Top Trails for Fall Color

FALL in Love with Taos Ski Valley

- | 4 min read

Golden Yellow, Fiery Reds and Brilliant Blue Skies

When nighttime lows dip into the 40s to 30s and the smell of piñon-smoke lingers over early mornings, the deciduous aspen stands begin to change color in the high elevations of Taos Ski Valley. First, a hint of yellow, then a fiery mix of yellow, orange, and red leaves quake in the blue skies. They tremble between the conifers until they finally give way to their winter slumber.

From the Town of Taos, the colorful views from Carson National Forest give you an idea of experiencing the Sangre De Cristo Mountains (the southernmost part of the Rockies) while they seemingly vibrate with fall hues.

A solitary yellow aspen tree among green leafed aspens

What Are These Trees Anyway?

Sun-loving aspens can range in height from 20 to 80 feet high and 3 to 18 inches in diameter. These graceful beauties typically live to 150 years, but they can reach over 200 years old! You will find the oldest trees that are over 80 feet tall and 24 inches around. Although aspens do produce seeds, they are most notable for their ability to regenerate by shoots that come up from their roots. These shoots create the same trees genetically – clones, which share a common root structure.

Weather can impact the fall color – spring rains, summer heat stress, and tumultuous monsoonal rains affect the longevity of the leaves. What may be a spectacular yellow canopy over a trail one week will be a gorgeous yellow carpet the next due to high winds or heavy rain. Aspen colonies are generally found at 5,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation, so it is wise to get out and see fall color in higher elevations from late September into mid-October. However, fall color can be viewed at lower elevations into November.

You can readily see the majesty of the famed quaking aspens on a drive up to Taos Ski Valley. From the Town of Taos, head north and take a right on NM 150 to start the ascent. Ease your way up and enjoy the views. Please note that our neighbor village, Arroyo Seco has a speed limit of 20mph. Watch for pedestrians and slower cars – “Taos time” is a real thing, likely due to the captivating beauty of our cool outdoor environs. We invite you to slow down and enjoy the views!

Top Trails for Fall Color in Taos Ski Valley

Gavilan

A local’s favorite, this is the shortest trail along Hwy 150 to get you up to the ridge line, but you make up for that short distance in big climbs! Come prepared for a workout with this trail. Right out of the chute, you pass groves of aspen for quite a ways. Then there’s a stretch of forest climbing, up to the large open expanse of high meadows with aspen stands.

Italianos

Italianos Canyon is an incredibly popular option. It may be the best bang for your buck as far as hiking goes. After just about a one-mile hike up a moderate grade you’ll encounter cathedral-like aspen stands.

Yellow aspen trees in front of a blue sky

Manzanita and Yerba

Manzanita and Yerba Canyons are similar trails to Italianos as far as grade and difficulty. You will pass aspen stands along the entirety of these trails. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, these trails are usually less busy.

Find more info and trail maps for all trails listed above.

Can I walk through some aspens without a hike up a mountain? Yes!

Kachina Vista Park

This municipal park is a dirt road closed to motorized traffic. It offers beautiful aspen views along the road, with views of aspen stands on Longhorn, above Kachina Road, down in the Village, and on the mountainsides.

Parking is available on Kachina Road anywhere before the red gate. Hang a left on Phoenix Switchback from Twining Rd. (you’ll see a large retaining wall), then a right on Kachina Road. (Both intersections have Kachina Vista Park directional signage).

Rubezahl (ski return run)

Access Rubezhal from the Upper Resort Plaza. Follow the signs up the hill to your left to begin heading up the trail. If you walk the entire trail (about 1.5 miles), you’ll be rewarded by arriving at The Bavarian and the Scenic Lift (both open weekends only in the fall). Stop for lunch or ride the lift to soak in the views – just don’t forget you’ll still need to hike back!

JR Ramming Nature Trail

Find the JR Ramming Nature Trail from the main parking area – look for the wooden boardwalks and follow the signs. This quarter mile trail winds along the Rio Hondo from the main Village area down to the Rio Hondo Learning Center through aspens and conifers. Keep an eye out for the educational signs about the local flora and fauna along the trail that were made by local students.

Can I take in the views without the hike? Yes!

Simply driving up Hwy 150 and the Village roads will give you a dazzling display of fall color and quaking aspens. Take the drive up Twining Road from the main Village to access The Bavarian and the Scenic Lift (both open weekends only in the fall).

To just relax while observing the colorful forest, take in Al’s Run ski slope (for skiers, notorious for moguls and degree of steepness) at the ski resort’s base. Click here for a list of what’s currently open in Taos Ski Valley (This list is updated regularly.).

No matter what time of year you visit Taos Ski Valley, be sure to plan for an experience of multiple climates in one day. Consult local forecasts but assume that rain, hail, or snow is possible in any season. Clothing layers are advised, with rain protection most advisable. As always, bring water with you and wear sun protection. Combined with physical exertion and low humidity, our altitude can bring on dehydration with short notice. Be especially cautious if you are visiting from significantly lower altitudes – drink more water than you think you need!

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