Ruidoso New Mexico is a great escape for outdoor and adventure-filled vacations that not that many people know about outside of the state of New Mexico. This makes it more pristine and less crowded which makes Ruidoso an even more desirable place to visit! It is unique and an “off-the-beaten-path” for explorers, hikers, and nature lovers alike.
A Guide to Ruidoso, NM: The Best things to do in the small NM town!
And if you are like me, and sometimes you just want to disappear for a while. There is no better place to do it than Ruidoso, New Mexico. This place is super remote, so much so that you could drive for hours across this lonely stretch of desert. But when you do make it there, be sure and tell the roughly 8,000 townspeople I said “hello”, as you are in for a treat!
Discovering it tucked away in the Sacramento and the Sierra Blanca Mountains of Southern New Mexico will be an excellent adventure for you and your family. Ruidoso is a beautiful getaway with picturesque mountain views, a national forest, and a gorgeous lake. Located directly next to the Lincoln National Forest, it is THE place for city dwellers like me who are ready to get out of traffic jams and city heat to visit the great outdoors!
Ruidoso is free from the gated mega-resorts and you won’t find those “foo foo or frilly” types here like you do in Aspen, Park City, Telluride, or Vail. Nope, these are simple, down-home people who smile, although there has been a steadily growing influx of metropolitan ex-pat types. There truly is a sense of a laidback attitude and a slower pace of life that seems to draw them in.
A trip to Ruidoso New Mexico is also a great place for anyone from around the world to visit as well. As it doesn’t matter if you speak English, Spanish, or Japanese, the people of Ruidoso are extremely welcoming. It literally has that “down-home” feeling that you can’t get in a lot of places.
So get out a map and check out where Ruidoso is located. Soon enough, you will be on a well-needed outdoor adventure in your four-wheel drive. Better yet, continue reading and I will show you where it is, when to go, where to stay, and what to do in Ruidoso when you get there.
✦ Where is Ruidoso, New Mexico located?
Ruidoso was first settled by the Mescalero Apache Indians and in Spanish means “noisy” or Rio Ruidoso “noisy river”. Ruidoso is located in the county of Lincoln in the state of New Mexico, in the Southwest of the USA.
Ruidoso Airport Fly-In
The closest airport to Ruidoso is the Sierra Blanca Regional Airport, which is situated roughly 15 miles northeast of the city. It is also about 3 hours from Albuquerque and not too far from El Paso, Texas! So if you are flying in, fly into either of those cities and contact Shuttle Ruidoso. Or rent a car, as for road trippers, Ruidoso, NM is easy to access by U.S. Route 70, NM 37, and NM 48.
In New Mexico, it is an hour’s drive to the White Sand Monument National Park, three hours from Albuquerque, and an hour to Roswell. Plus the famous Carlsbad Caverns are only three hours away, so it can serve as a great base to explore Southern New Mexico. The total square miles of the town is roughly about 15, including land and water. Although the population is a little scarce, roughly 8,000 people, the hospitality that you will receive is awesome. I can’t say enough about how friendly the local townspeople are in Ruidoso.
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✦ Things to do in Ruidoso:
There are many things to do in Ruidoso, NM while visiting this area of the Southwest United States. Whether it snows, rains, or shines, the town of Ruidoso can adapt to any climate and there are plenty of adventurous activities for you to do. You can hike in the National Forest, which allows you to see mountain views every day. You could go horseback riding, fly-fishing, and even mountain-climbing within the Lincoln National Forest. Ruidoso is known for its mountain biking and fly-fishing locally but is really one of their best-kept secrets!
I won’t even begin to tell you about the time I went piranha fishing or deep sea fishing, I will leave that for another day! Let’s just say I have done my share of fishing! Other active things that visitors can take a stab at are skiing and tubing in the winter and ziplining in the summer.
Go Horseback Riding!
Why not make your way over to Grindstone Stables over on Resort Drive in Ruidoso, NM where you can ride a horse on their hour-guided trail rides? They also have horse-drawn sleigh rides (with or without snow!), as well as carriage rides through midtown Ruidoso, so be sure and give them a holler!
Ride on the Billy The Kid Scenic Byway Loop
And speaking of horseback riding! I am sure you have heard of Billy the Kid from the old western days, but did you realize that this is one of the areas where he hung out? That’s right, right here in and around Ruidoso, New Mexico! You can take the 84-mile Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway loop as it winds through Ruidoso, Ruidoso Downs, Hondo, San Patricio, Lincoln, and Capitan.
There is even an optional short excursion to Fort Stanton if you want. This byway loop, recognized by the Federal Highway Commission, takes a few hours to go all the way around, but I suggest to plan for a full day if you want to enjoy the grassy plains, beautiful scenery, and pine forests it winds through.
Visit The Billy the Kid Byway Center
While in the area, you can visit Billy the Kid Byway Center, an interactive center that introduces the visitors to the wild west and dives into the history of not only Billy the Kid but also many other well-known hustlers from the area. It helps educates visitors about the history of the region.
Visit the Hubbard Museum of the American West
It is next to the Hubbard Museum of the American West, which houses a collection of old west memorabilia and is associated with the Smithsonian. Both are located in Ruidoso Downs next to each other.
Attend a Show at the Spencer Theater
Speaking of the arts, a great thing about the small town of Ruidoso, New Mexico is that it has a state of the art theater called Spencer Theater. Literally, they give world-class performances of things like Broadway plays, concerts, and even orchestra sounds. And since it is a smaller theater, you can get the best seat in the house of the 514 seated theater! As all the seats are awesome with great views of the stage. And the acoustics are just as incredible.
While there, you can visit the Dale Chihuly installments that are within the Spencer Theater itself. Also, don’t forget to stop by and see the two pear treats that were brought in and installed in the courtyard! This gives the actors a breath of fresh air whenever they need a chance to take a break from honing their skills.
Go Sand Boarding in White Sands!
Sand boarding in Ruidoso New Mexico? That’s right, summertime is the perfect time to go sand boarding near the White Sands National Monument. It is like no place else on earth! Their beautiful white sand dunes of Ruidoso NM are a naturally occurring feature of the New Mexican landscape. It is a fun activity for both adults and children! The gorgeous white sands are soft, so be sure and hang on tight, as you never know if you might go flying off hitting a clump of hard sand!
You can bring your own waxed plastic snow saucer or you can purchase one at the monuments gift shop. It is a good idea to always have your feet pointing downhill and not to stand up while sand boarding!
Let’s take a look at some of the activities previously mentioned.
Go Skiing, Tubing, and Snowboarding!
The first ski area and resort in Ruidoso NM was built in 1938 and is known as Ski Apache. The spectacular mountain views of the Sierra Blanca along with the Sacramento Mountains are a crowd-pleaser for everyone who visits! Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, as this place is far from the vacation radar of most skiers and snowboarders outside of New Mexico and western Texas. And you know what that means! Virtually no lift lines!!
During the winter months, skiing is the all-time favorite sport to engage in for the locals and the tourists who find this awesome ski mountain. Skiing, as well as snowboarding, snowmobiling, tubing, and a horse-drawn sleigh ride are other options in the winter as well. Their tagline is Find Your Element – Ski. Bike. Zip. Hike. Play. There are plenty of things to do in the winter and in the summer in Ruidoso NM! Ski Apache is a gorgeous 45 minute drive from downtown Ruidoso and you just drive straight up the mountain.
Go to Winter Park in Alto in the Winter!
In nearby Alto, New Mexico (only about a 5-15 minute drive) you will find a super cool tubing park called Winter Park. It offers some of the most exciting tubing you will find anywhere. They have tubing areas that have more lift capacity than any other snowmaking system in all of the Rockies! Here you can do twist and turns, bumps and jumps, as well as bobsled curves. They even have tubes that can hold 3-6 riders, so you don’t have to do it alone! They make their own snow to supplement the natural snow at the base of their park. Ask to do tubing trains these are way more fun than just tubing down the hill on your own.
Rent a Luxury Igloo for the Day at Winter Park!
And while at Winter Park, you can even rent a luxury 12-foot x 12-foot igloo for the day! The igloo has tables and chairs, as well as a heat source for when you are tired and want to go in to warm up, have something to eat, or even feel like roasting marshmallows! With the purchase of your rented igloo, you get lots of extra special things like:
- Unlimited snow tubing passes for 6 people
- Unlimited zip line passes for six people
- Tubes that are reserved for your group
- One 18″ handmade pizza of your choice
- Six hot chocolates or soft drinks for your group
- Unlimited marshmallows for roasting
Plus you will have access to the VIP hostess services and they will even allow 4 extra guests for a nominal charge! So check out their website and book an igloo! This sounds like a perfect day for you and your family to have a great time on these wintery slopes! Typically Winter Park opens on Thanksgiving Day and closes on St. Patrick’s Day!
✦ Summer Months in Ruidoso?
Mountain biking, zip-lining, gondola rides and more
With over 41 miles of trails within 5 minutes of Ruidoso’s midtown shopping district, a mountain biker or hiker has immediate access to Ruidoso’s trail systems. The Ski Apache also allows for Spring and Summer activities like gondola rides and mountain biking. Who needs to head to Venice, Italy for a gondola ride when you’ve got Ski Apache in Ruidoso? Obviously, these two gondola rides are different, but you know what I mean! The Ski Apache serves as the gondola ride to the top of the mountains. Believe me, you won’t regret going to the top of the mountain for the best viewing spots.
A true adventurer would not shudder at the thought of zip-lining. Ruidoso’s Apache Eagle Ziprider allows for a great time! A view of the stunning mountains and sparkling Lake Mescalero is just what every zip-liner hopes to see on their high-flying journey! It is located at the Inn of the Mountain Gods. You can glide up to 55 mph at 9,000 feet over the clear waters of Lake Mescalero! Can you imagine? I know you can! But if you don’t want all that much excitement, you can even take the gondola ride instead!
You can also swim, kayak or fish in the many alpine lakes in the area. You can go to Grindstone Lake, Alto Lake, and Mescalero Lake. It seems there are endless water-related things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
Family Fun Day
They even have a place for family fun called Pillow’s Fun Trackers for the kiddos, where they can go round and round the Fun track, the Turtle Track, and the Protrack. As well as miniature golf, the Spin Zone bumper cars, and even a Mountain Maze. Seasonally they also have these Ruidoso NM attractions of bumper boats and panning for gemstones.
Enjoy a Backcountry Buggy Tour
Backcountry Attitudes offers 2, 3, and 4 hour tour of the backcountry of Ruidoso, NM. Give the a call and let them know you are coming and choose your lever of fun for your experience and adventure level. You get to choose whether to drive yourself or have a guide drive for you. I can recommend that you drive it for yourself to really enjoy the harrowing ride! And follow the guidance they give you and you will love every minute of it!
Get a Massage and Relax
Head on over to Blue Lotus Day Spa and see what all they have to offer. From massages to facials, pedicures, and all types of specialty spa treatments. I can guarantee you will be treated like royalty at the Blue Lotus Day Spa. But don’t take my word for it. Go on over and read their 5-star reviews on Trip Advisor. They consistently get “That was the best massage I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a lot.”
Art and Wine Festivals
See, I told you there are plenty of things to do in Ruidoso! A trip to the Ruidoso New Mexico Art and Wine Festival is a must! Be sure to coordinate your trip to come during the summer months so that you can come during the festivals. Don’t forget also about the Cowboy Symposium. A live performance at the Spencer Theater of Performing Arts is awesome as well.
Go to a Western Show
Want to get in the western cowboy or cowgirl culture? At the Flying J Ranch, you can do just that complete with a live gunfight, chuckwagon dinner, and there is even a sheriff in town! The kiddos can ride ponies, rope cattle, and go inside Indian teepees. The Flying J Western Show is action-packed with world-class yodeling, fiddling, guitar and banjo picking, and even a comedy act, so there is something here for everyone.
Enjoy The Race Track For the Day
And don’t forget about taking a tour or placing a bet at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track. If you are over 18, you can place your bet on your favorite horse at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track! Known locally as “the Downs”, the city of Ruidoso is named after the Ruidoso Downs Race Track!
Early Ruidoso Downs Race Track History
Early history notes that settlers, primarily Hispanics, began to arrive in the early 1840’s calling this place “San Juanito”. Along with their horses that they had on their ranches and farms, these settlers introduced rodeo and horse racing to this area of New Mexico. Once the Dowlin Mill was constructed in 1868, more families began to arrive on the dirt road that passed between Roswell and Alamogordo. It wasn’t until around 1907 that that road was improved and eventually became US 70 highway. Today it is a four lane highway.
Search for Wildlife
With the Lincoln National Forest nearby, it offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewings. You will be able to see wildlife like bears, elk, deer, and bald eagles!
Buy a Bear in Ruidoso!
Speaking of wildlife, one thing you can do in Ruidoso NM is to buy a bear! Say what? You heard that right, you can buy a bear at Bears R Us, from Uriel Mendoza! He saw some bears made from wood and figured he could make a better bear. And so he did, with his chainsaw! He has been making wooden bears for over 20 years in Ruidoso, NM. They are his signature craft. Now though, it is a family business and he has lots of women doing this chainsaw craft as well! But Bears R Us is so much more than just bears, it is a cross between a souvenir shop, a wood shop, and a Mexican craft store! Open daily 9 am to 5 pm. Tell him I sent you!
Visit Smokey Bear Historical Park
And speaking of bears, you might as well take some time out of your day to visit the Smokey Bear, Historical Park. It is the actual place where the famous Smokey Bear actually died. This park was established to honor this little bear cub that was found with its burned paws in a forest fire in 1950. After he lived in the National Zoo in Washington DC for 26 years, he passed away and he was brought to be buried here.
Visit a Native American Tribe
Ruidoso, New Mexico has a thriving Native American population known as the Mescalero Apache Tribe. You can support the tribe by visiting and supporting their hotel, which is the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino as well as their ski resort Ski Apache. They have great programs within their community where money spent here goes directly to support the Mescalero Apache tribe’s education, health, and natural resources. This is of great importance to the Mescalero tribe and the surrounding area of Ruidoso.
Spa Day at Inn of the Mountain of the Gods Resort
Heck while you are at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort, you might as well stay awhile and have a spa day at their brand new spa! They have a relaxation area, jacuzzi, and other amenities that are free for use as a spa guests. Next time I go, I want to try out the tranquil body cocoon body treatment! It sounds amazing!
Visit a Ghost Town!
You can even visit a real live ghost town! Drive 9 miles across the railroad tracks from Hwy. 54 to White Oaks Ghost Town. White Oaks was a boomtown back in 1879 with the discovery of gold and coal in the nearby Jicarilla Mountains. Back in the 1880s, the USA census showed that White Oaks had a population of about 800. But now it is an abandoned frontier town near Ruidoso, NM. A visit here can land you in the No Scum Allowed Saloon! The American Cowboy Magazine named the No Scum Allowed Saloon as one of the Top 10 Cowboy Bars in the West!
Visit a Honky Tonk!
And while we are at it, another cool bar that made the list: Win, Place, and Show – a real-life honky tonk! This is a country music hangout where music is played 7 nights a week. You can order up a drink from the bar and dance the night away, especially if you know the two-step! But if you go, I recommend wearing cowboy boots and a hat! This is a fun Ruidoso, NM institution.
Go Shopping in Midtown Ruidoso
There is a full range of shopping stores in midtown Ruidoso NM, so bring a bit of extra cash to explore this midtown area. Here you will find candle shops, gift shops, fashion stores, jewelry stores, local bars and restaurants, wine tasting adventures, western stores, and even nightlife including live music. You can get a full list of shops to visit here.
✦ When Should I Go To Ruidoso NM?
As with most destinations, the things to do in Ruidoso, NM change seasonally depending on what your interests are.
- Do you want to so hiking, biking, and fishing? How about going to the horse races? That would be Summer Time!
- Do you want to go skiing, snowboarding, riding a sleigh or a snowmobile? That would be in thee! Winter Time!
Here in Ruidoso, they have different things to do and plenty of them depending on if you prefer to be a snow bunny or a sun person. You may just have to visit Ruidoso more than once to decide which season you prefer! Since there are so many things to do, it would be impossible to cram everything into one trip. You will just have to come back for more!
But what will the weather in Ruidoso be like?
Ruidoso’s weather is pretty simple to understand. As you can see from this graph, the weather is almost shaped like a bell curve, where the highs are 48 degrees Fahrenheit in January to mid-June/July to 81 degrees, and the lows are 20 degrees in January to mid-June/July lows of 50 degrees! Perfect weather in the Summer and the Winter, depending on your choice of activities. But high up in the mountains it certainly can get pretty windy, so be aware.
✦ Where Should I Stay While in Ruidoso?
There are plenty of hotels and lodging options in Ruidoso NM where visitors can relax and enjoy their Ruidoso vacation! Guests can choose to spend their vacation at bed and breakfasts, cabins, condos, hotels, motels, vacation rentals, and even RV parking!
✦ Bed and Breakfasts
Ruidoso, New Mexico lodging can begin at a bed and breakfast inn such as the Casa del Cocinero, Ellis Store Country Inn, or the Dolan House.
✦ Ruidoso Cabins for Rent
Renting a cabin in Ruidoso NM, especially during the winter, is an amazing way to spend your vacation. Ruidoso is known for providing great overnight stays. One of the greatest things about staying at a Ruidoso cabin (or RV lodge) is that the fun comes to you and you do not have to seek it out, you are in it! I highly recommend this experience, plus you will have your own kitchen to do quick meal prep as well as many have their own gas grill and hot tub.
Plus, many of the Ruidoso cabins are set up for families and have golf greens and horseshoe games to play with outside. Ruidoso NM cabins include places such as Apache Village Cabins, Bottlehouse Cabins, Canyon Creek Lodge, Cozy Bear, Escape Resort, Idle Hour, Mountain Air Cabins, Ruidoso Lodge Cabins, and Sierra Blanca cabins.
✦ More Ruidoso NM Cabin Rentals:
A stay at the Dan Dee Cabins or Noisy Water Lodge in Ruidoso, NM can guarantee that you are sharing in the town’s history by sleeping in cabins that were built in the mid-late 1930s.
✦ Ruidoso Resorts, Hotels and Motels:
Stay at Escape Resort
Stay in a beautiful Casita at the Escape Resort in Ruidoso, NM. I cannot say enough about this luxurious lodging at great prices (smart luxury at its finest!). You will get a “little house” or casita complete with a living room, dining room, and kitchen, as well as your own bedroom and bath with a gigantic shower with three different showerheads. They have a Jacuzzi tub in the back. This place has a great location in Ruidoso.
For those looking for other hotels or motels: check out the MCM Elegante Lodge & Suites Ruidoso, the Comfort Inn, the Best Western Pine Springs Inn, and the Holiday Inn Express. Another popular place is also the Inn of the Mountain Gods, mentioned above, and is owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe. It is located a little over 7 miles from Ruidoso, New Mexico.
✦ Ruidoso Condo or Vacation Rental:
For those looking for a condo or RV park, then check out Whispering Pine Vacation Rentals, plus these places: Tiara del Sol Condos, Condotel, Fairway Meadows Condos, Village Lodge Condos, Arrowhead Motel & RV Park, Along the River RV Park, and Pine Ridge Campground & RV Park. The Pine Ridge Campground and RV park allow guests to camp out, have a bonfire, and sing & dance under the night sky of Ruidoso.
For a location right on the Ruidoso River and a hotel/condo experience, try out Ruidoso River Resort. It has access to midtown and trailheads that lead out of the resort area.
✦ Ruidoso NM: Where to Eat!
And after driving here, finding a place to stay, and doing all that outdoorsy stuff, I know you must be getting hungry!
Hunt and Harvest
Hunt and Harvest is a farm, oops I meant “earth” to table restaurant at the Mercantile over on Sudderth Drive. With everything from ribs and salmon, to elk and fish; they even have truffle parmesan fries, You can’t go wrong with pretty much anything on the menu. And honestly, it is one of my favorite restaurants in town, where I would go back again and again. You can call ahead and let them know you re coming at (575) 258-1193! Tell them I sent you!
Cafe Rio Pizza
Where else should you go but Cafe Rio Pizza!? With their handmade pizza and calzones over on Sudderth Drive in Ruidoso, NM. This cash-only business is here to fill your belly with some good East Coast-style pizza!
Cornerstone Bakery Cafe
The Cornerstone Bakery Cafe is a great place for cookies! They have everything from Mexican Wedding cookies to a Peruvian Sandwich cookie to Coconut Macaroons! They also have great croissants and fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast every day!
Sacred Grounds Coffee and Tea House
And the most recognized place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner happens to be Sacred Grounds Coffee and Tea House! Some say they have the best blueberry scones and breakfast burrito in town! It is a great place to hang out with an awesome staff, great food, and good music to boot! As they have live music on the weekends with river views.
Grill Caliente – A Southwest Style Bistro
This Southwestern-style bistro has numerous chile-inspired dishes and offers a variety of items from the grill including everything from burgers and steaks to tacos. Grill Caliente highlights healthy items such as all-natural chicken, local New Mexican beef, and imaginative vegetarian options.
Rio Grande Grill and Tap Room
Try the salmon with mashed potatoes or the black been burger with green chile or even the whisky chops! They have a nice cabin decor ambiance with seating upstairs, downstairs, or out on the patio over on Mechem Dr in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
Lost Hiker Brewing Company
A local brewery started by a pair of former school teachers from Austin, Texas, who left Texas for a more relaxed way of life in the mountains. And I can’t say I blame them. They way they put it on their website: “Lost Hiker Brewing Company (Ours) sprung (up) with a dream, our (their) parallel love for beer and the cool air of the mountains of southern New Mexico as well as the notion that the fear of regret is greater than the fear of failure.” I love it! You can’t go wrong with a visit to their taproom! Stop by for live music on the weekends!
And don’t forget to stop by for a spicy cocktail at the Glencoe Distillery where spirited beverages celebrate the culture of the environment with a southwestern flair! This place was established by four friends back in 2015 and is a thriving place today.
Want to explore other areas of New Mexico?
✦ Weird/Fun Facts of Interest about Ruidoso NM
Just like every city, Ruidoso NM is not without its interesting facts:
- The actor Neil Patrick Harris, known for his role as Doogie Howser, M.D., grew up and spent most of his childhood in Ruidoso NM.
- Flash flooding on July 26-27, 2008 left the town of Ruidoso NM partially destroyed. The damage left behind by Hurricane Dolly in 2008 was not enough to break the spirits of the people of Ruidoso. Ruidoso townspeople picked up the broken pieces of their town and rebuilt a better and safer city for the world to see.
- Since 2010, Ruidoso NM is the fourth largest growing city in New Mexico!
- In 1946, the Ruidoso News, a local newspaper was founded.
- Also in 1946, the local airport opened.
Ruidoso is a village that has been coming to life over the years and enticing people to visit for a slice of Ruidoso heaven. There is no doubt that Ruidoso is a fun, adventurous, and stunning place to bring your family. Why don’t you give it a visit and try it out!
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, I was provided with compensation for the purpose of review by the Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico. While it has not influenced my review, PointsandTravel.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All Photos are from them. There may be affiliate links in this article.
About Dr. Cacinda Maloney
A value-luxury adventure traveler at heart, Dr. Cacinda Maloney shares her experiences as someone who has traveled every six weeks of her life for the last 20 plus years. Being a travel writer, blogger and social media influencer, she now travels more than that! She is Phoenix, Arizona based, but maintains an apartment in Santiago, Chile. She is a member of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA), Media Kitty and the International Food, Wine and Travelers Association (IFWTWA). Read more...