Tucked snugly beneath the cool pines in the mountains of southeastern New Mexico, Ruidoso is a year-round vacation destination that has something for everyone. With its towering peaks, such as Sierra Blanca pictured above, and quaint alpine village setting, Ruidoso is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We started going there as kids with our parents and grandparents, and we’ve been going back ever since!
The area offers skiing and other snow sports in the winter, along with the sweet, smoky aroma of piñion wood crackling in the fireplace. Summer brings the thrill of horse racing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, golfing, and just about anything else you can think of to do outdoors. We love Ruidoso any time of year, but if we had to choose our favorite month to visit, we would choose October. We’re anxious to share this trip with you, so let’s get going!
Ruidoso is approximately:
140 miles from El Paso, Texas — 180 miles from Albuquerque, NM — 250 miles from Lubbock, Texas — 287 miles from Amarillo, Texas
Our trip is going to start in El Paso, since it is the closest city with a major airport. Drive time between El Paso and Ruidoso is 2.5 hours.
*Recommended hotels in El Paso: Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express. (Links for these hotels are located in our Places/Links section at the top of the page.)
⇒From El Paso, take US Highway 54 north toward Tularosa via Alamogordo, then take US Highway 70 northeast to Ruidoso.
⇒Alternate (recommended) Route: from El Paso, take I-10 north to Las Cruces, New Mexico. At Las Cruces, take US Highway 70 northeast to White Sands National Monument. Drive time between El Paso and White Sands: 1.5 hours.
Bonus stop: White Sands National Monument. Here’s the link: White Sands National Monument. Currently $5.00 per adult to enter the monument. Entrance is free for kids 15 and under, and there is a shop at the visitor center that rents sand discs for sledding on the dunes. Even if sledding isn’t your thing, the scenery is out of this world. There are plenty of places to park along Dunes Drive, so get out of the car and climb the dunes for spectacular views and photo ops with the mountains as the backdrop. Travel tip: before you go, check the website for park closures due to testing at White Sands Missile Range. Closures typically last three hours or less.
⇒From White Sands, take US Highway 70 to Alamogordo.
Bonus stop: New Mexico Museum of Space History/International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo. Here’s a link: Space Museum. Plan to spend a couple of hours here, as it is a fantastic museum that both kids and adults will love. Alamogordo offers many hotel and restaurant choices, as well as a state park, wineries, and a zoo. While you’re in town, be sure to be on the lookout for the world’s largest pistachio!
⇒From Alamogordo, take US Highway 54 north to Tularosa (13 miles), then take US Highway 70 northeast to Ruidoso.
⇒Alternate (recommended) Route: from Alamogordo, take US Highway 82 east to Cloudcroft. (19 miles of steep two lane road.) This route through the Lincoln National Forest is very scenic. Travel tip: when you see the “Tunnel Ahead” sign, slow down for a pull out. The view of White Sands from the viewpoint is pictured below.
⇒Continue east on US Highway 82. Right before you reach the village of Cloudcroft, there is another pull out. Stop and get out of the car, stretch your legs, and breathe in the fresh mountain air. (The elevation here is about 8650 feet.) Learn about the historic Cloudcroft Railroad/Mexican Canyon Trestle pictured below. This only remaining portion of the old rail line is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bonus stop: Cloudcroft. Stop here and have a look around the village that is home to Ski Cloudcroft. The village also has shopping, restaurants, history, and a totally laid-back atmosphere.
*Recommended restaurant in Cloudcroft: Dave’s Cafe – 300 Burro Ave. Good food and good service.
Bonus stop: Sunspot Solar Observatory. Head south from Cloudcroft on Highway 130 toward Sunspot, New Mexico via the Sunspot Highway (aka Highway 6563). It is an extremely scenic drive (a total of 19 miles in the Lincoln National Forest) that ends at the observatory. Along the road, be sure to stop at the scenic viewpoint pull out for fabulous views of White Sands and the Tularosa Basin. At the observatory, check out the visitor center, the telescopes, and the beautiful scenery. The elevation at Sunspot is about 9200 feet.
⇒From Cloudcroft, take Highway 244 north to US Highway 70 to Ruidoso. Highway 244 is also a scenic route through the Lincoln National Forest. Drive time from Cloudcroft to Ruidoso: 1 hour. Travel tip: watch for deer and elk along this road.
Did we mention why we like this area in October?
Destination: Ruidoso, New Mexico
*Recommended resort hotel in Ruidoso: Inn of the Mountain Gods. This resort has everything, including a gorgeous, yet challenging golf course, and a casino! Here’s a link: Inn of the Mountain Gods.
*Recommended hotel in Ruidoso: Hampton Inn.
*Recommended Mexican food restaurant: Casa Blanca – 501 Mechem Dr.
*Recommended restaurant for dinner: Texas Club – 212 Metz Dr.
*Recommended restaurant for lunch: Anaheim Jacks – 1097 Mechem Dr.
We have heard that Sacred Grounds – 2704 Sudderth Dr. – is great for breakfast. We haven’t been there, but we have seen the crowded parking lot!
Here are our picks for some of the best things to do in Ruidoso:
- Bet! Enjoy the excitement of summer horse racing at Ruidoso Downs. The adjoining Billy the Kid Casino is open year-round.
- Gamble! Play the slots or try your hand at one the gaming tables at Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino.
- Shop! Ruidoso’s downtown offers a variety of great shops and art galleries. There is bound to be something for every heart’s desire.
- Play! There are public golf courses, a public swimming pool, tennis courts, public parks, a bowling alley, miniature golf, bumper boats, go-carts, and horseback riding stables, just to name a few.
- Ski! Head up to Ski Apache for wintertime fun in the snow. There is also a site for sledding and tubing near the ski area.
- Learn! Check out the Hubbard Museum of the American West, located just east of Ruidoso Downs race track.
- Hike! There are many hiking trails in the area, along with bike trails.
- Canoe! Area lakes provide the perfect setting for canoeing, kayaking, or fishing.
⇒Side trip: For history buffs, head northeast on Highway 48 (aka Billy the Kid Trail) from Ruidoso to Capitan for a visit to Smokey Bear Historical Park. Spend an hour touring the museum and nature area, and see Smokey’s final resting place. Tickets are $2.00 per adult and $1.00 for kids between the ages of seven and twelve. Kids under six are admitted free.
Travel tip: stop in at the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway Visitor Center in Ruidoso Downs (next to the Hubbard Museum of the American West) before traveling to these sites. Here’s a link: Billy the Kid Scenic Byway.
Next, head east on US Highway 380 to Fort Stanton Historic Site. Take a tour of the grounds and learn the importance of this historic fort. Here’s a link: Fort Stanton.
The third stop is Lincoln, New Mexico for some Old West history. (East on US Highway 380 from Fort Stanton.) Learn about the Lincoln County War, Sheriff Pat Garrett, and Billy the Kid, while touring the historic buildings in town. Tickets for entrance into all of the designated buildings are $5.00 per person at the visitor center. There is also a nice hiking/nature trail along the Rio Bonito. The slides below show some of the sights around Lincoln.
We’re going to end this post with one last side trip idea. (While in any area, why not see everything. Right?)
Just a short drive east (one hour) from Ruidoso is the city of Roswell, New Mexico. (Remember the 1947 Roswell incident?) Well, whether or not you believe a flying saucer crashed there, a trip to the International UFO Museum and Research Center might be something you want to add to your itinerary.
Go ahead and admit it…we know you want to see this place. So go, even if it’s just so you can say you have been there! Telling about your trip to this museum will make for great campfire or cocktail party conversation, too.
Okay, that’s a wrap. Hopefully we have inspired your wanderlust, and if a trip to New Mexico is on your radar, we sincerely hope that you will make plans to visit Ruidoso and surrounding areas in the future. Until the next trip…
Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.