Last Updated on

Facebook
Pinterest
Instagram

Santa Fe and Taos are certainly two of New Mexico’s biggest tourist attractions, and for good reason. Both locales offer Northern New Mexican architecture, cuisine, galleries, museums and rather stunning surrounds. However, the drive between these two attractions on the National Scenic Byway known as the High Road to Taos deserves special mention.

Driving the High Road to Taos makes for a worthwhile journey, complete with mountain views and charming towns and villages along the way. This is indeed one of the best day trips from Santa Fe and is rather beautiful coming from Taos as well.

Need more of the Land of Enchantment? See our article on 20 things to do in New Mexico. From quirky and historical to iconic and majestical, New Mexico is certainly loaded with attractions.

old adobe church with 2 tress in front along the high road to Taos from Santa Fe.
El Satuario de Chimayo

The High Road to Taos will therefore leave you looking for more scenic drives in New Mexico. If so, check out our other article highlighting 3 scenic drives from Taos. One of these drives is a loop route taking in the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, making this a great day trip from Taos that’ll have you back there in time for dinner!

Also visit the 3 nearby hot springs in Taos while you’re there; click on our article for these and other hot springs in New Mexico. Visiting any of these hot springs are possible day trips from Santa Fe but are best enjoyed if you are spending time in Taos.



The High Road to Taos

Overview:

NOTE: Many sources claim this route begins just east of Española; the High Road to Taos begins east of Pojoaque on NM Route 503 and continues from thereSee High Road to Taos Directions below.

From Santa Fe, the High Road to Taos begins in Pojoaque and climbs the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, passing through Spanish Land Grant villages. Several of these villages are worthy of a stop for galleries, adobe churches and a glimpse of small town Northern New Mexico life. The scenery between these villages is simply amazing with plenty of spots to pull in for great photos.

The village of Chimayo, famous for its heirloom red chile and its Catholic pilgrimage site, is the first obvious stop. Here, the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe begins to climb from desert landscape, slowly transitioning to higher pine forest beyond the village of Truchas. Pass through serene Las Trampas and colorful Peñasco before hitting an elevation of 8,500 ft. The High Road to Taos soon begins to descend to her namesake town.

High Road to Taos Map:

High Road to Taos Directions:

From Santa Fe, drive north on US Highway 285/84 for approximately 16 miles to NM Route 503, or Nambe Road; go right. Route 503 continues 7.5 miles to County Road 98 (Juan Medina Road). Here, go left and continue about 2.5 miles to Santuario de Chimayo. Afterward, rejoin County Road 98 right for about 1 mile to NM Route 76; turn right.

After passing through several villages NM Route 76 intersects with NM Route 75; turn left. Continue 6.5 miles to the junction of NM 518. Turn left again and continue on NM 518 for approximately 16 miles to Ranchos de Taos, then turn right onto NM Route 68 for 3 miles to Taos.

Side Trip:

Before heading into Taos on NM Route 68 turn left onto that route and follow signs for the church of San Francisco de Asis. This is only several hundred yards from the intersections of NM Routes 518 and 68. More information is available on San Francisco de Asis at the end of this article.

High Road to Taos Distance:

The start-to-finish distance of the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe is approximately 75 miles one way. Only interested in visiting Chimayo from Santa Fe? The distance to Santuario de Chimayo is only 29 miles on this route, making this one of the easiest day trips from Santa Fe.

High Road to Taos Time:

Allow at least 2.5 to 3 hours one way for exploring the towns and villages and taking in the scenery.


Chimayó

El Santuario de Chimayó in New Mexico in autumn alonf the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe.

El Santuario de Chimayo, built in 1816, houses ex-votos which are offerings to saints who’ve fulfilled prayers for healing of ailments or protection from accidents. The Santuario de Chimayo also contains hundreds of crutches from the devoted, left behind forever after being healed.

Example of an ex-voto. A man gives thanks for surviving an attack from a bull

The faithful leave with a relic of the very earth this sanctuary was built atop. Chimayo holy dirt is sold at shops near the church but you can grab your own from the official Holy Dirt Room. Look to the left of the altar for this room; a sign hangs above the doorway to this sacred spot.

The Vigil Store in Chimayo, New Mexico along the high road to Taos from Santa Fe.

Make sure you check out the Vigil Store next to the Sanctuary of Chimayo for all your spiritual paraphernalia. Above all, don’t forget to grab your own bag of heirloom Chimayo red chile powder. Sold here are several types of New Mexican red and green chile, however go for the local red. Grab your own Chimayo red chile sauce recipe, too.

Bag of Chimayo heirloom chile powder

The Chimayo red chile is a local delicacy. The peppers are very thin-walled and peeling these beauties requires delicate handiwork. The finished product is a slightly buttery tasting powder with a mild, smoky kick that is not too hot. Don’t leave without a bag!


 

View of Rio Grande Valley from Highway 76 in New Mexico along the high road to Taos from Santa Fe.
Climbing Route 76 with Chimayo and the Rio Grande Valley Beyond

Route 76 continues to steadily climb with ample vantage points along the way. Pull in off the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe and take a photo west toward Rio Grande Valley. You soon approach the junction to NM Route 503.

Just beyond this junction you’ll find a rather stunning overlook at the pull-in for the official Cordova Historical Marker. Just past this marker, at the intersection of County Road 80, is another pull-in featuring views of the tiny village of Cordova itself in the valley below. After that, continue right on NM Route 76.

View of Cordova, New Mexico, from Highway 76.
Cordova, from the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway
Old barn in autumn in New Mexico along the high road to Taos from Santa Fe.
Scenic Cordova, New Mexico

Truchas

The High Road to Taos from Santa Fe slinks toward the village of Truchas. Break your trip here and visit several of the small art galleries. From Truchas you’ll certainly enjoy fine views of the Pecos Mountains just to the southeast.

Truchas, New Mexico with snow-covered Pecos Mountains beyond.
Approaching Truchas

Las Trampas

Not to be outdone by Chimayo, the village of Las Trampas offers her own little adobe church right off the High Road to Taos. San José de Garcia church was built between 1770 and 1776.

An adobe church surrounded by an adobe wall along the high road to Taos from Santa Fe.
San José de Garcia church, Las Trampas
A wooden flume channeling water
A wooden flume channeling water

After exploring the church take a photo of Las Trampas from a roadside pull-in just past the village and off the highway. Around this pull-in is a rather unique wooden flume, still channeling water to this day.


Through Peñasco to Taos

Old barn in ruin in autumn, Highway 76 in New Mexico along the high road to Taos from Santa Fe.
Bucolic scene along the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway.

Meanwhile, the scenery continues as the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe passes through Carson National Forest. Beyond the locale of Vadito, Routes 76 and 518 intersect. Continue left on 518. After that the High Road to Taos tops out at just over 8,500 ft.

Descend toward Taos, stopping off in the village of Ranchos de Taos on the way. Here, an ancient square surrounds the mission church of San Francisco de Asis, purported to be one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world.

an adobe church with a white door against a blue sky
San Francisco de Asis church.

I mentioned hot springs earlier; from Ranchos de Taos you are only several miles from a rather relaxing soak. Ponce de Leon hot springs are about 3 miles up the road from the church – it’s free to visit and you may certainly have the place all to yourself. For directions to Ponce de Leon and two more hot springs in Taos click on our article for 9 New Mexico Hot Springs.


Pin Me Now!

Adobe church with pine trees on either side against a blue sky

Aspen trees in autumn with yellow leaves against a clear blue sky.

Facebook
Pinterest
Instagram

20 Comments

  1. Road trips are love, and this is one of them that I would surely love to experience. When in Mexico, I am surely taking the High Road to Taos. The journey is so scenic and interesting.

    • Hello Shreya,

      We hope you do make it to Mexico one day. Until then come to see the high road to Taos in New Mexico and see if you like it!

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  2. I think New Mexico is so underrated. I haven’t spent much time in the northern part of the state, but the central and south have so many hidden gems. Santa Fe and Taos have both been on my list for awhile, so this I’ll definitely need to check out this route next time I’m in the area!

    • Maggie,

      We are both happy to hear you love New Mexico so much! Have a great time on your next visit and don’t forget to take the high road to Taos.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  3. Taos is just so beautiful! I visited there about twelve years ago and I still remember how magical it was. This looks like a fun scenic drive too.

  4. Oh man, reading this just makes me want to head straight for New Mexico, hop on a motorcycle, and go! What an awesome little road trip. I love all the little stops for the local culture! Not to mention the Chimayo powder!

  5. Mexico is still on my wish list! Such a road trip is certainly a great thing to discover as much as possible. I admit that I have not really dealt with the topography of the country and am very surprised to see the high mountains. Since hiking has to be really fun!

    • Suzanne,

      We hope New Mexico is on your list, too. Mexico is a gem of a country no doubt, but should you find yourself in New Mexico you’ll love the scenery and the great outdoor opportunities in this state.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  6. We took the Low Road to Taos from Santa Fe and then the High Road on the way back. I regret not making all these stops you made. Maybe that’s why I liked the Low Road better, so close to the Rio Grande and all the yellow trees. It was Fall.

    • Carol,

      Autumn is a great time to make the high and low road journey journey. A follow-up article about the low road to compliment this would be a good idea…. Both drives are real gems, for certain.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  7. Thanks for a really great itinerary. I’d love to have a poke around the Vigil Store. I’m not religious at all, but the building itself looks intriguing. I wonder how old the wooden water flume is. It’s really cool to see the old ways still going strong.

  8. I thought the area around Taos was a lot more desert-like… I really like the little Mexican churches, very cute. I would of course get a bag of the Chimayo red chile but what do you make with it?

    • Delphine,

      New Mexico is desert and so much more – alpine lakes and lush mountains, too. The chile powder can be used to make a sauce, or just sprinkle it on your food.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  9. I love Road trips and this one sounds like it has it all! Dessert forest mountains architecture history and best of all hot springs at the end of it. It doesn’t get much better!

  10. What an interesting part of the world. I love that San Francisco de Asis church especially, and it looks to be beautifully restored. Where you able to go inside?
    I hope you wore gloves when you peeled those chilies!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *