Download Fort Stanton Roads and Trails Brochure.
Fort Stanton Recreation Area is comprised of 24,000 acres of BLM lands within the old Fort Stanton Military Reservation. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca Mountains in southern New Mexico, Fort Stanton uniquely blends mountain streams, rolling hills, mesas, and open bottomlands. Fort Stanton was carved out of Mescalero Apache homelands during the 1850’s. In 1855, the U.S. Cavalry established Fort Stanton as a Cavalry fort. During these tumultuous times, the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers were sent to the New Mexico Territory to protect settlers in the area. The area is currently managed by the BLM for biological, archaeological and scenic qualities, while also providing quality recreation opportunities.
Fort Stanton Recreation Area has 60 miles of horseback, mountain biking, and hiking trails that wind through open meadows and canyons. The trails offer great views of the surrounding Lincoln National Forest, and the Sacramento and Captain Mountains. The majority of the trails start at the Horse Trails Parking Lot on NM 220 where you will find hitching rails, water for your animals and a bathroom. In addition, 20 miles of roads are open for motorized use.
Historic Fort Stanton
Historic Fort Stanton is one of the few intact frontier forts in the West. It is likely that military patrols followed parts of the newly established trails in the area. Many of the original fort buildings still stand. From 1855 to 1896, the fort played host to some of the most colorful units and personalities of the West, including the 9th and 10th cavalry, the 24th and 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers, Billy the Kid, Colonel Kit Carson, and General “Black Jack” Pershing. The post was also a Merchant Marine hospital & tuberculosis sanatorium, and World War II prisoner of war camp. In 1953, the fort and 1,320 surrounding acres were transferred from Federal to State ownership, becoming a state hospital and training school until 1955. Today, the fort area is still active and the Fort Stanton Museum is open on a limited basis.
Fort Stanton Cave
With eleven miles of mapped passages, Fort Stanton cave is the third longest cave in New Mexico, and it is is widely known for its rare velvet formations. The cave also contains of helictites, aragonite, selenite needles and various forms of gypsum. The cave is open for recreational exploring by permit from April 15 to November 1. During the winter months the cave is closed to the public to protect hibernating bats. The cave is gated to protect other unique resources and to prevent unsupervised visitation. You may visit this undeveloped “wild” cave by contacting the BLM Roswell Field Office. In addition to the necessary permit, you will be required to provide your own basic caving equipment and observe the rules of conduct within the cave. Download a cave permit application, or it can be obtained from the Roswell Field Office.
Rio Bonito Petroglyph National Recreation Trail
Hike the Petroglyph Trail along the Rio Bonito and glimpse into the past. At the midpoint of the trail, in the river bed, is Petroglyph Rock. Etched on this rock are depictions of an ancient people known as the Jornada Mogollon who have long since left the area. Very little evidence has stood the test of time, but here on the Petroglyph Trail remains a link to the culture and lifestyle of these ancient people.
The trail can be reached from NM 220, west of the Sierra Blanca Regional Airport. Follow the highway signs stating “Upper Rio Bonito” to the bottom of the hill and turn left for approximately one mile until you reach the trail head. The loop trail is approximately 2.1 miles in total length and is easy to moderate hiking with a few hills and areas with loose footing. Plan to spend approximately one hour on the trail.
Fort Stanton is open to overnight camping with a 14-day maximum length of stay. There are no formalized camping areas. Equestrian groups and individuals can camp in the horse trails parking lot where there are facilities for equine stock. Picketing your horses is preferable to using corrals or panels as it is less damaging to the site. Please respect the environment, other public land users rights and leave the camping areas in better conditions than you found them.
Off Road and Trail Travel
Stay on designated roads within the Fort Stanton Recreation Area. Roads will be marked with signs stating if the road is open or closed. Trails will be marked with flexible fiberglass markers with the trail name or an arrow attached to the marker. Cross-country horse and foot travel is allowed. Mountain bikes are strongly encouraged to stay on established trails to protect the rider as well as the bikes.
Activities and Facilities
Hiking/Backpacking, Caving, Equestrian Trails, Mountain Bike Trails, Watchable Wildlife, Historic Fort Stanton, Picnicking, Hunting, Camping, Nature Study, Toilets (near Horse Trails parking lot), Interpretive kiosks, Horse Hitching Rails, Equestrian water.
Location / Access
Traveling on US 380, from the Village of Capitan, drive east 4.25 miles and turn south on NM 220. From the town of Lincoln, drive west 7.7 miles and turn south on NM 220 and travel one mile to the horse trails parking lot. The State owned historic Fort Stanton is approximately one mile further on NM 220.