Family Vacations to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico

Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts, New Mexico
Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts (courtesy, SFCVB-Chris Corrie)

Santa Fe and Taos Highlights

  • Learn about Native American art and culture at Santa Fe's museums.
  • Be dazzled by the Museum of International Folk Art's colorful collection.
  • Raft the Rio Grande River.
  • Explore the centuries-old Taos Pueblo.
  • Discover ancient cliff dwellings and hike the trails at Bandelier National Monument.
  • Try a green chili cheeseburger in Santa Fe.

Northern New Mexico's mountains and windswept mesas capture some of the "Land of Enchantment" state's most magical scenery and major historical sites. On a visit to Santa Fe, 55 miles north of Albuquerque, and to Taos, another 68 miles north of Santa Fe, families can combine explorations of ancient cliff dwellings and centuries-old pueblos with hot-air balloon rides, horseback riding, biking, and hiking. This region, at an altitude of about 7,000 feet and graced with sweeping views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is also rich in Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo flavors—including the Southwest's famous fire-hot green chili cheeseburger!

Bordering one side of the Plaza, Santa Fe's heart since the birth of the original settlement, is the Palace of the Governors, which was built in 1610. Inside, exhibits detail the Spanish Colonial, Civil, and Spanish-American wars, as well as Wild West characters such as the Rough Riders, "Kit" Carson, and Billy the Kid. Outside, Native American artisans sell silver buckles, bracelets, jade necklaces, and ceramic pots. Browse more pottery, jewelry, rugs, and Native art at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, located on Museum Hill, site of several other interesting facilities. The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture uses artifacts such as dough bowls, old woven baskets and rugs, moccasins, and a Navajo man's wedding clothes to detail Native traditions. Typically, kids linger longest at the Museum of International Folk Art, delighted by its whimsical 135,000-piece collection. Look at colorful masks, detailed Spanish and Mexican dollhouse villages, carved kachinas, woven Navajo blankets, scarves and quilts from Indonesia, and tin work from Mexico.

Guided adventures make it easy to explore the region's spectacular scenery. Go whitewater rafting, horseback riding, fly-fishing, llama trekking, and mountain biking, as well as enjoy star-gazing evenings with Santa Fe Mountain Adventures. Outspire leads day hikes through juniper, piñon, and ponderosa pine forests as well as three-day, two-night camping trips into Chaco Canyon.

The road from Santa Fe to Taos reveals a bold sweep of mesas, mountain passes, and gorges carved by the Rio Grande, a region that has been inhabited by the Taos-Tiwa Indians, or People of the Red Willow, for nearly 1,000 years. A tour of the Taos Pueblo, a multi-tiered adobe dwelling and one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in the U.S., reveals the thick walls and strong traditions of this Nation. Rides at the Taos Indian Horse Ranch lead you into the Indian land, taking you alongside ravines, through streams, and along ridgelines.

Discover the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, the "ancient ones" who inhabited the area from 1200 to 1500 A.D., at Bandelier National Monument, which is an hour west of Taos. Tour Tyuonyi, ruins of a multi-storied village with about 400 rooms, the Long House, an 800-foot series of houses constructed against the canyon wall, and Ceremonial Cave, site of a reconstructed kiva, a traditional ceremonial structure. Plan enough time to hike some of the 70 miles of trails through Bandelier's 23,000-plus wilderness acres.

Tip: For more Western vistas, board the historic Santa Fe Southern Railway for a four-hour round trip through the high-mountain deserts to Lamy, a small town 18 miles southeast of Santa Fe.

Recommended Side Trips: Albuquerque, Gallup, Los Alamos's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 6 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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