New Mexico has a colorful history, stretching thousands of years and covering Native American, Spanish, and modern U.S. settlement. The High Road to Taos takes you on a trip through the state’s past—and onto a stunning motorcycling road.
While it is well-known, the High Road rarely makes it onto top lists of American motorcycling destinations. I don’t see why, because the road is a perfect microcosm of everything New Mexico has to offer.
Stretching north from Santa Fe along US 82, US 285, and SR 76, the 77 miles of the High Road may not be the longest riding experience you find. But none of those miles are wasted, as you’ll progress through a smorgasbord of environments to keep you engaged in the ride.
You’ll start in the flats surrounding Santa Fe before proceeding to climb into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And what a climb it is—at its steepest, you’ll gain about 2,000 feet in elevation over only 10 miles before reaching the ride’s highest point at just about 8,000 feet.
While enjoying the delightful mixture of curves and straights as you motor toward Taos, you’ll roll through high desert, foothills, forests, mountains, and striking hoodoos. Along the way, the route takes you through tiny Spanish land grant villages and Native American pueblos.
It’s these tiny towns that make your High Road to Taos trip unforgettable, in addition to the majestic surroundings, of course. Although you can breeze through the route in less than two hours, you should allocate at least twice that much time for the ride—although I’d recommend giving it an entire day.
You’ll find old structures, from churches to stores, in practically every hamlet you pass. Meanwhile, in the pueblos, you can get a glimpse into Southwest Native American life that upholds centuries-old traditions.
Along the road, you’ll also find eclectic museums, displaying everything from Puebloan handicrafts to modern art. And you can’t forget the small eateries serving delicious local fare—naturally cooked with New Mexico’s famous chilis.
The High Road to Taos is more than just a gorgeous, curvy mountain road. It’s a unique time capsule that showcases the past and present of New Mexico and the Southwest U.S.
Points of Interest
El Santuario de Chimayó
El Santuario de Chimayó (officially El Santuario de Nuesto Señor de Esquipulas) is a Roman Catholic chapel and church, built in Chimayó in 1816. Much of the adobe church remains as it was 200 years ago.
The Chimayó church is a popular pilgrimage destination, attracting 300,000 visitors annually. Many of the worshippers flock to the location due to the purported healing powers of the holy dirt on which the structure is built.
An adjoining prayer room filled with the discarded crutches and wheelchairs of those who walked out unassisted sure does give the legend some credence. In addition to the crutches, the church is decorated with beautiful pieces of folk art that are worth seeing just for their own merits.
Continuing further along the High Road, you’ll arrive in Las Trampas at an elevation of roughly 7,000 feet. This tiny village was founded in 1751—and it has remained largely the same since.
The Last Trampas Historic District retains the layout of the original Spanish defensive structures, although the buildings you see today date back “only” to the 1800s. The one remaining structure from the town’s founding is the San José de Gracia church, which finished construction in 1776.
If (for some reason) the historical buildings don’t tickle your fancy, you should stop in Las Trampas just for the spectacular views.
As SR 76 comes to an end, the High Road continues southeast on SR 75. However, you should first turn northwest for a visit to the Picuris Pueblo.
The Tiwa Puebloans have inhabited the location since around 1250. When Spanish colonialists showed up, the residents of the pueblo mounted stiff resistance into the 1700s. You can get acquainted with their history, art, and crafts at the Picuris Pueblo Museum.
As a curiosity, the pueblo maintains a growing herd of buffalo at the site. When you visit, note that the tribal members ask all visitors to purchase a permit from them before taking any photographs.
Although the High Road ends at Ranchos de Taos, you should venture a bit farther to visit the Taos Pueblo. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has stood here since the 1200s.
Today, it’s still home to around 4,500 Tiwa Puebloans. Visiting this still thriving pueblo, you can learn and observe the tribe’s vibrant social, cultural, and religious practices and lifestyle.
You should do your tour with one of the local guides to make sure you follow the pueblo’s rules of behavior and conduct. As with the Picuris Pueblo, you need a permit for photography.
Low Road to Taos
After venturing to Taos along the High Road, why not return to Santa Fe along the Low Road, or SR 68? This road follows the meandering Rio Grande and makes for a relaxing, smooth ride down from the mountains.
Stop near the town of Pilar for some astounding vistas of the river below you. Along the way, you’ll pass multiple excellent restaurants and wineries that are well worth dropping by.
Facts & Info
Recommended Lodging: Dreamcatcher Bed and Breakfast
The Dreamcatcher Bed and Breakfast in Taos is an ideal place to end your adventure on the High Road. Its location in central Taos is perfect for exploring the town.
This quirky B&B offers a delicious breakfast, prepared with produce from its on-site garden. You won’t have to be far from your bike, as each room has its own dedicated spot in the large parking lot. Each room is uniquely decorated for a quirky Southwestern vibe.
Excellent dinner options—and everything else Taos offers—are within a 10-15-minute walk. The Taos Pueblo is also only a 10-minute ride away.
Best Time to Travel
The High Road to Taos is rideable year-round, but fall is generally the ideal time to tackle it. You’ll avoid the hellish heat of summer in the desert, while still being able to enjoy mild, warm weather up in the mountains. The trees in Carson National Forest also put on quite a show in fall with their blazing autumn colors.
While you may be able to ride the High Road in winter, note that it can (and probably will) snow up in the mountains. If you’re not comfortable riding on the white stuff, delay your late-year plans until the next spring.