As it loops through mountain passes, rolling meadows, and desert mesas, the 84-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway takes you on a tour of a true winter playground in New Mexico. Centered around Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state, the route follows NM-522, NM-38, and U.S. Route 64 through several charming towns, which also happen to be some of the state’s top recreation areas.
Whether you’re seeking backcountry powder or a place where the whole family can go tubing, you’ll find a snowy adventure in the Enchanted Circle.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
The Enchanted Circle is home to several of the state’s top ski and snowboarding areas, including Taos Ski Valley, Red River Ski & Summer Area, and Angel Fire Resort Ski and Snowboard Area — all with fresh, southern Rocky Mountain powder from early December through March.
Taos Ski Valley is known for its big-mountain adventure, and expert riders are drawn to the legendary Taos steeps. The Kachina Chairlift carries skiers and snowboarders to an elevation of 12,450 feet, making it the nation’s fourth-highest lift-served summit and the highest in New Mexico. Taos Ski Valley has hike-in powder stashes and miles of moguls, but that’s not to say the slopes are off-limits to other levels of skiers. Nearly half of the terrain is designated as beginner or intermediate. Also, the ski area’s renowned and recently renovated Children’s Center offers immersive lessons for tykes.
Another great spot for family fun is Red River Ski & Summer Area, which has been family-owned and operated for more than 50 years. It blends wide-open groomers, park laps, and gladed runs with deep powder. Off the mountain, Red River continues the all-ages vibe with downhome restaurants and shops.
Angel Fire Resort Ski and Snowboard Area has more than 80 runs, including 30-plus acres of gladed runs. It’s popular for its ski and snowboard terrain parks, which sport plenty of rails, jumps, and fun boxes to keep riders busy for hours. It’s also the only downhill area in the state where you can go night skiing.
Red River’s Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area grooms more than 30 kilometers of classic and skate cross-country skiing terrain. In the winter, Angel Fire Resort’s golf course transforms into prime cross-country skiing terrain, with 7.4 miles of groomed terrain at the Nordic Center.
For winter walks, snowshoers head to the dedicated terrain at Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area. Some 9 miles of snowshoe trails wind through the pine forests of the mountains just outside Red River. For visitors who can’t get enough trail time, the Enchanted Forest keeps two snowshoe-in yurts for overnight camping.
For a true backcountry experience, snowshoers head to Bull of the Woods Yurt, outside Taos Ski Valley. It’s part of the Southwest Nordic Center yurt system and calls for a two-mile trek to reach the cozy structure.
Along the Enchanted Circle, you don’t have to ski or snowboard to enjoy downhill thrills. Angel Fire Resort, Taos Ski Valley, and Red River Ski & Summer Area all have tubing hills. Angel Fire Resort has five lanes for tubing at its Polar Coaster. Riders have to be at least 42 inches tall, so there’s also a sledding hill for kids who don’t meet the height requirement.
Red River’s tubing hill accommodates most ages, with sessions by the hour. If you head to Taos Ski Valley, you’ll find great tubing on its Strawberry Hill.
To explore the mountains beyond the ski areas, riders hop aboard snowmobiles for thrill rides through pine forests. Bobcat Pass Wilderness Adventures offers two-hour tours through a private ranch with views of Wheeler Peak and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
You can also take a snowmobile tour with Big Al, who has been guiding in the Taos Ski Valley for more than 30 years. His Taos Ski Valley Wilderness Adventures follow snowy trails from 9,000 to nearly 12,000 feet in elevation, with a stop off for picturesque mountain views and family photos. Another option is Red River Sled Shed, which leads snowmobile tours through open meadows and along winding trails through the Carson National Forest.
Fishing is possible year round along the Enchanted Circle — yes, even in winter. As long as the ice is thick enough, you can go ice fishing at Eagle Nest Lake State Park, where anglers typically haul in trout and salmon. You can also go ice fishing for rainbow trout at the three-acre Eagle Rock Lake, outside Questa.
Winter Festivals & Events
Towns along the Enchanted Circle never turn down a reason to celebrate, so there are several entertaining events and festivals throughout the winter season. Every Saturday night in Red River, skiers grab lights for a mesmerizing procession down the slopes for a torchlight parade, while Angel Fire and Taos Ski Valley have similar parades on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. In Red River, the good times roll during the annual Mardi Gras celebrations, with New Orleans-style parades, Cajun cook-offs, and live music. At Taos Ski Valley you can toast the season with a Winter Wine Festival featuring sipping sessions and chef dinners.
For an adrenaline rush, riders climb aboard snow shovels for Angel Fire Resort’s World Championship Shovel Races. The competitors race down the mountain at speeds reaching 70 mph, which makes for great spectating, even if you don’t enter the race. Brave swimmers also get an adrenaline surge during the Polar Bear Plunge at Eagle Nest Lake State Park. To ring in the New Year, folks dive into the lake’s frigid waters.
From the Polar Bear Plunge to a fun day tubing with the kids, you’ll find every winter adventure imaginable while traveling the Enchanted Circle. One day you can be crashing through deep powder and the next day you’ll be sipping wine to celebrate the season. Whether you’re a hardcore snowboarder or someone who enjoys zipping through the wilderness on a snowmobile, you’ll find that this pocket of northern New Mexico really shines in winter.
Written by Ashley M. Biggers for RootsRated Media in partnership with New Mexico Tourism Department.