Content Produced in Partnership with Discover Ruidoso
Located in south central New Mexico, Ruidoso resides at the southern tail of the Rocky Mountains, creating a secret mountain playground that's primed for outdoor fun no matter the season. As with many a mountain town, a whole new side of Ruidoso is unearthed after the snow melts every spring. In Ruidoso's case, it's a network of mountain biking and hiking trails that seem to spider web and criss-cross across the adjacent wilderness area.
Most of the trails in and around Ruidoso are multi-use ones that welcome both bikers and hikers. Still, the most popular trails for hiking aren’t always the most popular for mountain biking, which is why this insider's guide is separated into two categories and why we've done the research and consolidated the details so you don't have to. Here's a look at some of our favorite trails in what we consider one of the prettiest places in the country:
Lincoln National Forest dominants the majority of the Ruidoso wilderness area. At just over 1,700-square-miles, it's been divided into the more manageable, smaller districts for eager explorers. Most of the hiking trails within Ruidoso can be found in the White Mountain Wilderness Area and the Smokey Bear District (yes, that bear).
- North Cedar Creek Trail: Visitors often report seeing deer or elk along this 3.6-mile loop, making it especially perfect for mid-morning or late afternoon hikes. Considered moderately difficult, this trail is actually part of the much larger Spaghetti Strand trail that's extremely popular with mountain bikers. Luckily, North Cedar Creek is lightly trafficked and usually crowd free. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on a leash. We'd recommend bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy along the way, too.
- Grindstone Lake Loop: This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the area, which means it is almost always the busiest one too. The 6.7-mile loop around Grindstone Lake is easy and manageable for all ages and allows hikers a chance to wander along the bank of the lake. Popular with local fishermen and visitors alike, even when it is at its busiest there is still room for people to hike in their own space here. Both dogs and horses are permitted on the trail. Note: Grindstone Lake has five trails totaling 18 miles for hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders to enjoy. Have a great time exploring, but be mindful to share the trail!
- Perk Ridge Trail: At only 4.8 miles this trail is on the shorter side compared to Ruidoso’s others, but that doesn’t mean that it is lacking in beauty (or challenging terrain) by any means. A favorite for spotting local wildlife and enjoying wildflowers in the spring, Perk Ridge has one steep climbing section followed by a loose decent that keeps hikers mainly within the forest and valleys and across a few stream foot bridges. If you're an experienced or frequent hiker, this trail is a perfect fit. If not, we recommend shoes with a good grip that you wouldn't mind getting wet or muddy and a hiking pole (or large stick) to help you handle the rocky ascent and descent.
- Crest Trail to Lookout Point at Ski Apache: If you're doing a hike mainly for the views, Crest Trail will surely not disappoint; it offers spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding mountainsides. Lookout Point is a view you have to earn, though, as its roughly three miles to the top of the mountain and then three miles straight back down again. Fortunately, if you are too tired to make the descent on your own, opt to take the scenic Ski Apache gondola down the mountain ($18 for adults; $12 for children; free for kids 5 and under). If you try this trail hike early enough in spring, don't be surprised if you run into a few leftover patches of snow along the way.
Once upon a time, cowboys hit the dusty trail. While horses and riders still hit the trails in Ruidoso, in some parts of Ruidoso horses have been traded out for mountain bikes instead. The biking in Ruidoso is as abundant as it is thrilling and most are available to solo, couples, or groups.
- Grindstone Trail System: This fun 7-mile loop takes you around Grindstone Lake through Grindstone Canyon to a fishermen’s trail that funnels back to the parking lot. After the first two miles of climbing, you'll find plenty of downhill twists and turns. The trail is mostly packed soil, with relatively few rocks, boulders or roots along the way, making it beginner friendly as well. Not done yet? Grindstone Lake Trail System has more than 18 miles of trails to check out along five different trailheads.
- Perk Canyon: While we mentioned Perk Canyon earlier for hikers, we're now focusing on the Spaghetti Strand that's so popular amongst bicyclists. Three miles in and three miles out, this trail might be short for experienced mountain bikers, but it is perfect for beginners and families. The trail starts in town before hitting the nitty gritty of the forests and meadows, climbs a mere 500 feet, then yields to a gentle, rolling downhill terrain.
- Big Bear Canyon: Another favorite amongst the locals, this 15-mile ride has been rated as both moderate and difficult. We believe that rating changes based on the time of year the riders take to it. It's better to be safe than sorry, so prepare yourself for a big one and wear a helmet. Beginning at Bonito Lake Trailhead, it follows mountain streams and lakes up into the high country. The trail is full of rocks, logs and roots that add a certain level of excitement as you dodge the obstacles to make your descent. Also worth noting: this is an aptly named part of Bear Country. Be safe and aware as you make your way up and down this trailhead.
- Cedar Creek Downhill Trail: Officially opened in spring 2017, Cedar Creek Downhill Trail is the newest downhill flow trail to arrive to Ruidoso. Located near the center of town in Cedar Creek Park and easily accessed by other trails with the Cedar Creek area at the top, the 1.3-mile trail is flanked by rock gardens and jumps, proving to be the ideal trail for experienced riders interested in a fast and fun ride with easy access to downtown for a post-ride treat.
- Ski Apache: When ski season is over, bust out the mountain bike and head on up to Ski Apache, where there are lots trails for spring bikers. You can buy a lift pass and bike descents all day long or earn your turns by riding all the way up before making the charge back down.
How to do it
With mild temperatures and breezy, sunny weather, spring, summer and fall pose the best time for hikers and bikers to discover Ruidoso's trailheads. This is also the time of year when many area events take place to welcome visitors into the region as well. No matter your adventure style, you'll be sure to find accommodations and post-ride spa and wellness relief at several places around Ruidoso too, so you can spend as much time as possible soaking up the sun and getting your adventure fix in. Click here to begin planning your trip to Ruidoso today.