#4 New Mexico Road Trip | Taos and Santa Fe


This New Mexico road trip takes you through the capital, Santa Fe, on a dip into the Rio Grande Canyon and a stop off in the town of Taos.

New Mexico is a different kind of America. Santa Fe is as if someone has snipped the edges of a make-believe town and slotted it in the space dividing the US from Mexico. It oozes chic.

As we rounded the last corner on our New Mexico road trip the sandy-orange box buildings popped up on the horizon. Each box construction poking above the next. Simple adobe houses slipped between the fancy hotels. There isn’t a shiny, steel sky scraper in sight. Rather each floor that is added to an adobe construction transforms it to a towering castle.

That’s Santa Fe. A city of sandcastles that cloak the pocket sized restaurants and cafes. I couldn’t live there. I’m just not cool enough. When the waitress passed me a vivaciously, pink margarita, I responded with a squeal. But I would enjoy a summer tucked away there, writing a novel.

Part of our Feasible Road Trips from Denver, Colorado in 6 hours a day or less series

Each region of the US mid-west is weaved from a complex amalgamation of history, geology and the immigrants it attracted during different eras. We’ve been lucky enough to venture out of Denver in almost all directions and this is your short guide to 5 feasible road trips from the Mile-High City. Let’s take a look at a New Mexico road trip.

Our Other Feasible Road Trips from Denver:

#1 Yellowstone National Park
#2 Colorado Road Trip | Aspen to Gunnison
#3 Utah Road Trip | Monument Valley and Arches National Park

When, Where, How Long to Take a New Mexico Road Trip

Rio Grande Canyon on New Mexico road trip.
Rio Grande Canyon seen from Cebola Mesa Campground.

When to Go?

Temperatures in New Mexico range from 25 degrees celsius in the summer to as cold as freezing in the winter. The New Mexican remedy to the bite of winter is spicy, hearty food and snuggling in beside a pocket sized fireplace carved into the rooms of the adobe boutique hotels.

Santa Fe Festivals

International Folk Market Festival: second weekend of July (artesans selling crafts).

Harvest Festival: first weekend of October at El Rancho de Los Golondrinas (stringing ristras, crushing grapes and other traditional farm activities).

Traditional Spanish Market: throughout July in the historical town centre (hundreds of artesans selling crafts and foods).

Zozobra Festival: the Friday before Labor Day in April (fireworks, bonfire).

Taos Festivals

Taos Balloon Rally: end of October.

Lilac Festival of Taos: end of May, coinciding with the blossoming of the Lilac flowers.

Ristra in Toas during a New Mexico road trip.
Taos Historical Center with New Mexican Ristras (string of red Hatch chile pods).
Taos Historical Center with New Mexican Ristras (string of red Hatch chile pods).

How Many Days and Where to Stay on a New Mexico Road Trip

You can visit New Mexico for a night driving from Colorado. Two nights will give you the tranquility to explore the gift shops and artisan crafts and indulge in the margaritas. Plus, the hike into Rio Grande deserves a hearty, slow lunch post hike not a hurried drive back to Colorado.

Day 1 – Taos

Drive to Taos and pull off at the National Forest Cebolla Mesa campsite. Set up camp, then drive down to Orlando’s New Mexican Café. The walls are orange, pink and red with tile topped tables. The campsite is open May – Oct and there is just a 2 mile dirt track to arrive. It’s free, but there isn’t any running water.

Day 2 – Go to Rio Grande Canyon and drive to Santa Fe – live music

After breakfast, hike down to the bottom of the Rio Grande Canyon. It will take about 25 mins down and up to 50 mins back up. At the top, pack up and drive over to Santa Fe. Book a hotel beforehand as some the prices can skyrocket.

Spend the night at one of the live music spots in town. We went to the Inn at Loretto Santa Fe for a live acoustic set.

Day 3  Walk around Santa Fe, eat and drive back to Denver

Walk around Santa Fe’s historical centre. There’s several museums and art galleries. Many people ride in just for the Meow Meow museum. You can keep busy meandering through the streets, stopping for coffee and munching on street food.

Drive back to Denver in 6 hrs. Or you can stay another night to soak up the artistic atmosphere, making the trip 4 days long.

Santa Fe adobe house on New Mexico road trip.

New Mexico Road Trip Highlights

Santa Fe Adobe Architecture

The adobe structures of Santa Fe have a timeless elegance to them. Our favourites to see are the Palace of the Governors, the Inn and Spa at Loretto (hotel), and La Fonda (hotel). The San Miguel Mission church is considered the oldest building in the US.

Rio Grande Canyon

The gorge is a 1200 ft drop to the river. It’s steep heading back up, but it’s a refreshing wake up in the morning.

Live Music and Prickly Pear Margaritas

Prickly pear is the fruit of the cactus. This frozen, lusciously pink margarita is divine. See the drink below in the picture of my husband looking like a mafia boss, cradling a sweet hangover with a remedy of more alcohol.

Tips for New Mexico

  • We ran out of gas on our New Mexico road trip (only for the 3rd time!). Just fill up when you can. The road from Denver to New Mexico is long stretches of nothing.
  • Whilst there is almost nothing most of the 5 hr drive, the flora in the Enchanted Circle as you approach Taos is a magical wilderness. Take picture.
  • Buy and picture the hanging chilis known as Ristras. The idea of the string of chilis is to always have some chilli on hand.
  • Santa Fe is expensive, so if you can buy artisanal products at a market.
  • Boutique hotels of Santa Fe are pricey, but you can still head to the bar and enjoy the live music wherever you please. As long as you buy drinks.
  • Santa Fe is a touristic town, but it’s small and follows strict restaurant hours. Get in before 2pm for lunch. The restaurants often shut between 3-6pm.
  • With any extra time on your New Mexico road trip you can drive up the extinct Capulin volcano. At 10,000 ft it gives a great view reaching across 4 States. Stop at the volcano on the way down or way out of Santa Fe.

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