When daily lows dip into the low 40s to mid-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 between the conifers until they finally give way to their winter slumber.
From the Town of Taos, the colorful views from a fraction of the 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.
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 more ancient trees that are over 80 feet and more than 24 inches around if you look for them.). 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, take a right on two-lane NM 150 to start the ascent up to our small Village. 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
Most challenging. Located in the Amizette area of Taos Ski Valley, the name Gavilan means “Hawk”, the trail ascends quickly, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation. Right out of the chute, you get 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.
Bull Of The Woods/Wheeler Peak Trail #90
Moderate to difficult. This trail begins at the start of Twining Road, just up from the main parking area in Taos Ski Valley. There are aspens mixed with conifers up to the Bull Of The Woods Pasture (approx. 2 miles). Hike another 1/4 mile to the Red River Canyon Overlook and get an aspen-filled view on the Red River side. Hike another 1/2 mile, and you'll see an extensive view of the aspen-filled mountainsides and our Village.
Manzanita and Yerba CanyonsModerate. Both of these trails, located along NM-150 on the way to Taos Ski Valley provide ample aspen views with stands dotting the trails all the way up the canyons.
Shorter hike. The trail is incredibly popular because of the cathedral-like aspen stand about 1 mile into the hike. With a moderate climb and short distance this trail could be the best bang for your buck.
Easy. The Village park is a closed access dirt road with beautiful aspen views on the Longhorn ski run, above Kachina Road, down to the Village, and on the mountainsides. Parking is available on Kachina Road anywhere before the red gate. (Note the couple of cool benches Mayor Brownell made along the road). 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).
Kachina Vista Park
JR Ramming Nature Trail and RubezahlFor the kids. JR Ramming Trail connects the main Village area to the Rio Hondo Learning Center. A short quarter mile walk through aspens and conifers is great way to get the little ones out on the trail. Rubezahl is the ski return trail, which you can hike in the summer. With a gentle grade this trail leads out from the Resort Plaza with plenty of aspens along the way.
Resort PlazaEasiest! To just relax while observing the colorful forest, grab a bite and take a seat in the main Resort Plaza and look up to Al's Run ski slope (notorious for moguls in winter and degree of steepness). Find a current list of shops & restaurants open now in Taos Ski Valley.
See all Taos Ski Valley hiking trails.
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 most likely after noon, especially in the fall-to-winter season. Clothing layers are advised, with a layer of 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, especially if you are visiting from significantly lower altitudes.
We appreciate your interest in coming to Taos Ski Valley in the fall! We hope that you'll come back to see the emergence of aspen and their forest neighbors in the spring of 2022. For help planning your trip, simply fill out a Trip Inquiry.