Content Produced in Partnership with Discover Ruidoso
Did you know southern New Mexico has mountains? Neither did I.
My first impression of the Land of Enchantment was wrought with pine trees, charming mountain cabins, and alpine lakes… a far cry from the scorching Southwestern wilderness I’d always pictured. Throw jaw-dropping White Sands National Monument into the mix, an hour’s drive from Ruidoso, and I was sold. Ruidoso, a small village at the base of the Lincoln National Forest, sits just below 7,000’ and basks in the shadow of Sierra Blanca, the highest peak in the southwestern United States. Ski Apache, the southernmost ski resort in the continental US, serves as a winter vacation destination for many in the area and is run by the Mescalero Apache Tribe. During the summer months, Ski Apache also boasts one of the longest zip lines in the world, though rogue thunderstorms peppering my time in Ruidoso prohibited me from experiencing it. No matter...I had plenty else to keep me occupied in this quaint mountain town that immediately felt like home.
Do you have favorite airports? I do, and the second I landed at El Paso International Airport for the first time, I added it to my list—such a clean and easy airport! El Paso sits on the US-Mexico border, and has a super photogenic downtown area. Nick and I grabbed snacks and hopped into our rental car up the super easy 2.5 hour drive to Ruidoso, where we enjoyed watching the landscape slowly change from desert to mountainous.
Where To Stay: Story Book CabinsThere are quaint cabins literally everywhere in Ruidoso, but Story Book Cabins was love at first sight. Locals literally feed deer out of their hands in the driveways, and the cabins are comfortable and well kept. The owner of Story Book, Alan Riches, was not only one of the nicest people we met in the area (which is saying quite a lot as everyone was incredibly friendly) but turned out to be one of our best resources on the area. When we mentioned the Wifi was slow, Alan moved the router into our cabin, and texted us throughout our stay to make sure we were doing alright… talk about customer service. To top it off, the electrician onsite was a former professional snowboarder who coincidentally knew my husband Nick! Ruidoso was gorgeous, but the people there really made our visit special.
ShoppingRuidoso’s quaint downtown, adjacent to Rio Ruidoso, welcomes you to a picturesque mountain escape. After parking, stroll up and down into the neat shops and restaurants. Don’t miss Ruidoso Trading Post for Native American turquoise jewelry and authentic Civil War treasures. My personal favorite? Rocky Mountain Christmas, a holiday-themed boutique run by a real-life Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Don’t miss the many world-class art galleries dotted around the town!
Dine Like A LocalBefore arriving in Ruidoso, I expected mostly BBQ and Mexican fare, but like all my other expectations of the town, I was proven wrong. Between my daily quiche and coffee from Sacred Grounds, to one of the best slices of key lime pie I’d had in forever from The Village Buttery, to a fabulous burger from Grill Caliente...Ruidoso spoiled me. New Mexico is famous for their green chiles, and many of the dishes I ordered were garnished with them… so good! One evening, Nick and I attended a cooking “class” at Sanctuary on the River, a gorgeous special events center, which involved more sipping beer and chatting with the locals than it did cooking, which was right up my alley. Chef Mashon was hilarious and welcoming, and introduced me to Spam for the first time (confession: loved it). I would highly recommend attending a cooking class at Sanctuary on the River if you want the true local experience!
Get On The TrailsJuxtaposed between the Sierra Blanca mountain range and the Sacramento Mountains, Ruidoso offers an elaborate trail system chock full of wildlife and stunning views. We spent one morning exploring on horseback via Grindstone Stables — my horse’s name was Mad Max, and he was the sweetest fella. I loved chatting with the cowboys on staff who were very helpful in answering questions about the area, and even allowed me to explore around the ranch to photograph it. Another day, Nick and I ran up the North Cedar Creek Trail—by the end, we were feeling the altitude with 1,000-ft elevation gain in 3.5 miles! Not up for a run? Check out Grindstone Lake or Alto Lake.
Both offer pleasant walking trails with great views. Keep an eye out for elk and eagles! I especially loved taking photos of the butterflies on the wildflowers at Grindstone Lake. Don’t miss Monjeau Lookout, a famous landmark on the Smokey Bear Ranger District.
White Sands National Monument
An hour’s drive from Ruidoso, White Sands is not to be missed. The magical evening Nick and I spent here was one of the highlights of my entire summer. We were told to go later in the day to miss the heat, and were glad we did. The light was absolutely incredible, and the “sand” (actually gymsum) stretches on for 275 square miles. It's a soft playground filled with unusual creatures, gorgeous views, and dunes perfect for sledding. There are many spots to park and explore away from the crowds (the fee to enter the park is $5/person). We brought BBQ takeout and ate a picnic dinner on the sand, and watched a magnificent lightning storm in the far-off New Mexican desert… one of those moments that just sticks with you.
Of course, that’s how all of Ruidoso is: a magical, memorable place I can’t wait to return to.