Taos, New Mexico is a year-round destination for tourists in search of outdoor pursuits, local crafts, food, evocative architecture and history. In addition to those charms are 3 scenic drives awaiting visitors to Taos as well. This post features the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, certainly one of our favorite day trips from Taos. The other 2 routes in this post, though not official scenic drives in New Mexico, still make great day trips from Taos.
These Taos day trips are just the beginning of this enchanted state. In addition to these scenic drives are 3 great hot springs (all free!) near Taos – check out our post 9 New Mexico Hot Springs to learn more. Soaking in any of the hot springs near Taos is a great way to start the day!
Day Trips From Taos: Scenic Drive #1 – Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway begins and ends in Taos. The route curves around New Mexico’s highest mountain – 13,159 ft. Wheeler Peak. This official New Mexico scenic drive passes through the tiny town of Questa before climbing through Carson National Forest.
Coast into a valley full of New Mexico scenery few tourists see despite the official scenic drive designation. Pass through the town of Eagle Nest on your way back to Taos along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. This scenic drive briefly breaks from US 64 to include the uninspiring winter resort town of Angel Fire – continue back to Taos instead.
Map of The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
US Route 64 north from Taos soon junctions with NM Route 522. Reach the town of Questa 24 mi. from the beginning of the drive. In Questa, join NM Route 38 on the right and climb to Red River. Descend to Eagle Nest, 17 mi. from the start of NM 38. Join US 64 again in Eagle Nest and continue 31 mi. back to Taos.
The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is 85 miles in length.
Allow at least 3 hours to complete the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.
From Taos US Route 64 enters the town of Questa and the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway continues right, at the beginning of NM Route 38. Jays’ Unique Thrift Shop on NM 38 welcomes you to Questa and invites you to browse. After that, stroll the path around milky-blue Eagle Rock Lake, located just off NM 38. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway climbs to Red River from here.
The scenery becomes rugged ascending to the resort town of Red River, which somehow embraces an uneasy mix of old west gold rush boom town and Swiss/Austrian Tyrolian ski village. Grab a bite and beer at whichever themed establishment suits you. Choose either a saloon-type joint decorated in props from a western film or any place touting itself as das official beer haus.
The elevation of the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway tops out at 9828 ft. and descends to a rather expansive valley fronted by both Baldy Mountain and the curiously named Touch-Me-Not Mountain which both – ahem – grab your attention along this stretch of the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.
Heading toward the town of Eagle Nest, enjoy fine views of Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest at 13,167 ft. In Eagle Nest join U.S. Route 64 right, again avoiding a drive through the rather bland town of Angel Fire on NM Route 434 – head back to Taos instead.
Day Trips From Taos: Scenic Drive #2 – Taos to Las Vegas (New Mexico) Loop
There really is a Las Vegas, New Mexico – this state has it all! This Taos day trip is actually 2 New Mexico scenic drives in 1, returning briefly along a different route. Below I suggest the optimal route to take first for maximum New Mexico scenery.
Highlights of this scenic drive from Taos to Las Vegas include ancient ruined adobe homesteads, a glimpse of rural Northern New Mexico villages and a pine-studded mountain pass through Carson National Forest. Las Vegas deserves a look too, proudly featuring a few rows of stately old homes and a rather tidy town square. Why not visit Montezuma hot springs (free!) just outside Las Vegas?
I suggest NM Route 518 from Taos to Las Vegas (Route #1) as the first of the 2 scenic drives. Returning to Taos (Route #2), exit NM 518 at NM Route 94, about 13 mi. north of Las Vegas. Arrive in the town of Mora after 19 miles and rejoin NM 518 back to Taos. Further directions and details for each route will follow…
Taos to Las Vegas (Route #1) via NM 518 is 77 mi. Allow 2 hours. Las Vegas to Taos (Route #2), via the cut-off for NM 94, is 80 miles. Allow 2 hours. The total mileage for this round-trip is 155 miles.
Allow at least 4.5 hours, more if you visit Montezuma hot springs or grab a bite in Las Vegas.
Route #1 – Taos to Las Vegas
NM 518 climbs the pine mountains of Carson National Forest and takes in panoramic views of the valley below. Coast into the pleasant town of Mora and visit St. Vrain Mill on NM 434, yards from the center of town.
Leaving Mora on NM 518, enter a scenic valley dotted with ruined adobe homesteads before arriving at the historic locale of La Cueva, home to another mill building. Directly off NM 518 is the rather aptly named La Cueva Mill, surrounded by extensive old stone walls and an old adobe warehouse.
NM 518 levels out and emerges into high grassland plains during the approach to Las Vegas. Stop off here to grab a bite or soak at Montezuma hot springs before heading back to Taos along the alternate scenic route below.
Route #2 – Las Vegas to Taos
From Las Vegas, return north on NM 518 turning left onto NM 94. This scenic route winds through tiny locales featuring abandoned adobe homesteads. Certainly check out the curiously French-sounding village of Ledoux, complete with a pink adobe church in the center. You will be the only visitor in Ledoux – hop out of the car and snap photos of downtown during your visit!
Pass through a wide valley during your drive along NM 94. Views of lofty peaks and more ruined adobe homes line this route before descending again into Mora. Here, join NM 518 back to Taos.
Continue left on NM 518 and climb into Carson National Forest, passing through a pine valley skirting the Rio Fernando de Taos. Finally, descend NM 518 to the junction of NM 75, continuing straight for one final ascent at 8,500 ft. Continue downhill to Taos – dinner awaits!
These Taos day trips are a great way to take in some stunning New Mexico scenery! Although the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is well known, 2 more unofficial scenic drives in New Mexico make great day trips from Taos. I certainly encourage you to get out and discover your own New Mexico scenic drives – The Land of Enchantment will never disappoint. Finally, don’t forget to check out the hot springs near Taos and Las Vegas!