Looking for a road trip adventure with things to do for the whole family? Ruidoso, New Mexico is a great bet! Tucked snugly beneath towering mountain peaks and fragrant whispering pines, the quaint alpine village is a perfect getaway destination. 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 smoky-sweet aroma of pinion pine woodfires. Summer brings the thrill of horse racing as well as outdoor adventures such as hiking, fishing, horseback riding and golfing. While visiting Ruidoso, be on the lookout for the band of beautiful wild horses that roam around town. 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 road 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
This airport to destination road 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: 2.5 hours.
Things to do in El Paso:
- Chamizal National Memorial
- Franklin Mountains State Park
- Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site
- Museum of History
- Zoo and Botanical Gardens
- Museum of Art
- Mission Trail
- Water Parks
- Children’s Museum
⇒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. Drive time between El Paso and Las Cruces: 49 minutes
Bonus stop: Las Cruces
Stop for an hour or two to visit Old Mesilla Village. Walk the plaza which is a National Historic Landmark. Mesilla offers shopping venues as well as dining with a serving of history on the side. If a hike sounds appealing, check out the Dripping Springs Natural Area at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument for scenic trials. While in Las Cruces, look for the mural-painted water tanks and the giant roadrunner sculpture made from an array of recycled junk such as old sneakers and computer components.
⇒From Las Cruces take US Highway 70 north to White Sands National Park. Drive time between Las Cruces and White Sands: 52 minutes.
Bonus stop: White Sands National Park
Currently $25.00 per vehicle to enter the park. The gift shop at the visitor center sells 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 gypsum dunes for spectacular views and photo ops with the mountains as the backdrop. Here’s the link: White Sands National Park
Travel tip: before you go, check the website for temporary park and highway 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. Drive time between White Sands and Alamogordo: 17 minutes
Bonus stop: Alamogordo
Plan to spend a couple of hours at the New Mexico Museum of Space History/International Space Hall of Fame, 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 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. Drive time between Alamogordo and Ruidoso: 1 hour
⇒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. Drive time between Alamogordo and Ruidoso via this route: 1.5 hours without stops
Travel tip: when approaching 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 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 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 Road Trip: Sunspot Solar Observatory
Head south from Cloudcroft on Highway 130 toward Sunspot 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, stop in at the visitor center then take a self-guided tour of the telescopes. The elevation at Sunspot is about 9200 feet.
Travel tip: Google Maps for directions to Sunspot are not reliable.
⇒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
As for places to stay in Ruidoso, Inn of the Mountain Gods is our first choice. The resort has everything visitors want, including a gorgeous yet challenging golf course, restaurants, a casino, and an RV campground. Here’s a link: Inn of the Mountain Gods
We also recommend:
- Hampton Inn – preferred chain hotel in Ruidoso
- Casa Blanca – preferred Mexican Food – 501 Mechem Dr.
- Ranchers Steak and Seafood Restaurant – preferred splurge restaurant- 2823 Sudderth Dr. – make a reservation for dinner
- Wendell’s Steak and Seafood at Inn of the Mountain Gods – preferred splurge restaurant – make a reservation for dinner
- Anaheim Jacks – preferred lunch stop – 1097 Mechem Dr.
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 walkable 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, Wibit Water Park, and horseback riding stables, just to name a few.
- Ski! Head 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 racetrack.
- Hike or Bike! There are many hiking and biking trails in the area. Here’s a link for trail information: Ruidoso Trails
- Enjoy the Water! Area lakes provide the perfect setting for canoeing, kayaking, or fishing.
- Drive the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway. 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 the following sites. Here’s a link: Billy the Kid Scenic Byway.
Things to do on the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway
For nostalgia buffs, head northeast on Highway 48 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. Six and under are free. Cash only.
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. Allow 1-2 hours to visit the site. Here’s a link: Fort Stanton.
Lincoln, New Mexico is a great stop 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 the museum and designated buildings are $7.00 per adult at the visitor center. There is also a nice hiking/nature trail along the Rio Bonito. Allow 1-2 hours to visit Lincoln.
Head southeast on 380 from Lincoln to Hondo. At Hondo turn right on to US Highway 70 to San Patricio, home of artists Peter Hurd, Henriette Wyeth-Hurd, and Michael Hurd. The family’s ranch features guest homes, a winery and tasting room, and The Hurd la Rinconada Gallery. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9:00 to 5:00 – 105 La Rinconada in San Patricio, New Mexico, 25 miles east of Ruidoso.
We’re going to end this post with one last road trip idea. See it all, do it all, right?
Just a one-hour drive east 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 a fun stop to add to your itinerary.
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
(This is an updated and enhanced version of a prior post published on October 27, 2018.)
Need more inspiration? Click the links to view these other great road trip destinations:
Albuquerque to Taos Road Trip: Things to Do
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.