Nestled into the majestic Sierra Blanca mountain range of New Mexico—roughly equidistance between Albuquerque to the north and El Paso to the south—lies the quaint town of Ruidoso, in Lincoln County. Translating to “noisy” in Spanish, Ruidoso earned its name because of the 30-mile-long rushing river (Rio Ruidoso, or Noisy River) that begins at the top of Sierra Blanca Peak and drops 6,000 feet to run straight through Midtown, the village’s main drag. A rustic town with a year-round population of less than 8,000, Ruidoso was first settled by the Mescalero Apache, and evidence of its Native American roots remains.
Fish and Hike at Alto Lake
Regularly stocked with rainbow trout, catfish, and smallmouth bass (based on season), anglers are drawn to Alto Lake because of the shoreline fishing and non-motorized boating allowed year-round (there are no fees, but a boat permit and New Mexico fishing license are required). There’s a half-mile trail hugging the tree-lined lake, plus an additional 2.2-mile trail that leads to a natural waterfall; it’s accessible for all levels of hikers and ideal for apple- and onion-picking.
Zip Down a Mountain at Ski Apache
Any vacation can make you feel like you’re on top of the world. Still, there’s only one destination that boasts the highest-elevation zip line globally: Ruidoso’s Apache Wind Rider Ziptour at Ski Apache in Alto. It begins at a breathtaking 11,500 feet above sea level, accessible by a relaxing gondola ride. Riders can then race each other side-by-side down the three segments, which reach over 8,900 feet in total length—whooshing high above ponderosa pine, blue spruce, and aspen, stretching their eyes for miles in every direction. As New Mexico’s southernmost ski area, Ski Apache also offers 55 runs and trails and a terrain park with jumps, tubes, and rails. On the switchback roads leading to and from Ski Apache, keep your eyes peeled for small herds of wild horses munching on grass and grooming each other.
Go Off-Roading with Backcountry Attitudes
The thrill-seeking continues on a guided off-highway vehicle (OHV) tour with Backcountry Attitudes. Owner and Ruidoso native Lance Rowe provides a quick demonstration on how to safely operate the rig, hands over the keys, and leads the two-hour journey on a 79-mile loop of mountainous terrain. Be prepared for loud engines, flying dust, bumps, and sharp turns, and you’ll be rewarded with access to unspoiled scenery and vistas you wouldn’t otherwise get to see from the main roads.
Sip Flights at Noisy Water Winery
A family of fifth-generation New Mexican farmers has turned the fruits of their labors into the internationally award-winning Noisy Water Winery & Cellars. With two tasting rooms in Midtown—the laidback Noisy Water Ruidoso, which offers a gift shop and cheeseboards, and The Cellar Uncorked, a more serene version that houses its reserve wines—it's easy to stroll from one to the next during a leisurely afternoon of wine tasting. There are many varieties to choose from, but don’t miss the best-selling Besito Caliente, a Hatch green chile wine that perfectly pairs New Mexican cuisine.
Visit Smokey Bear Historical Park
Before the iconic cartoon version of Smokey Bear was created to remind everyone to do their part to prevent forest fires, he was a real orphaned black bear cub who survived a 17,000-acre forest fire in the Capitan Mountains in 1950—albeit with burned paws. After spending the rest of his life in Washington D.C.’s National Zoo, he was buried in what’s now known as Smokey Bear Historical Park in nearby Capitan, New Mexico. There’s a firehouse-themed playground for kids, Smokey’s gravesite, a picnic area, and exhibits about fire safety, forest health, and New Mexican vegetation.
Walk the Midtown Mural Route
Showcasing local and regional artists' talent, the Ruidoso Midtown Association commissioned 10 colorful murals to line the streets of Midtown in 2019. Some are easily seen from the main road, Sudderth Drive, while others are tucked just out of view on the sides of various shops and restaurants. Spend an hour or two on a scavenger hunt for these highly Instagrammable works of art, or cut to the chase by launching a widget that will map each location for you. Since all of these murals are within a three-block radius and parking in town is fairly limited, it’s easiest to go on foot. Eagle eyes will find a few more murals inspired by this project, spread throughout the community.
Shop and Dine Along Sudderth Drive
There’s a little something for everybody at Ruidoso’s many restaurants, galleries, and souvenir and antique shops, so when walking the Midtown mural route, be sure to pop in and out of any eateries and boutiques that catch your eye along the way. Grab a cuppa at Sacred Grounds Coffee & Tea House (who worked with Grammy-award-winning country music group Asleep at the Wheel to bring in New Mexico and Texas singers and songwriters as weekend entertainment, plus the back deck overlooks the Rio Ruidoso), some truffle parmesan fries and an elk bratwurst at farm-to-table Hunt and Harvest at The Mercantile (don’t miss the charming market inside, featuring local and seasonal products), and the fried green chile strips and margaritas at Casa Blanca.
Go Birdwatching at Grindstone Lake
Pack a picnic, head to Grindstone Lake, and step onto the viewing platform to observe black bear, mule deer, blue heron, elk, eagles, wild turkey, and approximately 200 species of birds in their natural habitat. Ospreys are common in the fall and spring during their migration, and they dive right into the lake for their catch of the day. This lake also has a 27-hole disc golf course (also known as frisbee golf) and 18 miles of trails perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.
Tour Fort Stanton Historic Site
A New Mexico State Monument, Fort Stanton Historic Site was built from local stone in 1855 to serve as a military base against the Mescalero Apaches during the Apache Wars. Located just outside Ruidoso along Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, it’s one of the best-preserved 19th-century forts in the state and surrounded by Lincoln National Forest. A guided tour reveals its history beyond the military, including its use as a tuberculosis hospital for the Merchant Marine, an internment camp during World War II, and even a women’s prison. Because thousands of people are believed to have died and been buried here, reports of paranormal activity run rampant—as such, Fort Stanton was the recent filming location of a season-two episode of "Ghost Hunters."
Explore the Historic Town of Lincoln
This part of the state didn’t always have the chill vibe you’ll find today. Billy the Kid—the outlaw member of the Lincoln County Regulators gang, an Old West deputized posse—gained his notoriety here while participating in the Lincoln County War of the late 1870s. Historic Lincoln is a 20-minute drive northeast from Ruidoso and a well-preserved historic cowboy town. Wild West history buffs will enjoy visiting the Old Lincoln County Courthouse museum exhibits, meandering around the Tunstall Store (which contains displays of the original 19th-century merchandise in its original shelving), and peeking inside El Torreón, the town’s circular defensive tower made from stone.