Taos County's 2,200 square miles embrace a great diversity of scenic beauty, from New Mexico's highest mountain, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, to the 650-foot-deep chasm of the Rio Grande Gorge. Carson National Forest, which extends to the eastern city limits of Taos and cloaks a large part of the county, contains several major ski facilities as well as hundreds of miles of hiking trails through the Sangre de Cristo Range.
Recreation areas are mainly in the national forest, where pine and aspen provide refuge for abundant wildlife. Forty-eight areas are accessible by road, including 38 with campsites. There are also areas on the high desert mesa, carpeted by sagebrush, cactus, and, frequently, wildflowers. Two beautiful areas within a short drive of Taos are the Valle Vidal Recreation Area, north of Red River, and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area, near Questa. For complete information, contact Carson National Forest, 208 Cruz Alta Rd. (tel. 575/758-6200; www.fs.fed.us/r3/carson), or the Bureau of Land Management, 226 Cruz Alta Rd. (tel. 575/758-8851; www.blm.gov.nm/st/en.html).
Along a Green Shore
A sweet spot en route to Taos from Santa Fe, the Orilla Verde (green shore) Recreation Area, offers just what its name implies: lovely green shores along the Rio Grande. It's an excellent place to camp or to simply have a picnic. If you're adventurous, the flat water in this section of the river makes for scenic canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and fishing. Hiking trails thread through the area as well. Along them, you may come across ancient cultural artifacts, but be sure to leave them as you find them.
While traveling to the area, you'll encounter two places of note. The village of Pilar is a charming farming village, home to apple orchards, corn fields, and artists. The Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center (at the intersection of NM 570 and NM 68; tel. 575/751-4899) provides information about the gorge and has very clean restrooms. It's open daily during business hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The day use fee for Orilla Verde is $3 per day, camping is $7 per night, and RV camping is $15 per night. All campsites have picnic tables, grills, and restrooms. For information contact the Orilla Verde Visitor Station (tel. 575/751-4899; www.blm.gov.nm/st/en.html), at the campground. To reach the recreation area, travel north from Santa Fe 50 miles or southwest from Taos 15 miles on NM 68; turn north on NM 570 and travel 1 mile.
As in many other towns throughout New Mexico, hot-air ballooning is a top attraction. Recreational trips over the Taos Valley and Rio Grande Gorge are offered by Paradise Hot Air Balloon Adventure (tel. 505/751-6098; www.taosballooning.com). The company also offers ultra-light rides.
The Taos Mountain Balloon Rally, P.O. Box 3096 (tel. 505/751-1000; www.taosballoonrally.com), is held each year in late October.
Even if you're not an avid cyclist, it won't take long for you to realize that getting around Taos by bike is preferable to driving. You won't have the usual parking problems, and you won't have to sit in the line of traffic as it snakes through the center of town. If you feel like exploring the surrounding area, Carson National Forest rangers recommend several biking trails in the greater Taos area. Head to the West Rim Trail for a scenic and easy ride. To reach the trail, travel US 64 to the Taos Gorge Bridge, cross it, and find the trail head on your left, or head south on NM 68 for 17 miles to Pilar; turn west onto NM 570. Travel along the river for 6 1/4 miles, cross the bridge, and drive to the top of the ridge. Watch for the trail marker on your right. For a more technical and challenging ride, go to Devisadero Loop: From Taos drive out of town on US 64 to your first pullout on the right, just as you enter the canyon at El Nogal Picnic Area. To ride the notorious South Boundary Trail, a 20-mile romp for advanced riders, contact Native Sons Adventures (below). Native Sons can arrange directions, a shuttle, and a guide, if necessary. The U.S. Forest Service office, 208 Cruz Alta Rd. (tel. 505/758-6200), has excellent trail information. Also look for the Taos Trails map (created jointly by Carson National Forest, Native Sons Adventures, and Trails Illustrated) at area bookstores.
Bicycle rentals are available from the Gearing Up Bicycle Shop, 129 Paseo del Pueblo Sur (tel. 505/751-0365; www.gearingupbikes.com); daily rentals run $35 for a mountain bike with front suspension.
Annual touring events include Red River's Enchanted Circle Century Bike Tour (tel. 505/754-2366) on the weekend following Labor Day.
In many of New Mexico's waters, fishing is possible year-round, though, due to conditions, many high lakes and streams are fishable only during the warmer months. Overall, the best fishing is in the spring and fall. Naturally, the Rio Grande is a favorite fishing spot, but there is also excellent fishing in the streams around Taos. Taoseños favor the Rio Hondo, Rio Pueblo (near Tres Ritos), Rio Fernando (in Taos Canyon), Pot Creek, and Rio Chiquito. Rainbow, cutthroat, German brown trout, and kokanee (a freshwater salmon) are commonly stocked and caught. Pike and catfish have been caught in the Rio Grande as well. Jiggs, spinners, or woolly worms are recommended as lure, or worms, corn, or salmon eggs as bait; many experienced anglers prefer fly-fishing.
Licenses are required, of course, and are sold, along with tackle, at several Taos sporting-goods shops. For backcountry guides, try Deep Creek Wilderness Outfitters and Guides, P.O. Box 721, El Prado, NM 87529 (tel. 575/776-8423 or 575/776-5901), or Taylor Streit Flyfishing Service, 405 Camino de la Placita (tel. 575/751-1312; www.streitflyfishing.com).
The Taos Spa and Tennis Club, 111 Dona Ana Dr. (across from Sagebrush Inn; tel. 575/758-1980; www.taosspa.com), is a fully equipped fitness center that rivals any you'd find in a big city. It has a variety of cardiovascular machines, bikes, and weight-training machines, as well as saunas, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, a steam room, and indoor and outdoor pools. Classes range from yoga to Pilates to water fitness. In addition, it has tennis and racquetball courts. Therapeutic massage, facials, and physical therapy are available daily by appointment. Children's programs include a tennis camp and swimming lessons, and babysitting programs are available in the morning and evening. The spa is open Monday to Friday 4am to 9pm; Saturday and Sunday 7am to 8pm. Monthly memberships are available for individuals and families, as are summer memberships and punchcards. For visitors, there's a daily rate of $12.
The Northside Health and Fitness Center, at 1307 Paseo del Pueblo Norte (tel. 575/751-1242), is also a full-service facility, featuring top-of-the-line Cybex equipment, free weights, and cardiovascular equipment. Aerobics classes are scheduled daily (Jazzercise classes weekly), and there are indoor/outdoor pools and four tennis courts, as well as children's and seniors' programs. Open weekdays 6am to 9pm, weekends 8am to 8pm. The daily visitors' rate is $11. Also of note, with classes daily, is Taos Pilates Studio, 1103 Paseo del Pueblo Norte (tel. 575/758-7604; www.taospilates.net).
Since the summer of 1993, the 18-hole golf course at the Taos Country Club, 54 Golf Course Dr., Ranchos de Taos (tel. 800/758-7375 or 575/758-7300), has been open to the public. Located off Country Rd. 110, just 6 miles south of the plaza, it's a first-rate championship golf course designed for all levels of play. It has open fairways and no hidden greens. The club also features a driving range, practice putting and chipping green, and instruction by PGA professionals. Greens fees are seasonal and start at $49; cart and club rentals are available. The country club has also added a clubhouse, featuring a restaurant and full bar. It's always advisable to call ahead for tee times 1 week in advance, but it's not unusual for people to show up unannounced and still manage to find a time to tee off.
The par-72, 18-hole course at the Angel Fire Resort Golf Course (tel. 800/633-7463 or 575/377-3055) is PGA endorsed. Surrounded by stands of ponderosa pine, spruce, and aspen, at 8,500 feet, it's one of the highest regulation golf courses in the world. It also has a driving range and putting green. Carts and clubs can be rented at the course, and the club pro provides instruction. Greens fees range from $47 to $99.
Hunters in Carson National Forest bag deer, turkey, grouse, band-tailed pigeons, and elk by special permit. Hunting seasons vary year to year, so it's important to inquire ahead with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department in Santa Fe (tel. 505/476-8000; www.wildlife.state.nm.us).
The paved paths and grass of Kit Carson Park provide a quiet place to stretch your legs.
For a taste of the unusual, you might want to try letting a llama carry your gear and food while you walk and explore, free of any heavy burdens. They're friendly, gentle animals that have keen senses of sight and smell. Often, other animals, such as elk, deer, and mountain sheep, are attracted to the scent of the llamas and will venture closer to hikers if the llamas are present.
Wild Earth Llama Adventures (tel. 800/758-LAMA  or 575/586-0174; www.llamaadventures.com) offers a "Take a Llama to Llunch" day hike -- a full day of hiking into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, complete with a gourmet lunch for $89. Wild Earth also offers a variety of custom multiday wilderness adventures tailored to trekkers' needs and fitness levels for $125 per person per day. Children under 12 receive discounts. Camping gear and food are provided. On the trips, experienced guides provide information about native plants and local wildlife, as well as natural and regional history of the area. The head guide has doubled as a chef in the off season, so the meals on these treks are quite tasty. El Paseo Llama Expeditions (tel. 800/455-2627 or 575/758-3111; www.elpaseollama.com) utilizes U.S. Forest Service-maintained trails that wind through canyons and over mountain ridges. The llama expeditions are scheduled March to November, and day hikes are scheduled year-round. The rides are for all ages and kids can ride, too. Gourmet meals are provided. Half-day hikes cost $74 and $84, day hikes $94, and 2- to 8-day hikes run $299 to $1,199.
Half- or full-day white-water rafting trips down the Rio Grande and Rio Chama originate in Taos and can be booked through a variety of outfitters in the area. The wild Taos Box, a steep-sided canyon south of the Wild Rivers Recreation Area, offers a series of class IV rapids that rarely let up for some 17 miles. The water drops up to 90 feet per mile, providing one of the most exciting 1-day white-water tours in the West. May and June, when the water is rising, is a good time to go. Experience is not required, but you will be required to wear a life jacket (provided), and you should be willing to get wet.
Most of the companies listed run the Taos Box ($104-$115 per person) and Pilar Racecourse ($45-$56 per person for a half-day) on a daily basis.
I highly recommend Los Rios River Runners in Taos, P.O. Box 2734 (tel. 800/544-1181 or 505/776-8854; www.losriosriverrunners.com). Other safe bets are Native Sons Adventures, 1033-A Paseo del Pueblo Sur (tel. 800/753-7559 or 505/758-9342; www.nativesonsadventures.com), and Far Flung Adventures, P.O. Box 707, El Prado (tel. 800/359-2627 or 575/758-2628; www.farflung.com).
Safety warning: Taos is not the place to experiment if you're not an experienced rafter. Do yourself a favor and check with the Bureau of Land Management (tel. 575/758-8851) to make sure that you're fully equipped to go white-water rafting without a guide. Have them check your gear to make sure that it's sturdy enough -- this is serious rafting!
Mountain Skills, P.O. Box 206, Arroyo Seco, NM 87514 (tel. 575/776-2222; www.climbingschoolusa.com), offers rock-climbing instruction for all skill levels, from beginners to more advanced climbers who would like to fine-tune their skills or just find out about the best area climbs.
Try your board at Taos Youth Family Center, 406 Paseo del Cañon, 2 miles south of the plaza and about 3/4 mile off Paseo del Pueblo Sur (tel. 505/758-4160), where there is an in-line-skate and skateboarding park, open when there's no snow or ice. Admission is free.
Getting Pampered: The Spa Scene
Taos doesn't have the spa scene that Tucson and Phoenix do, but you can get pampered with treatments ranging from body polishes to mud wraps to massages at Estrella Massage & Day Spa, 601 Callejon Rd. (tel. 575/751-7307; www.estrellamassage.com). Taos Spa and Tennis Club also offers massages.
If you'd like to stay at a spa, El Monte Sagrado, 317 Kit Carson Rd. (tel. 800/828-TAOS  or 505/758-3502; www.elmontesagrado.com), and Casa de las Chimeneas, 405 Cordoba Rd. (tel. 877/758-4777 or 505/758-4777; www.visittaos.com), offer a variety of treatments to their guests.
Snowmobiling & ATV Riding
Native Sons Adventures, 1335 Paseo del Pueblo Sur (tel. 800/753-7559 or 575/758-9342; www.nativesonsadventures.com), runs fully guided tours in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Rates run $67 to $150. Advance reservations required.
The Taos Swimming Pool, Civic Plaza Drive at Camino de la Placita, opposite the Convention Center (tel. 575/758-4160), admits swimmers 8 and over without adult supervision.
Taos Spa and Tennis Club has four courts, and the Northside Health and Fitness Center has three tennis courts. In addition, there are four free public courts in Taos, two at Kit Carson Park, on Paseo del Pueblo Norte, and two at Fred Baca Memorial Park, on Camino del Medio, south of Ranchitos Road.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.