- 84 miles (135 km)
- 2 hours to drive the Byway
- There are no fees along the Byway.
Billy the Kid Trail pays tribute to the infamous "Wild West" outlaw and several other western icons, including Smokey the Bear. From the Hubbard Museum of the American West, to Fort Stanton, to the Lincoln State Monument, to the Smokey Bear Museum and Park, the region promises exciting experiences filled with culture, history, and recreation.
In Ruisodo Downs, the Hubbard Museum of the American West boasts a distinction among the Southwest's museums. More than a mere collection of wagons and photos, it chronicles the contributions of the horse to western culture. Dave McGary's remarkable horse sculpture, "Free Spirits at Noisy Water," sits at the museum's entrance. Wander inside to find a diverse collection of fine art, family heirlooms, and western memorabilia. Visit the museum and watch as the history of the West unfolds.
For a more interactive experience with nature, travel north to Fort Stanton, which features fantastic camping, hiking, and horseback riding. Explore the series of twelve caves that sits within the reservation's borders. The most famous of the twelve, Fort Stanton Cave is the third longest cave in New Mexico. These caves, open to the public, also provide the perfect setting for universities, archaeologists, and anthropologists to conduct studies on prehistoric Indian culture and land geography. Fort Stanton lies in the heart of the Fort Stanton Reservation. Originally constructed in 1855, it protected Anglo-European and Hispanic settlers from Native American invasions and served as a frontier outpost. It also housed a number of famous westerners, including Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, and General "Black Jack" Pershing.
From Fort Stanton, backtrack west to the Smokey Bear Museum and Park in Capitan. This quaint place pays homage to a courageous little bear that remains the nation's icon for fighting and preventing forest fires. While exploring the park, see the beautiful Capitan Mountains where the fire started years ago. Heading east on the Trail, stop at the Lincoln State Monument and see the town of Lincoln like it was in the late 1800s. Visit the museums, particularly the old Court House, which offers a fascinating look into the area's history.
No place along Billy the Kid Trail is capable of claiming excitement through merely one channel. The region offers more than "just" recreation or "only" history. A combination of culture, Western American history, and recreation complements the grassy plains, dense pine forests, and stunning mountain views of the natural terrain.
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Byway Visitor Center (NM)
Your first stop along the Byway should be at the Byway Visitor Center in Ruidoso Downs. The center houses a trove of information about major attractions in the area. Explore the photos and text along the walls of the 1,400 square foot gallery. Take a fun mini-tour of the Byway by walking the floor. The gallery floor has been painted with a map of the Byway and neighboring communities, and the mountains are three-dimensional, too!
The heart of the Fort Stanton Reservation is historic Fort Stanton. Located exactly 15 miles northeast of Ruidoso, the fort was built in 1855 to protect Anglo-European and Hispanic settlers in the area from Native American invasions. The fort also served as the home for a renowned unit of the black soldiers of the 9th Calvary, nicknamed the "Buffalo Soldiers." Through the 1800s it served as a frontier outpost and protected local settlers from the Mescalero Apache Indians.
Many famous western personalities once stopped at Fort Stanton, including Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, and General "Black Jack" Pershing. With the coming of peace in 1896, Fort Stanton was abandoned. In 1899 President McKinley found use for the Fort once again. It was designated as a U.S. Marine Hospital that specialized in the treatment of patients with tuberculosis. After 40 years of serving tuberculosis patients, Fort Stanton then served as an internment camp for German and Japanese prisoners of war from World War II.
In 1953, Fort Stanton and 1,320 acres surrounding it were donated to the New Mexico State Department of Public Welfare. The Department transformed Fort Stanton into a hospital to serve the needs of the developmentally disabled. In the mid-1990s, this hospital was closed. Fort Stanton is currently a New Mexico State Prison for Women.
The Fort Stanton Reservation offers many recreationalopportunities that include camping, hiking, and horseback riding. Also located on the reservation are a series of 12 caves, the most famous being Fort Stanton Cave, the third longest in New Mexico. These caves are open to the public, and are also used by universities, archaeologists, and anthropologists to conduct studies on prehistoric Indian culture and land geography.
Throughout history, the horse has played a dramatic role in theexploration and expansion of the cultures of the world. More thanjust a collection of wagons and photos, the Hubbard Museum of theAmerican West chronicles the contributions of the horse, aremarkable animal. The museum has gained prominence among museumslocated in the Southwest. The awesome equine sculpture by DaveMcGary, "Free Spirits at Noisy Water," graces the museum entrance.It has a richly diverse collection of fine art, family heirlooms,and western memorabilia. At the Hubbard Museum of the AmericanWest, history truly comes to life!
Lincoln is a village forgotten by time. The town's only street is lined with adobe homes and buildings dating from its colorful and often violent past. However, it wasn't always so peaceful. Gunshots often echoed in the surrounding hills during Lincoln's territorial days, some fired by the infamous outlaw William Bonney (Billy the Kid). Today's visitors can see the Old Lincoln CountyCourthouse Museum and walk in the footsteps of Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, and other characters of the West.
Because it looks much as it did just over one century ago, it isn't hard to picture the Kid's escape from the courthouse jail, the shootouts, and the more peaceful inhabitants taking cover as bullets flew. The Tunstall Store, where the leader of one of the legendary Lincoln County War factions had his business, still displays 19th Century merchandise on its shelves. Other historic sites include the old San Juan Church, the Montano Store, a frontier doctor's office, and historic buildings in the community.
Lincoln National Forest (NM)
This Forest is known as the birthplace of the world-famous Smokey Bear, the living symbol of the campaign to prevent forest fires. The original bear is buried in Capitan, New Mexico.
Lincoln State Monument (NM)
In 1869, with the formation of the county named in honor ofPresident Lincoln, the Territorial Legislature changed thisfrontier town's name, for the third time, to Lincoln. Manybuildings have been restored, and the town kept much the same as itwas in the late 1800s.
The Lincoln County War, the last great shootout of the Old West,grew from a conflict between two rival mercantile operations, theMurphy-Dolan and Tunstall stores. Lawyer Alexander McSween, aTunstall partner, was killed in the "Five Day Battle." His widow,Susan, went on to become known as the "Cattle Queen of New Mexico."She is buried in the cemetery at White Oaks. The Lincoln CountyCourthouse, where Billy the Kid was jailed, was once theMurphy-Dolan store. Billy escaped on April 25, 1881, killing twodeputies. Three months later, Billy was killed by Sheriff PatGarrett at Ft. Sumner.
Visit several museums, including the old Court House, for afascinating look into history.
Ruidoso is an enchanting village named for the river Rio Ruidoso ("noisy river") that runs through it. You will find a surprising array of restaurants and lodging here. Ruidoso offers fine art galleries and truly outstanding shopping. It features five golf courses, as well as hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Of course, casino gambling and horse race wagering are only moments away. The town boasts one of the biggest and best civic centers in the entire state.
Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino is home of the prestigious quarter horse race, the All American Futurity. The race track opened in 1946, with the All American Futurity beginning in 1959. This race is one of the richest quarter horse races, with a guaranteed $1 million going to the winner and a total purse of over $2 million. The All American Futurity, the Ruidoso Futurity, and the Rainbow Futurity are known at the racetrack to be the Triple Crown of quarter horse racing.
Ski Apache (NM)
Owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache Indian Tribe, Ski Apache offers exceptional skiing opportunities.
From Ruidoso, take NM-48 north. At the junction with NM-532, turn left and go west until you come to Ski Apache.
The Smokey Bear Museum and Park, located in Capitan, New Mexico, pays tribute to a courageous little bear that has become the nation's symbol for fighting and preventing forest fires. Smokey's body is buried in the park that bears his name. The museum is open to all. From this location, one can see the beautiful Capitan Mountains, where the fire started many years ago.
Map + Directions
There are several ways to travel this Byway. For example youcan begin the loop in Ruidoso and follow US 70 to Hondo. FromHondo take US 380 to Capitan. In Capitan get onto NM 48 andfollow it back to Ruidoso.
The most direct way to access the Trail from each direction:
North: Take Hwy 54 to Carrizozo then take Hwy 380 toCapitan.
South: Take Hwy 54 from Alamogordo to Hwy 70 toRuidoso.
East: Take Hwy 380 from Roswell to Capitan.
West: Take Hwy 380 from San Antonia to Capitan.