Outdoor adventurers have been flocking to the “Land of Enchantment” for years to float down winding rivers, wander through mountain ranges, and explore the interesting fusion of Native American, European American, and Mexican heritage. 

From sweeping deserts and jagged mountain ranges to endless underground chambers and stark white dunes, New Mexico has so many natural wonders to explore. 

Thanks to its semi-arid and mild climate, many of New Mexico’s best pit stops can be enjoyed comfortably in late fall and even through winter. While the higher elevations enjoy snow in the winter, the low-lying desert regions can see winter temperatures well into the 60s, making it a great place to head when you’re tired of the cold.

Plus, there are plenty of high elevation campsites to escape to during the summer months. 

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite camp spots in New Mexico to explore the state’s most amazing geological sites, natural wonders, and quirky sights.

1. El Vado Lake State Park Campground

  • Coordinates/Directions: 342 miles southwest of Denver

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes

  • Top Activities: Fishing, boating, hiking, wildlife viewing

  • Pit Stops Nearby: Heron Lake State Park, Tierra Wools (weaving shop in Los Ojos) 

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Rio Chama Trail 

Located about 100 miles north of Santa Fe, El Vado Lake State Park sits on the eastern shore of El Vado Lake, a 3,200-acre reservoir. The campground features over 100 campsites, including RV sites with water and electric hookups, primitive beach sites, and two boat ramps.  

Several secluded coves around the lake offer great spots for catching trout and salmon, with boat rentals are available in the park. 

A 5.5-mile hiking trail travels north to nearby Heron Lake, and crosses the Rio Chama Gorge via a pedestrian suspension bridge. In the winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities in the park.

The surrounding area is a major wintering ground for bald eagles and other migratory birds, so be sure to bring your binoculars!

2. Elephant Butte Lake State Park Campground

photo courtesy of  @Jeffbarry   @notice_pictures

photo courtesy of @Jeffbarry @notice_pictures

  • Coordinates/Directions: 593 miles south of Denver via I25 South

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes

  • Top Activities: Camping, fishing, boating

  • Pit Stops Nearby: Truth or Consequences Hot Springs District, Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway

  • Top Hikes Nearby: West Lake Shore Trail, Luchini Trail

Located outside the resort town of Truth or Consequences, Elephant Butte Lake State Park sits along the shore of New Mexico’s largest body of water, the Elephant Butte Reservoir. 

Although it was named after an elephant-shaped butte near the dam, fossils of a Stegomastodon (a prehistoric beast with elephant-like characteristics) were ironically discovered just west of the dam after the naming.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is a haven in the desert for watersport enthusiasts. With its mild desert climate, Elephant Butte Lake offers plenty of opportunities for fishing and swimming year-round. 

The park also features 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, and nearly 200 campsites with full hook-up sites available. 

3. Wild Rivers Recreation Area

Photo COURTESY OF  Cabot Benson

Photo COURTESY OF Cabot Benson

  • Campsite Name: La Junta, Montoso, Little Arsenic Springs, Big Arsenic Springs, and El Aguaje campgrounds

  • Coordinates/Directions: 274 miles south of Denver 

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes

  • Top Activities: Hiking, camping, wildlife viewing

  • Pit Stops Nearby: Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, Taos Ski Area 

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Red River Fault Trail, Las Vistas de Questa Trail

The Wild Rivers Recreation Area is home to the dramatic confluence of the Rio Grande and Red River, both designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. 

You’ll find great hiking here including an easy jaunt to the La Junta Overlook with amazing views of the Rio Grande Gorge and its confluence with the Red Rover. 

Photo courtesy of  Natalie K

Photo courtesy of Natalie K

The 13-mile Wild Rivers Backcountry Byway provides access to scenic viewpoints, trails, and the recreation area’s 5 developed campgrounds. You can find maps and hiking information at the Wild Rivers Visitors Center located 10 miles south of the small town of Cerro.

4. Bottomless Lakes State Park

Photo courtesy of  Sabine

Photo courtesy of Sabine

  • Campsite Name: Lea Lake Campground 

  • Coordinates/Directions: 517 miles south of Denver 

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes 

  • Top Activities: Canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, scuba diving

  • Pit Stops Nearby: Roswell UFO Museum

  • Top Hikes Nearby: The Bluff Trail 

Located 14 miles south of Roswell, New Mexico, Bottomless Lake State Park is a cluster of 9 lakes that were once deemed bottomless by early cowboy explorers. The lakes are not actually lakes at all, but rather sinkholes ranging from 17 to 90 feet deep. 

Many of the lakes are completely surrounded by red rock cliffs and the lakes appear bottomless thanks to underwater plants that give off a greenish-blue color.

The Lea Lake Campground is situated along the shores of Lea Lake and features 32 campsites suitable for both tents and RVs. Each site is equipped with electricity, and 6 sites also provide water and sewer hook-ups. 

The Lea Lake Campground is packed with amenities, including a large sandy beach, warm showers, free Wi-Fi, and paddleboard rentals. 

5. Aguirre Spring Campground

Photo courtesy of  Kessiah Carlbon

Photo courtesy of Kessiah Carlbon

  • Coordinates/Directions: 605 miles south of Denver

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes

  • Top Activities: Camping, hiking, 

  • Pit Stops Nearby: White Sands National Park, Franklin Mountains State Park

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Pine Tree Trail, Baylor Pass Trail

The Aguirre Spring Campground is the only developed campground in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, a wild and rugged landscape in the southern end of the state.

The Organ Mountains are a steep and jagged mountain range that rises remarkably from the low-lying Chihuahuan Desert.  

The campground offers 55 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis and is only suitable for tents and small trailers. Aguirre Spring sits at 5,700 feet, so it’s significantly cooler than the surrounding desert.  

6. Navajo Lake State Park 

photo courtesy of  @alexis_dawn37

photo courtesy of @alexis_dawn37

  • Campsite Name: Navajo Lake State Park Campgrounds (Cottonwood, Juniper, Cedar, Pinon, Pine, and Sims Mesa)

  • Coordinates/Directions: 352 miles southwest of Denver 

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes

  • Top Activities: Boating, fly fishing, camping, hiking

  • Pit Stops Nearby: Shiprock, Chaco Canyon 

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Simon Canyon Trail, South San Juan River Trail

Located on the shores of New Mexico’s second-largest lake, Navajo Lake State Park is a watersports playground in the middle of the desert. 

The park is very popular with boaters. Meanwhile, fly fishermen will find world-class trout fishing in the San Juan River just downstream from the Navajo Dam. 

Hiking trails wind along the shoreline on both sides of the river and the Simon Canyon Trail leads to an ancient defensive structure. 7 different campgrounds offer an array of camping options, with both reservable and first-come, first-served sites.

7. Heron Lake State Park

Photo courtesy of  @nykaberries

Photo courtesy of @nykaberries

  • Coordinates/Directions: 333 miles southwest of Denver

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes

  • Top Activities: Boating, camping, fishing, hiking

  • Pit Stops Nearby: El Vado Lake State Park

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Rio Chama Trail, East Meadow Trail 

Located in the northern part of New Mexico, just outside Los Ojos, Heron Lake is much quieter than its neighboring lake to the south, El Vado Lake. 

Boats are restricted to “no-wake” speeds on Heron Lake, making this a wonderful destination for sailing and paddling sports. 

Heron Lake State Park is known for its excellent fishing and numerous record-size trout and kokanee salmon have been caught here. Heron Lake has several lakeside campgrounds to choose from, including a few primitive campsites right on the beach.

8. Jack’s Creek Campground

  • Coordinates/Directions: 392 miles south of Denver

  • Bathroom/facilities: Yes 

  • Top Activities: Camping, hiking 

  • Pit Stops Nearby: Pecos National Historical Park, Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Winsor Ridge Trail, Holy Ghost Trail 

Jack’s Creek Campground is a small national forest campground about 50 miles northeast of Santa Fe. RVs and trailers are welcome, but there are no hookups or dumping stations, and sites are only available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The campground sits at 8,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, so it’s a great camping option to escape the heat of the summer. In the fall, the campground offers wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and the beautiful fall colors. 

9.White Sands National Park

photo courtesy of Brian  @whereintheworldisb

photo courtesy of Brian @whereintheworldisb

  • Campsite Name: White Sands National Park Backcountry Camping

  • Coordinates/Directions: 564 miles south of Denver

  • Bathroom/facilities: No (Backcountry); Yes (Park)

  • Top Activities: Hiking, backpacking, photography, driving dunes drive

  • Pit Stops Nearby: White Sands Missile Museum, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument 

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Alkali Flat Trail, Playa Trail 

Known for its dramatic white gypsum sand dunes, White Sands National Park is one of America’s most unique natural wonders. These rare white dunes are the largest of its kind in the world, and hiking amongst them is an otherworldly experience.   

Backcountry camping is the only camping allowed in the park, though a permit must be obtained from the Visitors Center. 

The closest campgrounds to the park are Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, about 26 miles east, and Aguirre Spring Campground in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument about 40 miles south. 

10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

photo courtesy of  Adventures of A+K

photo courtesy of Adventures of A+K

  • Campsite Name: Carlsbad Caverns National Park Backcountry Camping

  • Coordinates/Directions: 612 miles south of Denver

  • Bathroom/facilities: No (Backcountry); Yes (Park)

  • Top Activities: Hiking, backpacking, cave tours 

  • Pit Stops Nearby: Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

  • Top Hikes Nearby: Guadalupe Ridge Trail, Lower Rattlesnake Canyon

There are 119 known caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, with rangers discovering more and more each year. Visitors can take both self-guided and ranger-led tours of the caverns, and explore numerous hiking trails and several interesting monuments and historic homesteads. 

Primitive camping in the backcountry is the only camping allowed in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Free backcountry permits are offered at the visitors center or you can find permit-free tent and RV camping on public lands surrounding the park. 

You’ll also find several full-service campgrounds in nearby Carlsbad, New Mexico. 

EXPLORE NEW MEXICO 

Just because the weather is getting colder, there’s no need to hibernate! New Mexico’s mild climate and unique landscape makes it the perfect place to camp and explore during the off-season. There’s no shortage of outdoor adventures– including camping, hiking, horseback riding, and visiting some of the state’s most unforgettable sights. 

As you plan your trip to New Mexico, be sure to stop at the state’s most noteworthy and picturesque locations. From wild river gorges to ancient cliff dwellings, we’ve put together a list of the best places to take photos in New Mexico >