New Mexico's Enchanted Circle
We found 4 amazing free things to do with the kids in New Mexico's Enchanted Circle.
We recently hitched up our camper and headed to the Enchanted Circle in New Mexico. It was our first time in that area of New Mexico, and holy moly, did it blow us away. My goal was to escape the Texas heat and head to the mountains. Colorado has been our go-to destination for mountain explorations, but I decided to check out New Mexico as it is somewhat closer to home. Once we arrived in Eagle Nest I realized we made the right choice. This area is breathtakingly beautiful and could have easily passed for Colorado. We camped at Eagle Nest Lake State Park, and explored the towns of Angel Fire, Red River, and Taos. Oh. My. Gosh. Red River is this little dream of a town nestled in the mountains, and Taos, with its adobe buildings, is the essence of New Mexico. It was all that I hoped for and more. We explored and chose activities that were inexpensive, or free, and that’s what I want to share with you today. You can create AMAZING memories here without spending a ton of money. Here’s 5 things we did along the Enchanted Circle that our kids loved and were totally free!
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is 565 feet above the Rio Grande river and spans across the gorge. It’s on Hwy 64 about 10 miles from Taos. It’s a popular attraction in the area, and there is parking on both sides of the bridge along with restrooms and picnic tables. There were even some vendors set up along the rest area with handmade and collected treasures. You can walk across the bridge, and there is a path alongside the gorge that is an easy flat hike with great photo ops. We saw some big horn sheep in the area as well! This is a good stop for the kids, and you can take as much or as little time as you like. It took us a little over an hour to get here traveling from Eagle’s Nest, so we were ready for a bathroom break and the kids were more than happy to get out and stretch their legs. We walked down the path along the gorge for a little bit, took some photos, and were ready to go.
John Dunn Bridge
After seeing the Rio Grande from the top of the gorge, I just knew we had check out the Rio Grande from the bottom as well. The John Dunn Bridge is the only place you can access the bottom of the gorge. It was built in 1908 by John Dunn and has an interesting history. It was about a 30 minute drive from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and a good portion of that was on dirt roads. Our GPS took us straight there, and there was plenty of parking and a vault toilet. You can also access the trailhead to the Black Rock Hot Springs from here.
The kids really enjoyed it here because we were able to get to the water. They took their shoes off and waded in the shallow water, and explored a little bit. It’s beautiful and definitely worth the stop!
From the John Dunn Bridge we headed into Taos. We were hungry by then, so we ate lunch at Azteca Mexican Grill (which was delicious and has the prettiest little courtyard) and strolled around the Plaza. The Taos plaza is full of adobe buildings and winding streets. We strolled around looking at shops and galleries and admiring the architecture. There were cute gift shops that the kids adored, and we all enjoyed our time here.
Middle Fork Lake Trail
I’ve talked about my little reluctant hikers before. Hiking is not their favorite thing, but I love it, so I try to include a hike or two on all our trips. I do research them ahead of time and choose easy to moderate trails that aren’t too long. I love the AllTrails app for that! I keep hoping that if I expose them to hiking enough then eventually they will love it too. That will surely work, right?...right? Anyway, I knew that this 4+ mile hike to Middle Fork Lake was pushing it, but, boy, I didn’t quite anticipate how much I was pushing it. Live and learn right? So, let me warn you now that this hike is uphill. Like, switchbacks-up-a-mountain-that-never-end uphill. But, there is a beautiful lake at the end of the trail that makes it all worth it. I promise. First of all, the drive in is a little sketchy. We drove into Red River and took 568 to Forest Road 58. It’s a one lane dirt forest service road going to the trailhead. Our truck made it no problem, but if you are in a car you do have the option to park at the bottom and walk to the trailhead. That would add quite a bit to the hike though. There is a decent sized parking lot and vault toilets at the trailhead.
The first part of the trail follows a river and you even cross the river at a waterfall across fallen logs. It was so cool. It’s a well trafficked trail and there were plenty of kids and families, and even an 80 year old woman doing the hike. My kids were amazing sports, especially after I promised them a trip to the gift shop if we made it to the top (bribery for the win!). It was a hard hike, but with frequent stops, and LOTS of snacks and water, we made it! It took us a little over 2.5 hours to get to Middle Fork Lake, and about an hour and a half to make it back to the car. Even though the weather forecast predicted clear skies, a thunderstorm did roll in on our way back. It didn’t rain much, but we did get a little pea-sized hail! Luckily it didn’t last long. Overall, it was a beautiful trail and worth the effort to get to the lake!
There was so much fun to be had in this area and we didn't get to everything I wanted to do! Next time I plan on spending more time in Red River and I also want to hike in Cimarron Canyon. This area is so beautiful and I cannot wait to go back!