Outdoor activities around Ruidoso, New Mexico

  Spoiler alert: New Mexico is one of my favorite states in America. New Mexico’s wide-open spaces, stark landscapes, charming mountain towns, and unique history all blend together for what I believe is one of the most underrated states in America. However, I had yet to visit Southern New Mexico. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Travel Mindset asked me if I wanted to road trip through Southern New Mexico to the mountain town of Ruidoso. And, being the outdoor lover that I am, the Great Outdoors is exactly where my trip to Ruidoso, New Mexico began.

Outdoor activities around Ruidoso, New Mexico

Grindstone Lake

Grindstone Lake was my first stop, even before checking into my hotel. Obviously, I had to go for a sunset hike in Ruidoso first thing. Grindstone Lake was the best, most convenient place for that, especially since it’s mere minutes from town. While I noticed several people fishing off the banks of the lake, what I loved most was the trails, totaling nearly 20 miles for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding. Additionally, Grindstone Lake has a 27-hole disc golf course, where I saw a number of people getting a round in before dark. While I didn’t see wildlife myself, it’s not unusual to see a variety of local wildlife, especially as you get farther away from the lake.

Ski Apache

If you’ve spent any time on my blog before, then you know that I obsess over love ski resorts, and especially those dual-season ski resorts with winter and summer activities. Naturally then, I spent the most time at Ski Apache. This ski resort is owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache tribe and lies just beyond Ruidoso below Southern New Mexico’s highest peak, Sierra Blanca (11,973 feet tall). What I found most unique about Ski Apache, however, is that it’s an all-season ski resort, open year-round. (Most multi-season ski resorts are only open during winter and summer months.)

As America’s southernmost ski area, Ski Apache’s winter ski season runs for several months — typically from mid-November until mid-March — with 11 lifts servicing 55 runs. What’s more, Ski Apache has New Mexico’s only gondola, so visitors can go to the top even if they aren’t skiing. Being my trip was at the beginning of autumn, I got to enjoy the benefits of their last days of the summer season. I hopped on one of their spankin’ new Specialized mountain bikes, starting at the tip-top of the resort — 11,500 feet — and meandered my way down one of their trails nearly 2,000 feet to the ski lodge. The highlight? An elk, which ran across the trail mere feet in front of me.

But, what makes Ski Apache an all-season resort is the year-round, three-part zip tour experience. Starting at the top of Ski Apache and spanning nearly 9,000 feet in length, it’s one of the highest elevation and longest zip-line experiences in the world. For a truly unique experience, visit Ski Apache in the winter to shred in the morning, and zipline in the afternoon.

White Sands National Monument has been near the top of my national parks list for as long as I can remember. It’s long been one of America’s most fascinating national parks to me, comprising of 275 square miles of wavy, white sand dunes, creating the world's largest gypsum dunefield. On my first full day in Ruidoso, I packed a picnic (a New Mexico green chile burrito, naturally) and hit the road for the hour-long drive to the entrance of White Sands National Monument.

It didn’t disappoint. My trip to White Sands National Monument made for one of the most beautiful nights I can remember; I was treated to one of the most epic sunsets I’ve ever seen, followed by a lightning light show on the horizon. That’s without even mentioning the dunes themselves, which seem to stretch for ages at times, and are stunning against the mountainous backdrop of Southern New Mexico.

Sunset over White Sands National Monument
Sunset over White Sands National Monument

Lincoln National Forest

Last, but not least, is Lincoln National Forest, which is actually three separate forests in Southern New Mexico, with the Smokey Bear Ranger District surrounding Ruidoso. I did my own self-guided tour of the Smokey Bear Ranger District, making stops at the Lincoln Historic Site (the most widely visited state monument in New Mexico), Fort Stanton, and Smokey Bear Historical Park. Unbeknownst to many is that the very mountains you see on this drive on Highway 380 is where Smokey Bear is from. Mind blown!

For outdoor adventurers, I recommend driving south from Ruidoso on Highway 244 toward Cloudcroft to the Sacramento Ranger District of Lincoln National Forest. Just beyond the town of Cloudcroft, I stumbled upon Trestle Recreation Area — it turned out to be the biggest surprise of the trip.

Trestle Recreation Area featured a number of short trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding, and made for some of the most fascinatingly beautiful trails I’ve hiked in New Mexico. Just down from the main parking area were a couple overlooks, including glimpses of White Sands National Monument and beyond. For those keeping track at home, White Sands National Monument is 35 miles from Cloudcroft. Now that’s an overlook!

Content Produced in Partnership with Discover Ruidoso, Travel Mindset, and iExplore