The High Road to Taos is a scenic byway in northern New Mexico known for its twisting mountain roads, steep drop-offs, and lack of guardrails. If you’re afraid of heights or narrow roads with steep cliffs, you may find parts of this drive scary.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While beautiful, the High Road to Taos has sections that some drivers find scary due to the winding roads, steep cliffs, and lack of guardrails. It’s not an ideal drive for those afraid of heights.
In this nearly 3,000 word guide, we’ll give an in-depth look at the route to help you decide if you’re up for the challenge. We’ll cover the history of the road, what to expect along the route, scary sections to look out for, and tips for nervous drivers.
History and Background of the High Road
Origin and Early Development
The High Road to Taos is a scenic and historic route that winds through the picturesque landscapes of northern New Mexico. This road has a rich history that dates back centuries. It was originally used by Native American tribes as a trade route between the Taos Pueblo and other settlements in the region.
Later, Spanish settlers utilized this route as they established colonies in the area.
The High Road played a significant role during the Spanish Colonial period, connecting the scattered villages and serving as a lifeline for trade. The road was primarily used for transporting goods such as wool, pottery, and agricultural products.
It also served as a pathway for religious pilgrimages to the Santuario de Chimayó, a famous Catholic shrine along the High Road.
Traveling the High Road today allows visitors to experience the same scenic beauty and historical significance that attracted early settlers to this region. The road is lined with charming adobe homes, historic churches, and stunning vistas, offering a glimpse into the past.
Over the years, the High Road has undergone significant improvements to enhance safety and accessibility for travelers. The road has been widened and paved, making it easier to navigate, especially for larger vehicles.
Bridges and culverts have been constructed to improve water drainage and prevent erosion, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey.
Despite these modern improvements, the High Road has managed to retain its old-world charm and rustic appeal. Many of the villages along the route have preserved their traditional architecture and cultural heritage, creating an authentic and immersive experience for visitors.
If you plan to embark on a journey along the High Road to Taos, be prepared to be transported back in time as you explore the rich history and breathtaking landscapes of northern New Mexico.
What to Expect on the High Road
Overall Route and Length
The High Road to Taos is a picturesque and scenic route that stretches for approximately 56 miles through the stunning landscapes of northern New Mexico. This iconic road takes travelers on a journey through charming small towns, rugged mountains, and lush valleys, offering a unique and memorable experience.
The route begins in Santa Fe and winds its way through several historical and culturally rich communities, including Chimayo, Truchas, and Las Trampas, before reaching its final destination in Taos. The entire drive can take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on how often you stop to explore the various attractions along the way.
One of the main draws of the High Road to Taos is its breathtaking scenery. As you traverse the winding roads, you’ll be treated to stunning panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, verdant forests, and vast open plains.
The route also passes by numerous art galleries, historic churches, and traditional adobe homes, adding to the overall charm and beauty of the journey.
Make sure to keep your camera handy, as there will be plenty of opportunities to capture the natural beauty and unique cultural heritage of this region. From vibrant wildflowers in spring to golden aspens in the fall, each season brings its own special touch to the landscape.
Road Conditions and Difficulty
While the High Road to Taos is generally well-maintained, it is important to note that certain sections of the road can be narrow and winding. Some parts may require cautious driving, especially during inclement weather conditions.
However, as long as you stay alert and drive at a reasonable speed, you should have no problem navigating this scenic route.
It is recommended to check the weather and road conditions before embarking on your journey, especially during the winter months when snow and ice may make the road more challenging to drive on. Additionally, be aware that there are limited services along the route, so it’s a good idea to fill up your gas tank and pack some snacks or water before setting off.
For more information on road conditions and travel tips, you can visit the official website of the New Mexico Department of Transportation at dot.state.nm.us.
Scary Sections to Look Out For
La Bajada Hill
One of the most daunting sections of the High Road to Taos is the infamous La Bajada Hill. This steep and winding descent can be a nerve-wracking experience for even the most experienced drivers. With its sharp turns and steep drop-offs, it’s no wonder that some people find this stretch of road intimidating.
According to NewMexico.org, La Bajada Hill has a gradient of around 8%, making it one of the steepest sections of the entire route. The road is also narrow, adding to the sense of unease for drivers. However, with caution and a slow pace, most travelers are able to navigate this section without incident.
Between Chimayó and Truchas
Another section of the High Road to Taos that can be a bit nerve-wracking is the stretch between Chimayó and Truchas. This part of the journey is characterized by winding roads that hug the mountainside, offering breathtaking views but also requiring extra attention from drivers.
While the scenery is undeniably beautiful, it’s important to keep your eyes on the road and be prepared for the occasional blind curve. Taking it slow and allowing ample space between your vehicle and others can help ensure a safe and enjoyable drive through this section.
Between Barranca and Picuris Pueblo
The section of the High Road to Taos between Barranca and Picuris Pueblo is another area where caution is advised. This stretch of road is known for its narrow lanes and occasional rough patches, which can make for a bumpy and somewhat nerve-wracking ride.
It’s important to drive at a controlled speed and be aware of any oncoming traffic, as passing can be challenging in certain areas. Additionally, staying vigilant for any road hazards, such as loose gravel or potholes, is crucial for a smooth and safe journey.
While these sections of the High Road to Taos may be a bit intimidating, they are also part of what makes this scenic byway so memorable. By taking the necessary precautions and driving with care, you can experience the beauty of this historic route without letting fear get in the way.
Tips for Nervous Drivers
Drive in Daylight
For nervous drivers, it can be helpful to drive during daylight hours when visibility is at its best. Driving at night can be more challenging, especially on unfamiliar roads. Daytime driving allows you to see the road more clearly and gives you a better sense of your surroundings.
If possible, plan your trip on the High Road to Taos during daylight hours to alleviate any anxiety you may have.
Ride with an Experienced Driver First
If you’re feeling nervous about driving on the High Road to Taos, consider riding with an experienced driver first. This can help you become familiar with the road and gain confidence in navigating its twists and turns.
Observing how an experienced driver handles the road can provide valuable insights and tips that can make your own driving experience more comfortable and less intimidating.
Take Breaks and Go Slow
It’s important to remember that there’s no rush when driving on the High Road to Taos. Take breaks as needed to rest, stretch your legs, and regain your composure. Going slow and driving at a comfortable pace can also help calm your nerves.
Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t hesitate to take your time and enjoy the scenic drive.
Don’t Ride Motorcycles or Bicycles
For nervous drivers, it’s generally recommended to avoid riding motorcycles or bicycles on the High Road to Taos. The road can be narrow and winding, with steep drop-offs and limited visibility in some areas.
Motorcycles and bicycles are more vulnerable to accidents and may not provide the same level of protection as a car. It’s best to prioritize your safety and opt for a car instead.
Remember, everyone’s comfort level with driving can vary, so it’s important to listen to your own instincts and take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. By following these tips, nervous drivers can navigate the High Road to Taos with confidence and ease.
While stunningly scenic, the High Road to Taos has sections many drivers find scary due to the narrow, winding roads and steep cliffs. By taking it slow, driving in daylight, and following tips for nervous travelers, most can handle the challenging route.
We hope our guide has helped you decide if you’re up for the scenic adventure.
Let us know in the comments if you have driven the High Road and what you thought of this northern New Mexico byway! Would love to hear any tips for fellow drivers.