The forests around Ruidoso offer a variety of outdoor experiences.
The White Mountain Wilderness
The White Mountain Wilderness Area is located in the Sacramento Mountains near Ruidoso, NM . The Wilderness Area comprises almost 50,000 acres within the Lincoln National Forest
The White Mountain Wilderness was created and granted permanent protection through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Under the Wilderness Act, the land is removed from any exploitation consideration, such as mining or logging. The Wilderness management scheme prohibits all types of motorized and mechanical travel, including bicycles. Travel is by foot or horseback, only. In addition, all types of motorized equipment such as chain saws and generators are prohibited as well. The Wilderness Act states that the land will be maintained and managed in a 'primitive' state.
The White Mountain Wilderness is comprised of a north-south trending ridge and canyon system, that forms the divide of the Sacramento Mountains . The eastern side of the range provides the primary access points and is characterized by moderate-sloped, forested canyons and small streams. The more remote western side of the range has rough, steep, rocky canyons with little water. Access to the west side is difficult. The trails are poorly defined in places and as a consequence, the area receives little use.
The White Mountain Wilderness Area has a well-developed system of Trailheads and trails. The number and distribution of trails provide an almost infinite number of hiking options for everyone. Novices to experts can find hiking opportunities to fulfill their desires.
The hiking trails are organized by Trailhead. Each trail or trail segment that can be reasonably accessed from each Trailhead is discussed to allow hikers multiple hiking options. The hiking trails are organized by Trailhead. Each trail or trail segment that can be reasonably accessed from each Trailhead is discussed to allow hikers multiple hiking options. Loop hiking opportunities tend to be longer hikes more suited to intermediate-level hikers. Novices will find great hiking opportunities by sticking to trails closer to the Trailheads.
Hiking Basics - Essential equipment and information needed by everyone who decides to hike these wilderness trails.
White Mountain Wilderness Geology
The Little Bear Fire and the White Mountain Wilderness Hiking Trails
The Little Bear Fire of 2012 burned in the White Mountain Wilderness but, despite the worst fears, many of the wilderness area’s beautiful hiking trails are unaffected. While there are some closures most of the trails were not burned and continue offer beautiful hiking.
The Smokey Bear Ranger District may be reached for more information: 575-257-4095.
Three Rivers Campground
Oak Grove camping area
Cedar Creek Recreation and Camping area (by reservation only)
Baca Campground – on 380 toward Lincoln, 8 miles east of Capitan
All Capitan Mountains open to dispersed camping and hiking
Closed until further notice:
Monjeau Peak Lookout (The road is open most of the way to the lookout but the lookout area remains closed.)
Spring Canyon Trail
South Fork camping area
For a FREE Ruidoso Area Trail Map stop by the Ruidoso.net office.
1204 Mechem #1
Ruidoso, NM 88345
Located near Farley's and the Bowling Alley.
Argentina/ Big Bonito Trailhead accesses the central portion of the White Mountain Wilderness Area. It is one of the most popular Trailheads in the Wilderness. Numerous loop opportunities can be created from the myriad of trails accessible from this Trailhead. Most of the trails are well used and easily followed, which makes it an ideal hiking location for novice to intermediate hikers. Advanced hikers will find lots of options as well.
Nogal Canyon Trailhead accesses the northern portion of the White Mountain Wilderness Area. Many of the trails are remote and rarely used. The lack of use makes route-finding a factor due to perils such as disappearing trails and dead fall infestations. This area is best suited for intermediate to extreme hiking and not for novices.
Crest-Nogal Peak Trailhead accesses the north-central portion of the White Mountain Wilderness Area. Novice to advanced hikers can enjoy this area. The views are exceptional as the trail follows the spine of the mountain range. Novice and intermediates should stick to the Crest Trail. Advanced hikers can use this Trailhead as a jumping point to more remote portions of the Wilderness.
Crest-Monjeau Peak Trailhead provides access to the southeastern portion of the White Mountain Wilderness. This Trailhead provides the easiest access to the top of the mountains, and as a result, is one of the more popular hiking areas in the Wilderness. A shuttle vehicle is required to hike the entire Crest Trail. Most hikers, who originate hikes from this location, are hiking the Crest Trail. Loop hikes are possible, but wise hikers will start loop hikes from the canyon bottoms where the last half of the hike is downhill.
South Fork Rio Bonito Trailhead (closed) accesses the south-central portion of the White Mountain Wilderness. This area may very well be some of the most scenic in the Wilderness. The Trailhead is located just above Bonito Lake and as a result, the lower parts of the trails experience heavy use during the summer season. Novices to advanced hikers will all find what they are looking for in a hiking experience from the South Fork Trailhead. It provides the only fishing opportunities in the Wilderness as well.
Three Rivers Trailhead accesses the southwest portion of the White Mountain Wilderness Area. A well-developed Forest Service campground is available at the Trailhead. Several horse corrals have also been constructed for public use. The Three Rivers Trailhead provides hiking opportunities for novices to experts.
Mills Trailhead (closed) accesses the eastern portion of the White Mountain Wilderness Area. Although this Trailhead is one of the easiest to access, it does not receive very high use. Novices to advanced hikers can find hiking to meet their demand by how far they hike before turning around.
Scenic Trailhead accesses the extreme southern portion of the White Mountain Wilderness Area. The Trailhead receives moderate use due to the proximity of a paved road, but provides the best look at an alpine ecosystem. The hiking is most suitable for novice to intermediate hikers. The trails are well maintained, signed, and easy to follow.
Alternative Hiking Trails
Carrizo, Patos & Vera Cruz Mountain Trails Capitan Wilderness Area
Cedar Creek Mountain Biking and Hiking Trails Cloudcroft Hiking Information
Camping in the Lincoln National Forest
The Lincoln National Forest in the Smokey Bear and Sacramento districts includes over 700,000 acres of forest for outdoor recreation. There are a number of developed and dispersed campsites in these two areas.
Smokey Bear Ranger District - (575) 257-4095
Argentina/Bonito Trailhead: Open year-round.
A site favored for horseback riding.
- Facilities: Tent/RV campsites with vault toilets. No drinking water.
- Features: Creek. Hiking trails. Horse corrals.
Directions: Highway 48 to Highway 37 to Bonito Lake turnoff. Watch for signs.
Cedar Creek Recreation Area: Seasonal: Open spring through fall.
Camping areas for group camping and a day-use picnic area. Reservations required at www.reservation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777.
- Facilities: Three group camping areas and 23 picnic sites for tent/RV with picnic tables, grills, drinking water, vault toilets.
- Features: Hiking trails. Fitness trail. Pavilion
Directions: Immediately adjacent to the north of the Smokey Bear Ranger Station is Cedar Creek Rd (Forest road 88). Turn left on this road, follow Forest Road 88 for less than 1 mile and you will see the signs and gates for the picnic area on your right.
Monjeau Lookout Camping Area: Seasonal: Open spring through fall. However, Monjeau is closed until further notice with significant fire damage.
A site with panoramic views of the National Forest. Often windy.
- Facilities: 4 campsites with picnic tables and grills. Toilets. No drinking water.
- Features: Historic Monjeau lookout tower built by CCC. Spectacular views from tower.
Directions: Highway 48 to ski area road. Turn right onto Monjeau Road. Continue to top. Road is steep and rocky, and may be closed due to inclement weather. Check with Ranger Station.
Oak Grove Camping Area: Seasonal: Open spring through fall. Developed camping off of Highway 532
- Facilities: 30 campsites with picnic tables and grills. Vault toilets. No drinking water.
- Features: Windy Point Vista and Ski Apache nearby.
Directions: Highway 48 to ski area road. Watch for signs
Sam Tobias Memorial Group Campground: Seasonal: Open spring through fall.
- Tent camping, trailer camping, picnic tables, drinking water and parking.
Directions: Immediately adjacent to the north of the Smokey Bear Ranger Station is Cedar Creek Rd (Forest road 88). Turn left on this road, follow Forest Road 88 for less than 1 mile and you will see the signs and gates for the campgrounds on your right. This campground is the 2nd set of facilities you will see on your right.
Schoolhouse Picnic Area: Closed due to fire damage from the Little Bear Fire.
- Day use, picnic tables, toilets, drinking water and parking.
Directions: Follow NM 48, 9 miles north from Ruidoso; turn west (left) and follow NM 37 for 1-1/2 miles, turn southwest (left) on Forest Road 107 (County Road C-009), continue for 5 miles. The Picnic area is just before Bonito Lake.
Skyline Camping Area: Seasonal: Open spring through fall.
Dispersed camping near Monjeau Lookout
- Facilities: 17 campsites with picnic tables and grills. Vault toilets. No drinking water.
- Features: Historic Monjeau lookout tower nearby.
Directions: Highway 48 to ski area road. Turn right onto Monjeau Road. Watch for signs
South Fork Campground: Seasonal: Open spring through fall. However, this campsite is closed until further notice with significant fire damage.
- Facilities: 60 tent/RV campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, flush toilets.
- Features: Two handicapped sites. Hiking trails.
Directions: Highway 48 to Highway 37 to Bonito Lake turnoff. Continue 5 miles to campsite.
Three Rivers Campground: Open year-round and available for use
Lower elevation (6000') campground. Good winter camping.
- Facilities: 14 tent/RV campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets.
- Features: Flowing creek. Hiking trails. Beautiful views of Sierra Blanca.
Directions: Highway 70 to Alamogordo, Highway 54 north 17 miles to Three Rivers turnoff, then 15 miles.
Philadelphia Canyon: Open, however, this trail has severe fire damage from the Little Bear Fire it is not recommended at this time
- Facilities: Tent campsites. No toilets. No drinking water.
- Features: Bonito Creek. Hiking (Mills Canyon trailhead.)
Directions: Highway 48 to Highway 37 to Bonito Lake turnoff. Watch for signs 3/4 mile from turnoff on right.
Pennsylvania Canyon: Open year-round.
A beautiful site that is not often visited.
- Facilities: No toilets. No drinking water.
- Features: Creek.
Directions: Highway 48 to Highway 37 almost to Nogal. Turn left on forest road 400. Proceed 5 miles, then right on FR-5628.