t too many campsites close to Taos, but if you’re set on it the Lower Hondo Campground is your best bet, located just 12 miles north of Taos and boasting breathtaking views.
- In the Jemez Mountains – If you’re wanting to stay closer to the Jemez, Jemez Falls is your spot. The campground, costing $10 per vehicle, is close to all the best hot spring areas and of course, a beautiful waterfall. Other campgrounds in the area include San Antonio, Vista Linda, Redondo and La Cueva.
- Mabel Dodge Lu-‘home’ – We used HipCamp, an Airbnb-type website to find our dream glamp spot. The renovated trailer was a 15-minute drive from Taos and gave us a perfect combination of camping and comfort. With a fire pit, picnic table and hammock out front, but a cozy bed, small kitchen and toilet inside, we felt right at home in the woods. The place was also stocked with games, movies, coffee and tea and we cooked both over the fire outside and on the stove inside.
- Anasazi Glamping Tipi – This spot is located on a goji berry farm 15 miles north of Taos. Staying in a quaint tipi in the high desert doesn’t get much cuter, but you don’t have to give up showers (there are outdoor showers and bathrooms). Bonus: fresh eggs and veggies are available seasonally, and you’ll get a complimentary bottle of wine.
- Tiny House, Big River – Live out your tiny house dreams in this mini-cabin. Located right on the river 15 minutes from Taos and complete with a tipi, wake up to views you’d usually get only at the best camp spot.
- Bus House Hostel – Visiting Taos with a small group and want to get to know some other’s vacationing in the area? Stay in a hostel environment, but this isn’t an ordinary hostel – it’s several vintage, converted buses. Check out this unique spot and gather around the communal campfire when the day is over.
Where to Hike + Hotspring
There’s no shortage of hiking around Taos, but we felt we got a bit of everything over a three day weekend by hitting the Carson National Forest, Jemez Springs and the Rift Valley. As the region is fairly dry, be sure to bring plenty of water. However, don’t let the high desert title of the area fool you – the landscapes we saw varied from high desert to hot spring oases to canyon rims.
Day 1, Devisadero Loop Trail – We went on this moderate hike to stretch out after the drive. Located just 5 – 10 minutes from Taos, the loop was convenient but no less beautiful with plenty of overlooks and viewpoints.
Day 2, San Antonio Hot Springs – While a bit of a trek into the mountains, these hot springs are well worth it. The path is very flat, making for a relatively easy 10 miles until the last half mile – which is a bit more of an incline. There are three subsequent pools, each very warm and not crowded depending on your timing. Note that sometimes the gate blocking a dirt road is open, cutting over nine miles off your journey. Afterwards, the McCauley hot springs are a 30-minute drive and a short hike away. They’re more lukewarm, but are much closer to the road and overlook a striking forest. On your way back towards Taos, stop by El Parasol in Española for some cheap and delicious local food. Just be careful if something says it’s hot or spicy, they aren’t messing around!
Day 3, Traders Trail – Before we made our way back to Denver, we made sure to fit in this final hike. Only 3.3 miles, the trail overlooked the Rift Valley and the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. If you’re looking to get back quickly, this would make a great sunrise hike.