Finding America by RV—New Mexico’s Billy the Kid Trail

Chasing down legends of the Old West doesn’t have to be a rugged journey, thanks to modern RV comforts.  Our next installment in our Finding America by RV series takes us to east central New Mexico, where Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway loops through Wild West towns, a frontier fort and enough outdoor experiences to keep you busy for weeks. 

How Do We Get There?

Billy the Kid Trail is easy to reach by RV.  From Albuquerque, travel south on I-25 to the ghost town of San Antonio, NM and then southeast on US-380 to Capitan (about a three-hour journey). It’s also an eight-hour drive from Denver using the same interstate.

The Trail itself is the loop formed by NM-48, Hwy-70 and Hwy-380, with a dash across the middle to Fort Stanton NCA on NM-220. On your way you’ll pass through Ruidoso, Hondo, Lincoln and Capitan, NM.

What Can We See and Do There?

Billy the Kid Trail takes you through the pine forests, mountains and mesas of Lincoln National Forest, with two rivers—the Rio Bonito and Rio Ruidoso, providing scenic and recreation possibilities. You’ll begin to understand why the Trail’s namesake, that infamous teenage gunslinger, was able to hide so well here with his Regulators following the bloody Lincoln County War in the late 1870s.

The Sierra Blanca Range will surround you throughout your journey, with the highest peak in southern New Mexico, Sierra Blanca Peak, visible to your southwest on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Besides the Southwestern wilderness through which you’ll travel, you’re also going to discover some fascinating Wild West locations.

Starting with the town of Ruidoso, at the intersection of Hwy-70 and NM-48, you’ll get a sense of the many cultures who built the region. This mountain town with a scenic river flowing through it is also surrounded by adventure, with Ski Apache on Sierra Blanca Peak offering excellent skiing in winter (and views from New Mexico’s only ski gondola year-round) and world-famous horse racing just down the road at Ruidoso Downs.

Plunge into New Mexico’s outlaw history by traveling east on Hwy-70 to Hondo and then north on Hwy-380 to Lincoln, NM, scene of the two-year skirmish known as the Lincoln County War. Lincoln State Monument is a well-preserved collection of 1870s structures that tell the story of two ranchers who once owned the only store in immense Lincoln County and kept a stranglehold on supplies for nearby Fort Stanton, as well as neighboring ranches.

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

The museums, buildings and exhibits bear witness to the bloody struggle that erupted when a second store was opened in the region, supported by Billy the Kid and his ‘Regulators’. They also tell the story of the arrest, escape and murderous exploits of the Kid following the Lincoln County Wars, before being gunned down by Pat Garrett in 1881.

And that’s not all you’ll find along this national scenic byway that tells the tale of this region’s history. Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area, in the middle of your loop, is a national treasure. From the Rio Bonito Petroglyph National Trail, bearing witness to the Jornada Mogollon people who lived in the region from 1 AD to 1500 AD, to artifacts from the days African American Buffalo Soldiers were based at the fort, the story will be fascinating.

Besides the Petroglyph Trail, more than ninety miles of trails invite hikers and mountain bikers to discover the secrets of the NCA’s desert mountain terrain. Keep your eyes open for mule deer, elk and black bears as you drive, hike or ride within the National Conservation Area. Speaking of conserving wildlife, Snowy River Cave isn’t open to non-scientific exploration at the present time, in order to eradicate a disease threatening area bat populations.

Where Can We Camp Near Billy the Kid Trail?

You may have already guessed that this national byway is a favorite of RV travelers to New Mexico. Because it is, you’ll discover every style RV campground along your route. In Lincoln National Forest, for example, fans of boondocking are allowed to camp along forest roadways, as long as they observe certain guidelines.

There are also two developed campgrounds with inexpensive campsites within the national forest. For those who prefer a little more comfort when RV camping in New Mexico, private campgrounds near Ruidoso and Alto are waiting to welcome you on your visit.

There you have it, one more reason to rent an RV or take your own motorhome out of storage when camping season calls. Billy the Kid Trail—a journey to find history, beauty and adventure in New Mexico.

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