Last Updated on May 18, 2023

Santa Fe and Taos are certainly two of the biggest tourist attractions in New Mexico, 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.

Looking for Even More Road Trips and Scenic Drives in New Mexico? 

  •  We’ve highlighted three amazing drives near Taos to help you take in some of the best Northern New Mexico scenery.
  • Make your next New Mexico road trip even better and choose any of our 17 favorite sites and sights in the state.
  • Relax after all that driving; we reveal the nine best hot springs in New Mexico for soaking away your road trip blues.

Watch Our Video and Learn More About New Mexico!

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 majestic, New Mexico is certainly loaded with attractions.

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An old adobe church with two tress in front along the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe.
El Satuario de Chimayo

The High Road to Taos will leave you looking for more scenic drives in New Mexico, and we have one for you. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is great day trip from Taos that’ll have you back to town in time for dinner! See the box above for a link to our article on this and other routes. Also, visit three hot springs near Taos after your drive; the box above links to these and other geothermal pools in New Mexico.

An Overview of the High Road to Taos

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.

Need a Place to Stay While Exploring The High Road to Taos?

We suggest booking with Hotels.com for a wide range of options in both Santa Fe and Taos. Find a last-minute bargain at that perfect boutique hotel or a familiar national chain. Book with Hotels.com and always get the best deal. 

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 right. Continue 6.5 miles to the junction of NM 518. Turn left 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.

A Side Trip From the High Road to Taos:

Before reaching 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 518 and 68. More information is available on San Francisco de Asis at the end of this article.

Drive Time and Distance of the High Road to Taos:

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

Chimayo: A Spiritual Side of Northern New Mexico

El Santuario de Chimayó in New Mexico in autumn along the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe.
All Trips on the High Road to Taos Stop Here

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.

An example of an ex-voto; a man gives thanks for surviving an attack from a bull.
Ex-Voto Example: A Man Gives Thanks for Surviving a Bull Attack

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 Scenic Byway
Vigil Store, Chimayo

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.

A Ziploc bag of ground red Chimayo chile powder from New Mexico.
Chimayo 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!

Ascending Route 76 From Chimayo

A view of Rio Grande Valley from Highway 76 in New Mexico along the High Road to Taos.
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.

A view of Cordova, New Mexico, from state highway 76.
Cordova, From the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway
An old barn in autumn in New Mexico on the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway
Scenic Cordova, New Mexico

The Village of 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 the snow covered Pecos Mountains beyond.
Approaching Truchas

Las Trampas Village

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 on the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway in New Mexico.
San José de Garcia Church, Las Trampas
A wooden flume channeling water on the side of New Mexico Route 76.
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

An old barn in ruin in autumn on New Mexico Route 76, also known as the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway.
Bucolic Scene Along the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway.

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

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 near Taos, New Mexico with a white door against a blue sky.
San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos

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.

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An adobe church with pine trees on either side against a blue sky.

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


  1. Thanks for this valuable information. My husband and I are going to Santa Fe and Taos in Mid-October and I’ve been so busy with other things that I’m just starting to research the areas. My brother went to college in Santa Fe in the 1970s and we visited a couple of times (from New Orleans). We were able to travel all around New Mexico with our family of 7 and we all loved it greatly. I’m very excited to return after so many years and to see how much my husband loves it, especially because it will be his first visit. I appreciate the detailed directions and suggestions of where to stop along the way from Santa Fe to Taos.

    • Hi Marianne.

      Thank you for the lovely comment – we’re very happy knowing your research into the area included us! Mid-October is such a lovely time to visit New Mexico. Did you attend the Balloon Fiesta? Have you had fresh-roasted green chile? Did you see the eclipse? We are near Gallup right now and we had a lovely day observing it.

      You’ve seen quite a bit of the state and it really sounds like you are so excited to see it again, especially with your husband. Do let us know how your autumn trip goes – we hope your husband enjoys New Mexico as much as you do and that you both return soon.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  2. We used your guide to go to Taos and back to Santa Fe yesterday. It was excellent and the suggestions were all spot on and worthwhile stops.

    The only thing I noted is that there’s one small mistake in the directions.

    “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.” It is actually a right hand turn from 76 onto 75, when heading to Taos. Thought you may wish to make this edit.

    Thanks again for helping out of town travelers find the high road to Taos without any trouble, and for pointing out the great places to stop along the way!

    • Hi Siobhan.

      Spot on! Thank you for reporting that mistake – the change has been made and the article has been updated. We certainly hope the mistake didn’t get you or anyone else spun around. We appreciate you keeping us on our toes.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  3. Thank you! I am going to Santa Fe this week and appreciate the detailed explanation. It is very helpful!

    • Hi Claire.

      We’re very happy knowing our article was helpful to you. Thank you so much for reaching out to let us know – enjoy your road trip!

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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

      • Robt. Naranjo, M.A.

        Greetings “Drifters”:
        What Official publication says the High Road to Taos begins in Pojoaque? I know you espouse this trip but there’s nothing but desert vistas for several miles until reaching El Santuario de Chimayo.
        You must all be out-,of-staters because you don’t know the history of Nuevo Mexico.
        Historically, ALL trails passed through what is now the Española Valley. NOTHING went through NM 503:silly people. Go drift elsewhere and spread misinformation there. Especially in your own state!
        That’s all I’ll say, why would I want to help you with your edification of Nuevo Mexico, (New Mexico after 1846), tell your story right if you’re going to tell it at all.
        Go tell your own states history and scramble that all up
        Stay right or stay out.
        Robert A. Naranjo M.A.
        El Llano, Rio Arriba County,
        New Mexico, USA

        • Hi Robert,

          It seems you are conflating two subjects: 1.) Old trails which pass/passed through Española Valley and 2.) a modern, scenic drive along official highways suitable for motor vehicles – the latter of which is what we VERY clearly discuss in our article. The article does not focus on historical trails which currently pass through or have passed through Española Valley.

          To quote you: “Historically, ALL trails passed through what is now the Española Valley. NOTHING went through NM 503:silly people.”

          Again Robert, we are NOT discussing old trails at all in our article – we are discussing modern, maintained, paved highways (like NM 503) suitable for motorized traffic.

          Quote: “I know you espouse this trip but there’s nothing but desert vistas for several miles until reaching El Santuario de Chimayo.”

          Those “desert vistas” may indeed be considered scenic to some. Again, see our clear mentions of a “scenic drive” – those two words are even featured in the title of our article in order to make it absolutely clear to the reader. By the way, those lowly desert vistas you speak of while climbing out of Española Valley on the way to Chimayo are especially scenic along NM 503.

          Now, back to your original question: “What Official publication says the High Road to Taos begins in Pojoaque?”

          Here is an online publication from an official website which states the High Road to Taos indeed begins at Pojoaque:


          We’ll just include one link in order to not bombard you with other links from official websites/online publications which also mention Pojoaque as the start of the High Road to Taos scenic drive – dig those up yourself if you must, along with any “official publications” that can prove any point you are trying to make. If you have any problems with the information included in the linked article above, please continue your argument with the administrators of that website and not ours.

          Additionally, we’d like to point out a blanket statement you’ve made, one we’ve already quoted from you: “Historically, ALL trails passed through what is now the Española Valley.”

          All trails (assuming you mean within what is now known as the state of New Mexico) throughout history? Seriously? You really should fine-tune this statement a lot – it seems grossly inaccurate and something this loose likely would not, we hope, be included in an sort of “official publication” of any kind.

          In conclusion, there is absolutely no need for you to carry on like a taunting bully in your comment to us – it is bitter, juvenile, condescending, uncalled for and full of baseless assumptions. But if that’s the way you want it, we have one question for you: Do you want red or green chile with your crow?

          Happy trails to you, Robert!

          Your Drifters,
          Jerry and Fiona

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

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