Before the South Boundary: Turning Cranks in Taos

As previously reported,Taos’s South Boundary trail is a world class epic for strong riders and experienced adventurers that belongs on every serious rider’s bikeit list.  But while Taos’s marquee ride is for the strong and experienced, many of the rest of the trails around town cater to a more leisurely crowd.  In fact, Taos is surrounded by …

As previously reported,Taos’s South Boundary trail is a world class epic for strong riders and experienced adventurers that belongs on every serious rider’s bikeit list.  But while Taos’s marquee ride is for the strong and experienced, many of the rest of the trails around town cater to a more leisurely crowd.  In fact, Taos is surrounded by a superb balance of trails and there truly is something for everyone.  Add to that the culture, arts, scenery, rafting, and–what lured me to Taos in the first place–sensational skiing, and groups of mixed abilities or even mixed interests can have a spectacular time in this little town that is the very essence of The Land of Enchantment.  Here’s a rundown on Taos’s core rides for every level of rider.

West Rim Rio Grande -- kenoneputt
Staring into the abyss on the West Rim of the Rio Grande Gorge (photo: kenoneputt)

Level 1, Total Noob: West Rim of the Rio Grande

Nine miles of wide, level, mostly-smooth doubletrack with a smattering of non-threatening singletrack at one end hug the rim of the great Rio Grande Gorge, close enough for an occasional opportunity to gaze into the abyss without ever getting close enough to actually be threatened by it.  This is a ride you can take young children or a non-riding friend on with a high expectation of them enjoying it.  The high desert air is clean, the trail inviting, and the backdrop of the Sangre de Christo mountains completes a nice package for the uninitiated.

Taos Valley Overlook -- Alien Trees
High desert scrublands are home to easy but fun singletrack on the Taos Valley Overlook trail network (photo: Alien Trees)

Level 2, Beginner: Taos Valley Overlook

For those who are just ready for genuine singletrack, an occasional not-too-long hill, and the opportunity to actually steer their bikes on tight and twisty, the Taos Valley Overlook trail system beckons on the opposite side of the gorge, a few miles southwest of town. There still isn’t much in the way of trees here and the terrain is high desert scrublands, but much of this trail is super narrow and zigzags at an amazing pace.  This trail also eventually approaches–but doesn’t get too close to–the rim of the gorge. While it won’t challenge an expert technically, there is fun to be had trying to see just how fast you can take all those curves.

Singletrack dances with the east side of the Rio Grande Gorge on the highly-entertaining Horsethief trail.

Level 3, Intermediate: Horsethief and Talpa Traverse Trails

Staying on the east side of the gorge, but lying north of town, is the even more interesting Horsethief trail.  This one is also quite twisty, has numerous dips and rolls in and out of drainages, is almost incessantly peppered with small rocks, and occasionally throws out an obstacle that will spook a noob or lower intermediate.  Fortunately, these are all easily spotted and walked if necessary.  There are points where this one will take you right to the edge of the gorge for some spectacular overlooks.  It is a fun one to ride time-trial style, but those views will repeatedly compete for your attention.

Just southeast of town, lying close to the terminus of the South Boundary Trail, lies the Talpa Traverse, a local intermediate favorite.  Ridden as a 10 mile out-and-back or as a loop by using town streets, this ride provides a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs, but never straying far from its original elevation as it tracks through classic New Mexico pinion and juniper forest.

Northside -- Futchu
Altitude and scenery dominate the trails at Northside at Taos Ski Valley (photo: Futchu)

Level 4, Upper Intermediate: Northside at Taos Ski Valley

Northeast of town lying just across the valley from the Taos Ski Valley ski resort sits this private enclave, complete with lung busting climbs up big vertical, wicked good descents back down, and… a fee for use.  It’s well-worth it.  Why?  Scenery to die for.  You are in the heart of the most stunning part of the Sangre de Christos and will be glad you brought your camera.  In fact, Northside made our list of the 20 most scenic rides in the west. That’s truly rarified air.

The Devisadaro loop is steep, ledgy and switchbacky; A challenge to be savored.

Level 5, Advanced: Devisadaro Loop

While relatively short, the Devisidaro Loop will test most riders both aerobically and technically.  Parking is shared with the South Boundary terminus and the trailhead lies directly across Highway 64.  This is a lollipop loop with a short stem.  The trail climbs 1,400 feet in about 3.5 miles, but there is a long traverse in the middle; so most of that elevation is gained in the initial 0.5 mile stem and the last mile push to the summit.  The steepest parts also have many ledges which will try to sap what little strength you have left in your legs and what little oxygen you have left in your lungs.  The loop is best ridden clockwise, although the first time you do it, you’ll question that assessment… until you head back down, at which point you’ll know you made the right choice.  This trail has an interesting feature as, at the high point, there is a “chair” built out of slabs of native rock.  It doesn’t sound comfortable, but it surprisingly is.  Either that, or you’re so whipped from the climb, anything would feel comfortable!

Angel Fire -- John Jacobson
Getting a little extra altitude at Angel Fire (photo: John Jacobson)

In the Distance: Elliot Barker, Angel Fire Resort, Amole Canyon and Rinconada

In addition to all the great trails adjacent to or very near town, the outlying hills are also full of opportunities for exploration.  At the opposite end of Taos Canyon lies the Elliot Barker Trail, a mostly doubletrack route that connects to a variety of singletrack and can actually be connected to the far end of the South Boundary trail for a mega epic. This trail lies just above the town of Angel Fire and across the valley from Angel Fire Ski Resort which, while not a ski area on par with Taos Ski Valley, offers excellent lift-served downhill biking on summer weekends and even hosts a major freeride event each Labor Day weekend.

Further southeast of town lies the Amole Canyon cross-country ski area, which makes for wonderfully isolated cycling in the summer.  What’s under your knobbies isn’t always the most interesting tread, but the woods are beautiful and positively silent save for an occasional bird call or chirping squirrel.

Even the newest of novices can enjoy the views along the Rinconada trail in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area.

Further north of town lies the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Rivers Recreation Area, which is crisscrossed with another novice-friendly ski area.  The centerpiece here, due to its proximity to the gorge, is the Rinconada Loop, a super-easy 6.1-mile route that provides some very nice photo ops.

This list of great and diverse Taos rides is anything but comprehensive.  There is so much singletrack, doubletrack, and ATV trail in the area, a person could spend multiple seasons riding daily and not find it all.  Much of it remains unmapped, adding to the sense of adventure (and the need for competence and self-sufficiency).

Taos has a full range of lodging options from cheap motels to luxury spas.  The surrounding BLM land, National Forests, and New Mexico State Parks, provide numerous camping opportunities as well.  If you have any love for southwestern food, Taos is also just the ticket.  So, if you’re looking for a good variety of riding and a good variety in general, I recommend adding Taos to your itinerary.  If you come in the spring, you can even get in killer skiing up at the resort and excellent mountain biking at the lower elevations, all in the same day.  If you come in the fall, you will be treated to gorgeous aspen colors rivaling anything in Colorado or Utah.  The Taos topo map from Sky Terrain Trail Maps will be a huge help and is available here on Singletracks or from either of the two bike shops in Taos.

Ski Taos
What first brought me to Taos–the skiing. While I have the most trails ridden on singletracks, I’d be willing to bet I also have the most resorts skied, including all the biggies in the Rockies–Taos is my favorite.

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