Rolling tumbleweeds and stark desert landscapes come to mind when most people think of New Mexico, but the towering pines and abundant wildlife at the city of Ruidoso prove otherwise. This small mountain town also boasts boutique shops, excellent local restaurants, and top-notch entertainment. Whether you seek an adventurous trip or quiet getaway replete with breathtaking forests and elk passing through the backyard of your Ruidoso vacation rental, the area features plenty of activities for families of all ages.

1. Take a Hike

Ruidoso is surrounded by Lincoln National Forest, so there are plenty of stunning trails to discover. The boundary between the town and the forest is somewhat blurred, so you may even be able to find a vacation rental within walking distance of some lovely trails. Visit the ranger’s station in town to learn about family-friendly excursions, especially if you have younger children. Some trails in this area can be rough, so be sure to do a little research before you head out with the kids.

2. Sled and Ski

Ruidoso is home to the Ski Apache resort, so there are plenty of winter activities. Older kids can take ski lessons and hit the bunny slopes. For a more relaxed outing, check out Winter Park, a popular snow play area. Rental tubes and sleds are included in the affordable ticket price, and there’s a special Kidz Korral area for children who are too small to ride on the steeper slopes. If you’re visiting during busy times, such as the Christmas holiday, going tubing at night can help you beat the crowds.

3. Go for a Ride

While hiking and mountain biking are fun activities, there’s nothing quite like seeing New Mexico from the back of a horse, as the cowboys did. Ruidoso is home to several stables offering guided trail rides for the whole family. Some popular choices are Bonito Stables, Grindstone Stables, and the stables at the Inn of the Mountain Gods.

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4. Visit Smokey Bear’s Home

Smokey Bear isn’t just a United States Forest Service mascot. He was a real bear cub rescued from a devastating forest fire near Capitan, New Mexico, which is about half an hour from Ruidoso along a scenic mountain road. The Smokey Bear Historical Park was established in Capitan to honor this popular mascot and to educate the public about forest fires. It features interactive educational exhibits, a playground, and junior ranger programs where your children can earn official souvenirs by demonstrating their knowledge of fire safety.

5. Explore Historic Lincoln

This region of New Mexico is perhaps most famous for the Lincoln County War, which gave rise to Billy the Kid and other famous outlaws. The historic community of Lincoln has been preserved as an informal living museum. There are pamphlets available for self-guided walking tours, which let you follow the steps of Billy the Kid’s infamous escape after his initial capture by Pat Garrett in addition to the initial conflict. Lincoln may be a bit slow for younger children, but occasional reenactments and other special events spice it up.

6. Learn About the Old West

The Hubbard Museum of the American West is devoted to the history of the region. Horse-crazy kids will love the numerous equestrian-focused exhibits, but there’s something for the whole family, including exhibits about pioneer lifestyles, Native American culture, and the history of firearms in the Old West. Be sure to check out the life-size, realistic horse sculptures surrounding the museum.

7. Go Fishing

If you have your own fishing gear, bring it along and store it in your vacation rental. New Mexico fishing licenses are affordable and easy to obtain, and there are numerous public fishing areas around Ruidoso. Bonito Lake, Grindstone Reservoir, and Rio Ruidoso are some of the most popular options. If you don’t have your own gear, Seeping Springs Trout Lake is a private, stocked lake that offers rental equipment and paddle boats.

8. Experience the Old West

If you want to experience the cowboy lifestyle, stop in at the Flying J Ranch. Kids can have fun learning to rope, pan for gold, or join a posse in the deputy training school. Be prepared for actors showing off their quick-draw skills at the shootout shows. Other actors demonstrate aspects of pioneer life, such as blacksmithing and wrangling.

9. Catch a Show

In an area that tends towards rustic log cabins or old-fashioned adobes, the contemporary architecture of the Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts tends to stand out. It’s located on Highway 220 just a few minutes from Ruidoso’s city center and offers shows ranging from comedy to modern dance. There aren’t too many shows geared towards younger children, but older kids may enjoy some lively local music or family-friendly comedy acts.

10. Watch the Races

Although its austere desert ecosystem is a far cry from the bluegrass hills most people think of when it comes to horse racing, New Mexico has a thriving horse industry. Ruidoso Downs is one of the most popular racetracks in the region for both thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. There are some adult-only areas at the track and casino, but race days are family-friendly and there is an arcade area designed for children.

11. Get Lost In a Maze

Pillow’s Funtrackers is a sprawling family fun center that includes go-karts, miniature golf, and other staples. However, one of the most popular features is the Mountain Maze, a full-size maze which asks you to find four hidden checkpoints before finding your way out again. During the summer, your children can also pan for hidden gems.

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