Visiting Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area For The Trails
Often times, the way I choose places to go next is by looking at a map and finding all the green public lands around us. That’s how we arrived at Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area. The sites I read online said it has around 93 miles of trails for hiking and riding (and horse riding). On top of that, there was the nearby town of Ruidoso that sounded neat (they have a 12 hour mountain bike race there).
While Carlsbad Caverns itself is a sight to see, the landscape around there it wasn’t my favorite. It’s the desolate kind of desert where it feels…well, all the emotions that desolation brings.
So, heading to Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave was much welcomed. Especially when there were shrubs taller than my shins and trees!
We were surprised to find out that New Mexico has some really nice free campgrounds. We stayed at Cave Canyon Campground in Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave and even though it’s a small campground with only three sites, each site had a covered picnic shelter, picnic table (minus ours), and fire ring. Not only was the campground really clean, but the pit toilet was spotless! It was seriously the cleanest pit toilet I’ve ever seen. (You can read my review for the campground on Campendium.)
Snowy River Cave entrance is in Cave Canyon Campground, except that it’s closed indefinitely because of the threat of White Nose Syndrome that killing bats (yes that’s a really bad thing, did you know that bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-size insects every hour?). It probably would’ve been something to visit the cave because it’s over 31 miles long, making it the second longest cave in New Mexico. It’s named Snowy River after its snow-like appearance that the bright white calcite covering the “riverbed” causes.
But there are several trails that can be hiked and mountain biked from this campground, and that’s what we took advantage of. The trails we rode were OK to fun, but not great. The only trail that we rode and is worth mentioning is Fort Stanton South trail. Although the trails getting there isn't all that. But, this is what we expected since they’re not built for mountain biking. We did ride out to the Petroglyph Trail to check that out.
If you’re a history buff, the old town of Fort Stanton with 88 buildings, now a state monument (free to visit), is a bikeable distance away. There’s also Lincoln Historic Site, another historic town that we actually drove through on our way here from Carlsbad. There’s a $5 entrance fee/person. We didn’t visit this.
There’s nothing “epic” about this national conservation area. But it met a lot of the things we were looking for at the time: cooler temperatures (it’s at just over 6,000 ft.), good boondocking spot (green views and a picnic shelter for our hammocks), trails accessible without driving, and good cell signal. We were in need of a place to chill out and catch up on some work – and this place did it for us. Then our last night there we met a couple who was camping at the shelter next to us. They’re from Salt Lake City and on a road trip with their two dogs. We spent the evening chatting with them and drinking a bit too much wine.
Oh, and the Ruidoso town that I mentioned in the beginning of this post – I had such high hopes for it after reading through its visitor website. It seemed like there would be good mountain biking trails and a cool downtown area. But we took a day trip there to scout out boondocking sites. We found a couple good spots, but none of them had any cell signal which we needed to have, and the town itself just didn’t give off the right vibe. The combination of these things (and some other external factors) made us move on without even checking out the trails. Perhaps we’ll make it back one day.
We were here from April 27 - May 1, 2018.