Escaping the desert heat by going to the mountains has long been a popular summertime activity. In Southern New Mexico, we’re fortunate to have many beautiful, forested mountain areas we can enjoy when we need a break. One region with much to offer, along with cooler temperatures, is in the Sierra Blanca Mountains surrounded by the Lincoln National Forest.
Take Highway 70 from Tularosa and you’ll travel through the Mescalero Apache Reservation, home of Inn of the Mountain Gods, before crossing the county line and arriving in Ruidoso, with nearby Ruidoso Downs, Alto, and Ski Apache as locations to explore. In this article, we give you plenty of fun ways to enjoy the Ruidoso area this summer, with activities for the entire family. So, pack your bags and grab your hat and let’s head to the mountains!
You Won’t Go Hungry or Thirsty in Ruidoso!
Written by Rob McCorkle
For a small town, Ruidoso’s numerous restaurants and bars offer a tantalizing variety of choices sure to please even the most demanding palates. Whether it’s Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Southwestern, pub grub, or down-home American fare, this mountain resort community has got you covered. Some of Ruidoso’s iconic restaurants, such as Tina’s Cafe, Cornerstone Bakery, and Village Buttery, have been welcoming hungry guests for decades. The latter is owned by a former busboy who worked there while in high school.
For lunch, I dined on a delectable puffed pastry stuffed with marinated pork and smothered in Tina’s green chile cream sauce. Kerry Gladden, president of a local marketing firm, nailed it with her suggestion to try the somewhat-upscale Grill Caliente for dinner. Nachos with distinct layers of cheese, a mushroom taco, and the highly recommended fried green chile rings won the day. Breakfast at Alto Café just north of Ruidoso the next day was a true retro experience, with home-cooked meals at bargain prices. Before leaving town, I opted for a turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich at Cornerstone Bakery. Their pies, cake, and pastries were tempting, but will have to wait for my next visit. Dining at Rio Grande Grill and Tap Room, Café Rio (pizza), El Camino Nuevo, Hall of Flame Burgers, and other notable eateries will have to wait, too.
To quench your thirst, pop in to one of Ruidoso’s several venues sprinkled along Sudderth Drive (Ruidoso’s main drag) that feature locally sourced brews, distilled liquor, and wine. But if you want to drink like a local, drop into Win Place and Show Bar or The Quarters for a craft brew, wine, or cocktail, sipping it underneath the neon signs while you take a break from Saturday night two-steppin’.
For more information, visit discoverruidoso.com/where-to-eat-drink.
Fun for Kids of All Ages
Written by Alexia Severson
Ruidoso is the perfect place to bring kids of all ages. Families can enjoy everything from exploring the outdoors to riding go-karts or going on a ziplining adventure.
Natural attractions in the area include Grindstone Lake and Seeping Springs Trout Lake. Grindstone Lake offers horseback riding, fishing, and hiking. Seeping Springs Trout Lake offers fishing (poles and bait provided) and pedal boat rental from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
For something a little more daring, try out some ziplines. One of the world’s longest ziplines, the Wind Rider ZipTour, is at Ski Apache. This ride of a lifetime begins at an elevation of over 11,000 feet and speeds up to about 65 miles per hour. There’s also the Apache Eagle ZipRider at nearby Mescalero’s Inn of the Mountain Gods, which travels more than 2,600 feet across Lake Mescalero.
You can also enjoy a full day of entertainment at Pillow’s Funtrackers Family Fun Center. Pillow’s features three go-kart tracks, 18-hole miniature golf, the Mountain Maze, Spin Zone Bumper Cars, an arcade, and seasonal activities like bumper boats and panning for gemstones.
Another popular attraction for families visiting the area is Flying J Ranch, located just a few minutes outside of Ruidoso. At Flying J you’ll find pony rides, cattle roping, gold panning, Cindy’s Sweet Shop, and more.
If you want to see more “ponies,” check out Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino for horse racing from late May through early September. Ruidoso Downs is home to the All-American Futurity, which offers quarter horse racing’s biggest purse. The “big kids” can enjoy some time at the casino here, too.
And don’t forget to check out some of the local parks. Wingfield Park features a playground, disc golf, and a walking path. School House Park has a playground, tennis courts, and an outdoor swimming pool (open seasonally).
Golf That’s Good for the Soul
Written and photography by Rob McCorkle
Golfers used to playing the rather flat courses prevalent in El Paso and much of Southern New Mexico will find the handful of mountain golf courses in and around Ruidoso a refreshing break from the norm. Even these beautifully maintained courses play second fiddle to the awe-inspiring views of surrounding mountaintops such as Sierra Blanca, verdant fairways, and native wildlife.
My neighbor and golfing buddy Joe and I found that a late spring round at Ruidoso’s most popular public course — The Links at Sierra Blanca — was anything but “a good walk spoiled,” a quip attributed to American novelist Mark Twain. The Scottish-style track, converted from the old regional airport, is a tale of two nines, playing to a par 72. Dozens of mounds lend a true links feel to the front nine, while the holes on the back nine wind through the pines where elk herds roam.
Ranked #9 of New Mexico’s top courses by Golf Advisor, The Links at Sierra Blanca features a spacious practice facility and a course that is tough enough for accomplished golfers and forgiving enough for duffers.
Most of the area’s golf courses are attached to private clubs or resorts. PGA golf pro Kirk Taylor calls Kokopelli Golf Club in nearby Alto “a fun and challenging course.” If you know someone who belongs to Kokopelli and want to play a round that won’t take half a day, you can tee off on the 4,000–yard, par 63 executive course situated on a soaring mesa with canyon and mountain views. Fore!
The Links at Sierra Blanca
105 Sierra Blanca Dr., Ruidoso
Kokopelli Golf Club
1200 High Mesa Rd., Alto
Cool Ruidoso Summer Festivals
Written by Bud Russo
Ruidoso stands high above the hot desert, so it’s always cooler. And considering the schedule of festivals over the next few months, Ruidoso could be really cool, especially after the long pandemic lockdown. Many COVID restrictions have been eased, but be sure to check current New Mexico guidelines to be safe. In addition, check to make sure events are still scheduled as listed.
Here’s a run-down of some upcoming Ruidoso events:
July 30 – August 1
50th anniversary of the Ruidoso Art Festival
More than 100 artists will display their work — sculpture, photography, glass, paintings, ceramics, jewelry, mixed media, and more. New this year is wine tasting, featuring New Mexico wineries. Ticket information at 575-257-7395 or discoverruidoso.com.
August 6 – August 8
Chile the Kid Wine and Beer Festival at Ruidoso Downs Race Track
Three days of live entertainment including horse racing, local vendors and merchandise, and a wide selection of brands and styles of craft beer and wine — not to mention plenty of Hatch green chile! This educational experience benefits local nonprofits. Ticketing and other information at 575-378-4140 or discoverruidoso.com.
September 30 – October 3
All American Cowboy Fest at Ruidoso Downs Race Track
Celebrate Western culture, country music, and the internationally renowned chuckwagon cooking competition. Authentic cooks work at authentic chuckwagons to make delicious chicken-fried steak, beans, potatoes, and biscuits. New this year is a live rough-stock rodeo. For information about tickets, call 575-378-4140 or visit allamericancowboyfest.com.
October 2 | AspenFest
Celebrate autumn with the annual parade through midtown Ruidoso beginning at 10 a.m. The parade ends at Wingfield Park where local vendors will offer gourmet chocolates, handmade crafts, and other specialty items. Call for ticket information at 575-257-7395 or visit discoverruidoso.com.
Now through Labor Day | Flying J Ranch
The Flying J Ranch celebrates the Great American Cowboy. You can shop Bonita City for unusual items, and kids can ride a pony, pan for gold, and watch a smithy make horseshoes. Then it’s suppertime: brisket, chicken, beans, potatoes, applesauce, biscuits, and spiced cake. Once you’ve “et” and are sittin’ in the auditorium, the Flying J Wranglers will serenade you with Western songs, champion yodeling, fancy fiddling, hilarious comedy, banjo playing, and guitar pickin’! Reservations and information at 575-336-4330 or 888-4458-3595 and at flyingjranch.com.
Looking for more to do? Be sure to check out the Spencer Theater in nearby Alto!
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Written by Cheryl Fallstead
For those of us who live in the desert, visiting the mountains with their tall, green trees and clear blue lakes is a special event. Fortunately, we have several such places within a reasonable drive, including Cloudcroft, Silver City, and, of course, Ruidoso. While you’re visiting, you’ll want to explore the great outdoors. Here are some activities to put on your weekend getaway list.
Ask a local what you should be sure to do outdoors, and they’ll likely tell you to visit Grindstone Lake. Not only can you enjoy activities such as mountain biking, horseback riding (check out Grindstone Stables if you didn’t bring your own horse!), hiking, picnicking, fishing, disc golf, swimming, canoeing, and kayaking, but the Village of Ruidoso has kicked it up a notch with Wibit Water Park, a floating, inflatable obstacle course made up of giant slides, towers, trampolines, and more. Passes for Wibit and the pool are $20 a day plus tax per person, and Wibit Water Park is open Memorial Day through Labor Day. In addition, non-motorized boats and fishing equipment are available for rent at the lake. Grindstone Lake is also a birding hotspot, with 112 species spotted here, including water birds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. There is a $10 per day parking fee.
Cedar Creek Recreation Area
What if you could work out in the fresh air of the woods and meadows? You can! This recreation area features a 1.3-mile fitness trail, two mountain biking trails, plus picnic tables, all in the breathtaking Lincoln National Forest. Cedar Creek is located just off Ruidoso’s Mechem Drive.
Alto Lake is stocked regularly with rainbow trout, and is a lovely spot for canoeing, hiking, and picnicking, although swimming is not allowed. You can hike the half-mile trail around the lake or the two-mile trail with two bridge crossings that take you to waterfalls and provide opportunities to spot some wildlife. Eagle Creek Trail below the lake is another 1.5-mile option. Leashed dogs are allowed, and parking and restrooms are available. This park is open daily from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., but to park overnight a permit is required. Hiking and picnicking are free, but if you want to take a boat out, make sure to get a pass. Birders have spotted 124 species of birds near Alto Lake.
Oak Grove Campground
Best Tent Camping New Mexico (see story about books to get us back on the road here) calls Oak Grove Campground “peaceful, wild, and windy.” This isn’t the place for RVs longer than 18 feet, but the 30-site campground in the Lincoln National Forest ranks high for beauty and the chance to see wildlife including deer and elk, wild horses, and some of the 73 species of birds that have been recorded here. For more information on this campground and others in the area operated by the Forest Service: fs.usda.gov/recarea/lincoln/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=34190&actid=29.
Want more hiking ideas? AllTrails lists 22 trails in the Ruidoso area here.
Shopping, Art Galleries, and Midtown
Written by Alexia Severson
A great way to get to know Ruidoso’s local culture is by visiting its unique shops, art galleries, and dining areas. The best place to start exploring the village is Midtown, the heart of Ruidoso. Here you will find everything from shopping and art to restaurants, wineries, and breweries.
“The Midtown district offers a lot of different experiences,” said Matt Ingram, executive director of Ruidoso Midtown Association. “We have a really cool mix of stores and that creates a little shopping environment down here — like an economic hub for Ruidoso.”
While you are in the area, Matt recommends visiting Roots Ruidoso. This eclectic shop offers house and barrel-aged coffee, cocktail-related items, New Mexico-made jewelry and artwork, and a selection of home décor items. Roots also partners with Ruidoso artist Michael Fish, whose artwork can be found throughout the village. For an off-the-beaten-path shopping experience in a store that boasts about its “cool stuff,” visit 102 Center St., which also showcases the work of local artists.
Dive deeper into the Ruidoso art scene by touring the murals of Midtown and visiting the area’s many galleries. Mountain Arts Gallery & Framing features the work of several artists, including renowned Ruidoso artist Teri Sodd, who specializes in pastel portraits of Native Americans and other people of the Southwest. Or check out White Mountain Pottery to browse a wide selection of ceramic fine art made by potters throughout the Southwest and the United States.
Where to Stay
If you (hopefully!) have more than just a day to spend in Ruidoso, consider spending a night or two in one of the many lodging options among the tall pines. Take your pick, from classic hotel rooms at Apache Inn and Ruidoso Mountain Inn, cozy cabins at Mountain Air Cabins, Ruidoso Lodge Cabins, and Storybook Cabins, to quiet, secluded camping spots where you can really enjoy nature. Or, mix it up! Stay in town in the middle of all the action for one night and venture out to the woods for the next. Airbnb properties add even more opportunities for lodging, in town or in the woods. No matter your preference, you’ll find the perfect spot to rest your head after exploring all that Ruidoso has to offer!
Posted by LasCruces.com