Skip the scene in Taos for quiet serenity in this national preserve
Deep in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains and 60 miles north of Albuquerque, the Valles Caldera National Preserve gives skiers and snowshoers jaw-dropping scenery―and almost guaranteed solitude―at bargain rates.
Ten bucks buys you access to this 12-mile-wide swath of snowy wilderness that’s actually an ancient volcanic crater (and one of only a handful of federal land trusts in the country). Be on the lookout for elk and coyote trotting through.
Ski: There are 35 miles of groomed cross-country trails―beginners may want to stick to Valle Grande. More experienced skiers can take South Mountain and History Grove trails to some of the most remote and beautiful areas of the preserve.
Buy a permit at the Welcoming Hut in the Valle Grande staging area (trails open 9–4; $10; vallescaldera.gov); Coyote Call Trail in the preserve’s southeast corner is free. On January 30, the preserve will stay open at night for moonlight skiing (6–10; $15).
Tip: There are no ski or snowshoe rentals at Valles Caldera―bring your own or rent on your way out of Albuquerque at REI (two-day ski rental $40, two-day snowshoe rental $30; 1550 Mercantile Ave. N.E.; 505/247-1191).
Eat: Like we said, you’re literally on your own at Valles Caldera. For signs of civilization, head southwest for 21 miles to the hot springs town of Jemez Springs. The Laughing Lizard Inn & Cafe ($$; closed Mon–Tue; 17526 State 4; 575/829-3108), a cozy art-filled adobe, serves local wines and homemade pizza. Highway 4 Coffee and Bakery ($; closed Thu; 17502 State 4; 575/829-4655) is a must-stop for coffee and a lemon tart. Los Ojos Restaurant & Saloon ($$; 17596 State 4; 575/829-3547) is great for tap beer and burgers, like the Los Ojos Special, topped with stewed green chiles.
Sleep: Soak your sore muscles and turn in early at the Jemez Mountain Inn (from $85; jemezmtninn.com), a tin-roofed former store and post office from the 1850s, which has reinvented itself as a weekend oasis with an outdoor hot tub, wraparound decks, and six brightly colored suites.
Another soothing option is steps away on the banks of the Jemez River, Giggling Springs Hot Springs (closed Mon–Tue; $17 per hour; 040 Abousleman Loop; 575/829-9175).
If you do get the downhill itch: Sunny, high-altitude Taos Ski Valley (day pass $69; skitaos.org), with its 13 lifts and 110 trails, is just under three hours away (that’s close by New Mexico standards).