Billy the Kid and Smoky the Bear, NM

  • Distance

    102 Mi.

    (164 KM)
  • Days

    2-3

  • % Unpaved

    70%

  • % Singletrack

    0%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    5

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    9,000'

    (2,743 M)
  • High Point

    8,700'

    (2,652 M)
Nestled in the crook of a deep and chiselled valley, Ruidoso, New Mexico, isn't a place you'd likely stumble upon by chance - unless you were seeking out the most southerly ski resort in the States. Set in the mellow yet undeniably beautiful Lincoln National Forest, its Sierra Blanca peak erupts from the brittle dry plains of the Chihuahua Desert, towering almost 12,000ft above sea level.
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(Note – at the time of riding, this route was completely legal. Until we work out reroutes, please refer to this map for current issues and adjust your plans according. Thanks to Colt Felters for the update)

Founded in 1885, the town’s name – noisy, in Spanish – harks back to a former life, when the quiet river it flanks was known as roaring Rio Ruidoso. Indeed, the whole area is steeped in history from the pages of the Old West, notably through its association with Sheriff Pat Garett and the notorious frontier outlaw William H. Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. The old courthouse in neighbouring Lincoln is even pocked with gunshots from one of Bonney’s particularly daring and bloody escapes.

Surrounding Ruidoso lies the beguiling Lincoln National Forest, the setting for pine, fir, aspen, oak and grassland meadows – as well as an equally diverse web of dirt roads offering miles of bikepacking potential.

Nearby Fort Stanton, now developed into the area’s most extensive singletrack network, claims a similarly colourful past, with protagonists that include cavalries of Buffalo Soldiers, Kit Carsen (trapper, scout, soldier and a dime novel hero), as well as the Mascalero Apaches, whose ancestral home this region lies in. Be sure to check out the fascinating museum, packed as it is with old black and white photos depicting moustachioed, banjo-playing soldiers, and Apache elders solemnly signing treaties.

Further round the loop, fuel up in Capitan and pop into the Smokey Bear Historical Park, established in 1979 to honor the settlement’s favorite son, Smokey Bear. Nearly three decades earlier, Smokey was an orphaned little bear cub with burned paws, found in the aftermath of the Capitan Gap wildfire, who later rose to fame as the icon for forest fire prevention nationwide. At the visitors center, learn about forest health, wildfires, the science of fire ecology, and a historical look at wildfire prevention.

With its blend of natural beauty and historical intrigue, this pocket of south-central New Mexico is filled with possibilities – you could easily add in another day to the ride and extend your explorations towards White Oaks, or spend some time railing round the area’s developed trails.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Resources

    link

  • Exploring the mellow but sublimely beautiful dirt roads in the national forest.
  • Expansive views of the brittle dry Chihuahuan Desert.
  • Classic New Mexican skies! Cloudless days and star filled nights…
  • Frontier intrigue and Native American history.
  • We used the free black and white Forest Service map, the Lincoln National Forest map, and Gaia’s topo mapping, on my smartphone, which doubled up as our GPS.
  • The museum in Fort Stanton shows a short video on the area’s history, which really helped infuse a sense of context to our journey.
  • Lying some three hours drive south from Santa Fe and two from ABQ, NM (and two from El Paso, TX), the climate is a notch warmer than much of the South West, making it the perfect spot for a late winter/spring break bikepacking escape… We rode in February, enjoying warm days and chilly but bearable nights.
  • Ruidoso lies at just under 7000ft (just over 2,000m) so it’s possible out of town visitors will notice the altitude.
  • We camped in National Forest while we were in the area.
  • We encountered plenty of water along the way, including at various water tanks, Fort Stanton museum (and at the Horse Trails Parking Lot, on 220), and Capitan.
  • Bear in mind we were riding early in the year – at the beginning of February – so temperatures were cool. Travel later in the year and you may need to load up on my liquids.
  • Food options abound in Ruidoso – whatever you do, don’t miss Porky’s Mexican Restaurant. Incredible!
  • Capitan has burritos at the gas station.
  • Had we made it to White Oaks, we’d undoubtedly have frequented the No Scum Allowed Saloon…

We rode out of Ruidoso on 70, turning off onto FR 443 and 558, crossing the highway at Glencoe to ride up Diablo Canyon (E7). Briefly skirting round some of Fort Stanton’s singletrack network, we then detoured into Fort Stanton itself to avoid the galeforce winds gusting that day, before crossing over onto FR338A, C1, and taking FR142 back to pavement at Capitan. Then, we cut back towards Nogal (FR105), turning off to climb Nogal Canyon (FR400), and returning to Ruidoso via Alto on the 48.

 

 

Additional Info

  • With more time, we’d have loved to have made it further north to the settlement of White Oaks, home to the characterful No Scum Allowed Saloon, as well as exploring the northern side of the Capitan Wilderness. The towns of Carrizoso and Lincoln would doubtlessly be cool places to visit too.
  • On this occasion, we were keeping to dirt roads rather searching out singletrack. Recommended trails within a mile from Ruidoso include the Grindstone Lake and Cedar Creek trails. The Fort Stanton area has also been developed, and would make a great pit stop on a bikepacking route. The best trails at the fort are considered to be the ’12 Hours in the Wild West Loop’: Kit Carson, Capitan Overlook, Buffalo Solider and Outlaw trails.
  • Did you know… The one-street settlement of Capitan is home to Smokey Bear, the mascot of the National Forest, named after a black bear cub that was rescued from a fire in the Capitan Gap.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Rob Grey

    so many places to ride in NM. must get back there.

    great photos, as always.

  • Mark Troup

    Extending the trip down to Cloudcroft and White Sands is another great option. The Lincoln National Forest is a wonderful place.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Thanks Rob. Such great dirt road riding here!

  • Cass Gilbert

    I love White Sands, such in incredible spot. Would like to check out Cloudcroft sometime – it was a little chilly when we were in the area. I heard there’s a great Ruidoso-Cloudcroft–El Paso route.

  • Taylor Thompson Lancaster

    Mark Troup! Is this the same guy I met?

  • Taylor Thompson Lancaster

    This looks like such a great route. What kind of tires do you think would work well on this kind of terrain? I have a surly lht with an xtracycle on the back

  • It’s pretty much all mellow terrain, from what I remember. The wider the better, of course, but just about anything goes.

    PS I love Xtracycles!

  • Cass Gilbert

    It’s pretty much all mellow terrain, from what I remember. The wider the better, of course, but just about anything goes.

    PS I love Xtracycles!

  • Mark Troup

    It is, Taylor. Traded my backpack for a set of wheels and hitting the road for a couple years in 2018.

  • Mark Troup

    Cloudcroft is a really chill little town. Be sure to check out Mad Jack’s Barbecue when you’re there! Good eats!

  • Taylor Thompson Lancaster

    Do you happen to know what would fit on a surly lht with an xtracycle? Love to get a pro opinion

  • Taylor Thompson Lancaster

    Right on man. I’m planning the same. Lemme know where you’re headed! We could do a trip. Taylancaster@gmail.com

  • Mike

    I like what you did with the goal zero panel on your bar bag. Was it worth the set up?

  • Cass Gilbert

    In sunny New Mexico at least, it works great. Takes the better part of a winter’s day for a full iPhone charge. Nowadays though, I run a dynamo and a Sinewave Revolution (http://www.sinewavecycles.com/products/sinewave-revolution) which suits me better.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Surly say the LHT has clearance for 2.1s. I’m not too sure if the fork has a bit more room or not. Certainly, the Xtracycle has clearance for wider rubber. I think I used to run 2.3s on mine, though it depends on rim/tyres of course.

  • Taylor Thompson Lancaster

    Thanks for the help Cass. I’m still new to tire sizes. Is 2.1 in the ‘thickness’ of the tire? I have 26in wheels

  • Cass Gilbert

    This is the width of the tire – you’ll see number on its casing.

  • Taylor Thompson Lancaster

    Thanks

  • RP

    Great images & information! I will be visiting Ruidoso for one week in mid-March. What are the expected road/trail conditions for cycling in the area & can anyone suggest some good routes for on or off-road day rides? I’m preparing for a week long hut to hut ride from Durango to Moab later this year & this will be a great opportunity to get some riding in at altitude!

  • Patrick Reimonn

    I’m planning to do certain parts as day rides with my girlfriend. Which parts do you recommend as having the best views?
    Thanks!

  • Cass Gilbert

    Hi Patrick.

    Honestly, it’s a while since I’ve ridden this route, so pulling out the best views is a bit tricky. It’s all very scenic, in a mellow, New Mexican kind of way. Get to any high point, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

  • Michael Brown

    Hoping to do the Billy the Kid this September, are there enough trees along the trail to allow for just planning on hammock camping? Thanks!

  • Jonathan McCurdy

    Correction: Ski Valley on Mt Lemmon near Tucson, AZ is the southernmost ski resort in the US!

  • Christopher Camacho

    Double correction! Sierra Blanca (ski apache) is latitude 31.1746. Mt lemmon is latitude 32.4434, which makes Ski Apache significantly more southern. Sierra Blanca is also much higher at 12k ft altitude , versus 9k ft Mt Lemmon. I’ve heard that fib before ?

  • Christopher Camacho

    Sierra Blanca (ski apache) is latitude 31.1746. Mt lemmon is latitude 32.4434, which makes Ski Apache significantly more southern. Sierra Blanca is also much higher at 12k ft altitude , versus 9k ft Mt Lemmon.

  • Cass Gilbert

    What Christopher said!

  • Jonathan McCurdy

    Google maps just told me that Ski Apache is at 33 degrees and change. Some town in Texas called Sierra Blanca is at 31 degrees though. I mean if you look at a standard map it’s obvious. I didn’t make any claim to the altitude of Lemmon. And I’m sure the skiing in Ruidoso is far superior. But you can actually live and work in Tucson!

  • Jonathan McCurdy

    Also, Cloudcroft is another Ski Resort further south than Sierra Blanca, at 32.95, still doesn’t beat Mt. Lemmon ;) ;) ;)

  • btompkins0112

    Would it be ill advised to tackle this the first week of August?

  • Hunter Roberts

    would you encounter any problems riding this on a gravel bike?

  • Jake Kruse

    Recently moved to Las Cruces from Illinois. Went out and attempted to do this route in two days on single speeds… Let’s say it was a learning experience us midwesterners. Amazing roads and views despite our unpreparedness. Fort Stanton was great as well. Thanks for the route, we will try it again some time. There is a ton of amazing riding to do out in the Lincoln NF.

  • BriceL

    Hi, Im looking at doing a trail this summer but have a few questions. What is the narrowest tire width suggested to ride on? I have 33mm and could go up but will have to buy them. (trying to go for as cheap as possible) Are there spots at the designated camp grounds or other places to hammock camp? (again as cheap as possible since I don’t have a tent yet) Thank you for any help and I will be posting this exact thing on a few other routes to find which one works best.

  • Greg Johnson

    Just finished this. Go wider if you can. When the gravel is good, it’s fast. When it’s not, the 33’s will hurt. The only time I could see them being better is the 16 miles or so of pavement around Ruidoso. Hammock? Not a lot. Most of the eastern section is open with branchy Junipers. Bivy bag is more flexible. After starting in the Rio Bonito valley, I went CW. I camped in Coe Canyon. Have to clear the cow pies from any flat areas. Ft. Stanton would have been nicer. Water in Capitan, Rio Bonito and Ft Stanton but not much else.

  • Greg Johnson

    No, but go as wide a tire as you can.

  • Kevin Slemp

    Going to be doing this route later this month…. where is the best place to park for multiple days?

  • The fatter the better. I run 3″ WTB

  • Mick Sudano

    Heading out to do this in 2 weeks, Ruidoso mentions black bears in the area. Were you lucky enough to see any? Were there any requirements from the park office in this area? I planned on being prepared to hang a bear bag but looking at the route it appears there may not be many tress ( tall ones at least) on the eastern half of the trip.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Hi Mick, please note the access issues that have recently been reported, and the link to an updated map that shows these.

    I’ve never had an issue with bears but It’s always a good idea to hang food if you can. There aren’t always great opportunities to so on this route, so best to just do what you can!

  • Mick Sudano

    Thanks for the update (Colt) and heads up (Cass)! We’re going to try this – After leaving Fort Stanton we’ll head East on 380 to Salazar Canyon and hit C002. Follow that North toward C003 Santa Rita Canyon then Northwest again and it looks like it will meet up with C001 which should get us back on your original route and C006 North of Capitan. Appears to be all National Forest Land again and “hopefully” avoid the closed road Colt encountered. If it works we’ll report back for others.

  • fauxpho

    We rode the loop on Mar. 5/6. Did it as a credit card tour from Ruidoso, overnighting at Smokey Bear motel in Capitan. Multiple dining options in Capitan + a real grocery store and a dollar store, so plenty of resupply options there.
    To avoid the noted closures: east of Capitan we rode highway 380 and completely avoided the upper “lobe” north/east of Capitan, and we rode county road 17 (Cora Dutton Rd, paved) and highway 37 to avoid the issues west of Capitan. FWIW, we didn’t ride in and confirm the closures, we just assumed they were legit. These re-routes change the nature of the route significantly. We had about 81 miles w/ 7500′ of climbing and nearly 45% on pavement.

  • Andrew Bydlon

    A friend and I just completed this route with a slight twist.

    A couple things to consider –

    – Vehicle parking at the Smokey the Bear Ranger District – 901 Mechem Dr, Ruidoso, NM 88345 is great. Just inform the staff of your plan and park in the smaller northwest lot.

    – A more bike friendly option to get to 70 out of Ruidoso for us was taking Mechem to Cree Meadow Drive, then left on Hull Rd, right on Warrior Dr and then right on Gavilan Canyon Rd until you hit 70.

    – We accidentally took 380 out of Capitan but found 105 connecting us back to the route. 105 was one of our favorite roads of the trip. 105 is called Ranchman Camp Road. We unfortunately cannot say if it’s better than the section we missed.

    – Pennsylvania Creek didn’t have water but was a nice camp spot.

    – Lots of wild turkey and deer a long the route.

    – We didn’t have trouble hanging our food each night.

    – I rode a Salsa Cutthroat and my buddy had a Surly Cross-Check with 42mm tires. I think he wished he had more tire but managed. Just watch out if you find yourself lost on 969P that road was really rough for him.

  • Mark Dyson

    Looks amazing. We’ll be doing this in October – has anyone done this in October? Interested in how many layers we’ll need sleeping bag set-up etc. Also, any maps on water locations?