Cloudcroft, New Mexico: Snowshoe Gem of the Southwest

My husband Darrel and I, both keen outdoorsmen, are now retired and free to enjoy biking, hiking, camping, and all manner of outdoor activities. We’ve moved to New Mexico, known as the “Land of Enchantment”, and it truly is just that for us.

We’re delighted to live “cheek by jowl” with wildlife neighbors – mule and whitetail deer, elk, bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, 21 species of birds of prey, roadrunner, and songbirds, lizards, and yes, rattlesnakes. All welcome subjects of Darrels’ lens, he produces gorgeous images of the natural world around us.

Darrel is also active in Alamogordo Search and Rescue, keeping in shape by rappelling and rock climbing while I enjoy landscaping, birding, and habitat gardening. We both hike regularly and work out at a local gym.

Our newest sport – snowshoeing

A few years ago, we tried snowshoeing while vacationing with family in Colorado. Though we trudged along with Swedish military surplus gear, circa 1940, we were hooked! We knew we could enjoy this new sport “in our own backyard” and immediately purchased modern gear and boots.

couple on snowshoes in front of trees under cloudy sky

The authors, Lynda & Darrel doing their new favorite sport. Photo: Darrel Heller

Our backyard – Sacramento Mountains

We live in Alamogordo, New Mexico, at the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains. Located in the Chihuahuan desert (elevation 4330’), we enjoy a very mild winter, with constantly sunny skies and no snow to speak of. However, a short 20-30 minute drive “up the hill” brings us to the old western mountain village of Cloudcroft, a perfect destination for southern New Mexico snowshoeing.

Located in the Sacramentos, at an elevation of 9000’, Cloudcroft’s winter snows are a reliable fixture of the season. In fact, Cloudcroft boasts the southernmost ski area in the US.

Established in the late 19th century, Cloudcroft owes its design to the booming local logging industry of the time and the interdependent Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway, built to move product to and from lumber mills. Though the railroad discontinued operations in1948, tourism remains a thriving industry……and with good reason.

snowshoeing in New Mexico: aspens and pines lined up on a snowy trail

Beautiful aspen trees and Ponderosa pines on the trail. Photo: Darrel Heller

Many marvels and unique trails

In addition to its many other attractions, Cloudcroft is home to some of the most stunning trails we’ve ever seen. Here, abandoned railroad lines have been converted into multi-use recreational trails. New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Association, originally established and now maintains more than 90 miles (145 km) of connecting trails. My go-to app for fitness, travel, trail maps, and conditions, AllTrails, features 113 of them!

Our favorite waterfall – Bridal Veil Falls

On any given day, snowshoers can choose to hike in an area where you can hear the distant rumble of mountain waterfalls. Or snowshoe directly to our favorite waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls, approached from the Grandview or Salado trailheads.

Bridal Veil was an original train stop where tourists from Texas and southern New Mexico came to cool off in the waterfall’s mist. Now, remnants of the Salado Canyon trestle have been restored as a hiking bridge.

Located in Fresnal Canyon, you can access the trailheads to Bridal Veil Falls by heading west from Burro Avenue (from now on will be referred to as the heart of Cloudcroft) onto NM Hwy 82 for 8 miles (12.8 km). Then, turn right on Cherry Blossom Way, left onto Cottage Row, and left onto Fresnal Canyon Road. Trailheads are on the right and left side of the road, and the drive is spectacular.

Read More: Red River, New Mexico: A Place for Family Fun in the Southern Rockies

frozen waterfall surrounded by rock and trees

You can catch a stunning view of Bridal Veil Falls. Photo: Darrel Heller

Too many favorites – Osha Trail

This 2.4-mile (3.9 km) loop is located less than 5 minutes from the heart of town. You can park on Burro Avenue and walk onto the trail.

Go snowshoeing through the vanilla-scented silent forest of tall Ponderosa pines, studded with stark white southern New Mexico aspen groves. Soon you’ll be treated to a show-stopping view of White Sands National Park. You will want your camera!

view of White Sands National Park from trail near Cloudcroft NM

The view of White Sands from Osha Trail is show-stopping. Photo: Darrel Heller

So much wildlife – Fir and Little Apache Loop Trail

From Cloudcroft’s heart (Burro Avenue), head left on NM Hwy 82 for 1.3 miles (2 km). Then, take a left on NM 244 1.9 miles (3 km), and right turn into Silver Campground parking area.

Again, don’t forget your camera on this 5.4-mile (8.7 km) trail, as you’re likely to see small herds of wild horses and elk and many other woodland animals, woodpeckers, and wild turkeys.

Read More: A New Found Passion: Wildlife Tracking and Identification

snowshoeing in New Mexico: horses on a snowy trail with trees

Wild horses are hanging out on Little Apache Trail. Photo: Darrel Heller

Just one more – Switchback Trail

This trail is unique and fun because it crosses NM Hwy 82, high above the village, via a pedestrian bridge. And yes, it’s so worth removing snowshoes for a little bit while hiking up to, crossing over, and then down the long staircase to complete this 4.3-mile (7 km) loop.

You’ll snowshoe through pretty forest corridors where the original railroad switchback is explained along the way. Furthermore, you’ll see old photos with the original views as you walk the trail.

Accommodations and sights

Once you’ve finished your snowshoeing these beautiful southern New Mexico trails, Cloudcroft and the surrounding area have many options for accommodations and other sights to explore.

You won’t want to leave – The Lodge

Remember Cloudcroft’s rich railway history? Well before New Mexico attained statehood, the Lodge was built in 1889 for summer tourists arriving in town to enjoy the crisp cool mountain air of the Sacramento Mountains.

This Victorian-style mountain retreat also offers pub-style and elegant dining and a spa, pool, and 9 hole golf course, along with fascinating history. As quoted from the Albuquerque Journal of the time, “Its interior will be furnished with a lavish hand….Fireplaces, with wide hungry mouths, will sparkle, crackle, and dart forth welcome tongues of flame to hundreds of merry guests….”

The Lodge offers this old-world elegance today. Don’t forget to borrow the key to the bell tower (ask at the front desk), where in addition to a breathtaking view, you’ll see the signatures from former guests like Clark Gable and Judy Garland.

In addition to the Lodge, there are lots of other fun places to stay. We like the Cabins at Cloudcroft, (575) 682-2396.

Must see – White Sands National Park

While you’re here, don’t miss the amazing White Sands National Park. Here you’ll find 275 square miles (442.5 km) of wave-like, glistening white dunes and the largest gypsum field in the world.

You’ll switch from shoeing in deep snow to sledding down huge sand dunes and likely enjoy temps some 20 degrees warmer. There are also many more opportunities – moonlight hiking, sandshoeing, biking, lectures and musical events, camping, picnicking and ranger programs.

After White Sands, stay “down in the desert” for a bite to eat. We love Casa de Suenos, (575) 585-3494. Or head back “up the hill” to the Cloudcroft Brewing Company on Burro Avenue for a fun variety of beer and cider, live music, and great food.

For additional events and festivals, please contact Cloudcroft Chamber of Commerce.

A view above – Sunspot Solar Observatory

While driving around town, you’ll have noticed blue highway signs bearing the names of planets. The distance from downtown Cloudcroft to Sunspot Visitor Center is scaled to correspond to the distance between the sun and Pluto. Other planets are placed to scale from the sun.

Operating from 1962 to 1982, the Sunspot Solar Observatory is now open daily to visitors, except Tuesday and Wednesday. Check out Sunspot’s interesting history while walking a ½ mile loop around the grounds, which features the Dunn Solar Telescope.

Go snowshoeing in southern New Mexico

Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and the surrounding area offer excellent snowshoeing trails, food, history, and unique landmarks. Come up for snowshoeing and head home with a big smile and a host of unexpected adventures under your belt.  See you on the trail!

What are some of your favorite snowshoeing and hiking trails and sights in southern New Mexico and the Cloudcroft area? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments below.

About the author

Lynda and Darrel Heller

Lynda and Darrel took up snowshoeing a few years ago while vacationing in CO. They are retired in Alamogordo NM and snowshoe many winter days "up-mountain" in Cloudcroft, NM. Lynda's stories have been published in Grit, Country, Country Woman, and several birding magazines, while Darrel enjoys photography of the natural world. They focus on outdoor activities and the natural beauty and diverse wildlife they encounter in their travels.

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