From epic mountain biking to some of the best skiing in the United States, it’s time to find out the best things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
The charming mountain town of Ruidoso is guaranteed to be a highlight of any trip to New Mexico. It’s in a spectacular location in the rugged Sierra Blanca Mountains, and there’s plenty to do within a short distance of the town. Being so close to the mountains makes it a great winter destination, with world-class skiing and snowboarding on offer at Ski Apache. The accommodation fits the winter / nature vibe too, with plenty of cute lodges and cosy cabins to stay in.
However, there’s more to this sleepy mountain town than winter adventures. There are absolutely loads of great things to do in Ruidoso in the summer too. You could head out hiking in the picturesque Lincoln National Forest, go camping, try horseback riding or even ziplining.
Whatever time of year you’re planning to visit, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway to remember, it’s time to share some of the best things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
Where is Ruidoso, New Mexico
Ruidoso is located in the county of Lincoln in the south-central area of New Mexico. It’s around a 3-hour drive from state capital Albequerque, making it a popular getaway for those living in the city. It’s easily accessible from Texas too, being only 2.5 hours drive from El Paso.
The town sits at a height of 2,109m (6,919ft) within the Sierra Blanca mountain range. It’s also just 15 miles from Ski Apache – the most southerly ski resort in the United States.
Weather in Ruidoso, New Mexico
Ruidoso is a great year-round destination due its climate, with warm summers and beautiful crisp, snowy winters.
Summers are comfortable, with highs around 27°C / 80°F, perfect for outdoor adventures.
Despite being towards the south of the United States, you can expect cold, dry winter temperatures in Ruidoso as it sits at high altitude. Expect lows in the winter months as cold as -7°C / 44°F.
Things To Do In Ruidoso, New Mexico
Hit the slopes at Ski Apache
One of the top things to do in Ruidoso in winter is head to Ski Apache for some of the best warm-weather powder skiing in the United States. While it’s a spectacular place to ski or snowboard, its unlikely southerly location means it’s not overrun with visitors. The ski resort has a top elevation of 3474m (11,400 ft), and offers a good mix of slopes and runs.
There are several wide beginner slopes, tough bump runs, a huge bowl, nice cruising runs and a terrain park with jumps, tubes, and rails. There are 11 lifts too, so lots of options to choose from. There’s also a ski school within the resort, plus several dining options.
If you don’t fancy getting active you could take a trip on New Mexico’s only eight-passenger Gondola – open in the summer as well as the winter. More on that coming up!
Connect with nature at Lincoln National Forest
If you’re craving some nature time, Lincoln National Forest surrounds Ruidoso. The forest offers great wildlife spotting opportunities as well as lots of gorgeous trails to explore.
If you love hiking, biking or horse riding, there are lots of options of places to visit. Or, visit in winter and enjoy a scenic drive or some snowshoeing.
Highlights within the forest include Bluff Springs Waterfalls, the National Recreation Dog Canyon Trail which goes from the desert to heights over 2,000ft, and the White Mountain Wilderness Area which boasts spectacular views.
Lincoln National Forest is also a popular place to go camping with a number of designated campsites (including Cedar Creek, Three Rivers, Monjeau Lookout, Oak Grove) as well as the option to enjoy some “road-side” camping.
Try snow tubing at Ruidoso Winter Park
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Ruidoso in winter, definitely spend a day at Ruidoso Winter Park. The big reason to visit? Snow tubing! If you’ve never tried this fun winter activity before, it involves hurtling down a snowy hill while sitting on an inflatable tube. I loved it when I tried it. I still remember the adrenaline rush followed by lots of laughs!
At Ruidoso Winter Park there are 3 lifts which take you to the top of the hill, and 3 areas to choose from (depending on your height) – the Penguin Park for little kids, the A Hill for bigger kids and the B Hill for older kids and adults.
You can link single tubes together if you want to ride as a family, or there are a few large tubes which fit 4-6 riders. Oh, and don’t worry if there hasn’t been any snow lately… there’s a huge snowmaking system at Ruidoso Winter Park which means they can still open regardless of the weather.
Sample local delicacies at Noisy Water Winery
Looking for fun activities in Ruidoso? How about a little afternoon of wine tasting at Noisy Water Winery? Visit the store on Sudderth Drive in Midtown to find out more about this local winery, founded in 2009 by the Riddle Family.
The winery has gone on to produce award-winning wines, as well as offering some gourmet extras including balsamic vinegar and cheese. Pull up a seat, order a platter and a few glasses to taste, and hear all about the history and production of this local wine.
Visit the Hubbard Museum of the American West
For a dose of history and culture, take a trip to the Hubbard Museum of the American West. The museum provides a look back through history and is guaranteed to give you a richer understanding of this region of New Mexico.
You’ll find a large art collection, several forms of vintage transport (from wagons to equestrian items), plus items from Native American culture. There’s also a sculpture garden and an interactive area for kids.
Get out on the water at Grindstone Lake
If you’re craving a bit of time by the water, Grindstone Lake is a great place for a day. This emerald green mountain lake, surrounded by rugged forest, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Ruidoso. Two things you shouldn’t forget – a camera and a picnic!
Located close to downtown Ruidoso, you can enjoy lots of activities at the lake, including hiking, kayaking, biking, fishing and swimming.
If you don’t have your own equipment, I’d recommend starting at The Dam House, where you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, boats and bikes. In the summer, this lake is the perfect place for family fun as there’s even an inflatable obstacle course!
Catch a show at Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts
Located just north of Ruidoso is this incredible arts venue. The Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts is one of the premier venues in New Mexico and regularly hosts world-class theatre, music and dance performances.
The modern architecture of the building itself is pretty special to see. In fact, it took 15 years of planning! The Crystal Lobby contains a whopping 300 panes of glass, while the hall itself is home to several glass installations by world-famous artist Chihuly. The 514-seat hall has incredible acoustics, so if you see a concert here, you’re in for a treat!
If you fancy a flavour of Broadway during your trip to New Mexico, definitely take a look at the Spencer Theater’s website before your trip to see what’s on, and book tickets.
Enjoy a break at the Inn Of The New Mountain Gods Resort and Casino
Looking for a luxurious base for your trip to Ruidoso? How about staying just south of the town at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino on the Mescalero Apache reservation. This is one of the best casinos in New Mexico, so if you’re partial to a flutter, its a great place to stay.
The resort is in a fabulous location, on the edge of a Mescalero Lake and surrounded by forest. It’s stunning! There’s a top 50 rated golf course, chic spa, plus plenty of outdoor activities, from biking to boating, right on the doorstep. There’s even a zip line that’ll have you flying over the lake!
Gourmet lovers will enjoy the on-site dining options, which include a sports bar, buffet restaurant, BBQ joint and an upmarket steak and seafood restaurant.
See the views from the Ski Apache gondola
I mentioned this in passing earlier, but it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Ruidoso all year round. Take a trip to Ski Apache and then ride this special gondola to a height of 11,500 ft for some of the most spectacular views of the region.
You can fit 8 in each gondola too, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for things to do with kids.
See nature at its best White Sands National Monument
This region of New Mexico is overflowing with natural beauty, but it’s not just about the epic mountain views. Just over an hour’s drive to the southwest of Ruidoso is White Sands National Monument – an incredible 275 square miles of white desert dunes.
You’ll be reaching for your camera every two seconds as you explore the mesmerising wave-like gypsum sand dunes. Gypsum is a white mineral that is usually dissolved, but this area is so dry it remains intact.
It’s one of the best day trips from Ruidoso. Once there, you can explore some of the trails, go sand boarding on the dunes, enjoy a picnic in stunning scenery or simply drive the designated loop through the magical desert landscape.
Learn about American military history at Fort Stanton
Fort Stanton is a popular place to visit near Ruidoso, known for being one of the most intact 19th-century military forts in the United States. The 240-acre site was established in 1855, and is best known for its roles in the Indian Wars and the Civil War.
You can take yourself on a self-guided tour of the 12 heritage buildings, and truly get under the skin of American history, right from the early days, right thorough the 1920s epidemic and World War II. For an even more engaging visit, you could time your trip for a day where a re-enactment or hosted tour is taking place.
Go zip lining in New Mexico
Ready to ride the highest zip line in New Mexico? The Ziptour at Ski Apache takes you from a starting height over 11,000 feet before blasting you through the air at speeds of over 60 mph along a course spanning 8,900 ft of zip lines.
It’s a seriously thrilling ride, and perfect for anyone craving adrenaline. Even better, it has two cables parallel to each other, so you can race against a friend or family member!
Eat your way around Ruidoso
Ruidoso is a town with plenty of great restaurants, wine bars, pubs and cafes. If you’re a foodie like me, you’ll be in your element. A few top recommendations include:
Hunt and Harvest at The Mercantile – Inventive cocktails and tasty, hearty dishes await at this farm to table restaurant. Expect burgers, risotto, sandwiches, chicken wings, tacos and more. After eating, head downstairs to try some local beers at The Hidden Tap.
Café Rio Pizza – Tuck into mouth-wateringly good East Coast style pizza in a quirky spot in Ruidoso. If you think the pizzas are huge, wait until you see the calzones!
Michael J’s Italian Restaurant – Stop by this spot in Ruidoso for a menu of Italian-American dishes, including chicken parmigiana, seafood linguine and the house speciality, Michael J’s homemade lasagne.
Hall of Flame Burgers – Unassuming burger joint on main street in Ruidoso, with all the classics, plus a few burgers with a twist. Try a teriyaki burger, green chilli cheeseburger or a Hawaiian burger. The garlic parmesan fries are legendary too.
Cornerstone Bakery Café – Fab spot for breakfast or lunch, with pastries, sandwiches, omelettes and hearty portions.
Go mountain biking in Ruidoso
There are absolutely loads of well-marked trails within Ruidoso itself which will take you to some seriously beautiful spots. You can rent bikes in town (and at many of the hotels), then enjoy the freedom of being on two wheels.
Follow the Grindstone Trail for 18 miles of picturesque trails around the lake and beyond. Alternatively, head to Bear Canyon, an incredible area of forest, towering cliffs and abandoned mines for a wilder, more adventurous cycle.
Place a bet at Ruidoso Downs Race Track
I’m not a fan of horse racing, but if you are, you’ll be pleased to discover Ruidoso has its own race track and casino. The most notable race to take place there is the All-American Futurity – also known as the richest race in Quarter Horse racing. The race track also plays host to other events throughout the year including motorcycle rallies and concerts.
Stay somewhere unique in Ruidoso
With so much natural beauty surrounding the town, it’s hardly surprising to hear that the Ruidoso region is home to several unique and luxurious hotels. Whether you fancy a 5* hotel or a cute and cosy cabin, you’ll find a range of options on offer. Here are a few recommendations…
MCM Elegante Lodge and Resort
If you’re looking for somewhere close to Ruidoso that oozes luxury and boasts spectacular views of the mountains, this is a great choice. It’s a resort, so you’ll find everything you need on site.
It’s also got its own golf course, swimming pool and spa. Most of the rooms have hot tubs, so it’s ideal for a romantic weekend away.
Tiara Del Sol
For the ultimate accommodation to get away from it all, check into Tiara Del Sol. Every room comes with a terrace looking out to the mountains, and wow, are the views here amazing!
The rooms are apartment-style so you can self-cater your trip. It’s a great place for wildlife too, with herds of deer regularly spotted right outside the rooms.
Shadow Mountain Lodge and Cabins
If you’re looking for cosy cabin or lodge accommodation in Ruidoso, Shadow Mountain is highly rated. Located in the forest, the cabins offer peace and quiet.
There’s a fire pit and hot tub – perfect if you’ve spent the day on the slopes. It’s also within walking distance of Midtown’s amenities.
I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about the top things to do in Ruidoso NM. Whenever you decide to visit, I hope you have an amazing trip! If you’re looking for other interesting things to do in the state, don’t miss my guide to the best museums in Santa Fe.
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