Camping in New Mexico is one of the most underrated activities in the Southwestern state. Sleep alongside towering sandstone mesas, amid giant pines, or on the outskirts of a famous New Mexico adobe town.
As a passionate camper myself, I’ve visited New Mexico multiple times and have never paid for a hotel room. I’ve camped from north to south and everywhere in between and am here to help you discover the best campsites New Mexico has to offer.
Sleeping under the stars is one of the coolest things to do in Santa Fe, and the rest of the state, so let’s start exploring!
Table of Contents
- 19 Best Places to Go Camping In New Mexico
- Gallo Campground – Chaco Canyon National Park
- Cosmic Campground
- Wild Rivers Inner Gorge Primitive Campsites
- Alamogordo KOA – White Sands National Park
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Cottonwood Campground – Navajo Lake State Park
- Guadalupe Peak Wilderness Campground
- Angel Peak Campground
- Terrero Campground – Pecos Canyon State Park
- Taos Valley RV Park
- Kingston Campground – Gila National Forest
- McCrystal Campground – Sangre de Cristo Mountains
- Elephant Rock Campground
- Aguirre Spring Campground
- Santa Fe Skies RV Park
- Cimarron Campground- Carson National Forest
- Pilar Campground- Rio Grande Gorge
- Heron Lake State Park Campground
- Columbine Campground (Hondo Wilderness Area)
- Tips About Camping in New Mexico
- FAQs About Camping in New Mexico
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19 Best Places to Go Camping In New Mexico
Gallo Campground – Chaco Canyon National Park
One of the most unique campgrounds in New Mexico with archaeological ruins and petroglyphs next to the campsites.
🗺️ Distance from Santa Fe: 3 hours | Google Maps | Website | Reservations: online reservations or first-come, first-serve | Amenities: restrooms, water, dumpsters, dump station, picnic tables, fire rings
Gallo Campground, Chaco Canyon is one of my absolute favorite places to camp in New Mexico. This dry campsite appeals to both tent campers and RV campers alike, given they can traverse the long, unmaintained dirt road leading into the park.
Chaco Canyon National Park is one of the best ways to spend your time in New Mexico. The scenic campground is disguised between red sandstone mesas with far-off valley views, ancient ruins (pictured above), and petroglyphs within the campground boundary, making it one of the most unique sites in New Mexico.
I camped here during the winter off-season with only a walk-up reservation but it’s highly recommended to reserve a campsite before you arrive at the remote wilderness park. Although there are no hookups, Gallo Campground does have a dump station, potable water, and restrooms.
👉 Read Next: Best National Parks in New Mexico
One of the best views of the night sky can be seen from this campground, a rare, certified international dark sky area.
As the name implies, Cosmic Campground is one of the best spots for camping in New Mexico under a sky illuminated with millions of stars. It is one of only 14 certified International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world and offers campers an unobstructed view of the sky.
This is the ideal location to test out your nighttime photography and long-exposure skills. There are observation and telescope pads around the campground so eager campers can witness astronomical greatness but you can also bring your own telescope.
Meet fellow celestial freaks and photography lovers at Cosmic Campgrounds, easily one of the coolest in all of New Mexico.
Wild Rivers Inner Gorge Primitive Campsites
Primitive campsites with sparse amenities but copious views.
You must visit the glorious Rio Grande river during your visit to New Mexico. The Wild Rivers Inner Gorge Campsites are perched right on top of the jagged canyon walls and snaked river below.
There are 5 primitive campsites that are only $5 a night. If you’re tent camping, I recommend checking out the campground that requires a slight hike down into the canyon for the best views.
The Rio Grande is a hotspot to fish for trout, pike, and Rio Grande Cutthroat so be sure to bring your fishing equipment. This campsite also hosts nearby trails, sunset viewpoints, and bike trails.
Alamogordo KOA – White Sands National Park
An all-inclusive RV park on the outskirts of one of New Mexico’s most famous national parks.
🗺️ Distance from Albuquerque: 3 hours, 25 minutes | Google Maps | Website | Reservations: reserve online | Amenities: RV sites, campsites, cabins, pool, dog park, bike rental, wifi, laundry, horseshoe pit, tetherball
White Sands National Park is one of the best places to visit New Mexico, and for a good reason. The fluffy white sand dunes invite visitors to unleash their inner child and roll or sled down the dunes.
There are no campsites inside the national park and although backcountry camping used to be allowed with a permit, it is no longer an option. Alamogordo is the closest place to camp for national park-goers.
The Alamogordo KOA is perhaps the most extravagant campground on this list. It has every amenity imaginable and is the best place to stay with children. The entertainment options are endless at this KOA (Kampground of America) and you’re sure to have a fun-filled experience.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Camp in the backcountry of one of the largest cave complexes in the United States.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the best things to do in New Mexico. This complex system of more than 100 caves overflows with roof stalactites and encompasses a large “showroom” cave that’s over 4,000 feet long.
This desert park is one of the most impressive national parks in the U.S. but does not offer any established campgrounds. Primitive camping is available, however, in the backcountry of Carlsbad Caverns National Park with a free, official permit.
With your own essential camping equipment, you can camp 100 feet off established trails, 300 feet from water sources and caves, and half a mile from roads and parking lots. The dispersed camping in this park is one of the best ways to experience the New Mexico wilderness.
A lakeside campsite with more amenities than one would think.
Camp off the beaten path at Cottonwood Campground in Navajo Lake State Park. Nestled between canyon walls, this tree-laden campground is quiet, close to Navajo Lake, and allows pets.
Even though Cottonwood Campground is immersed deep in nature, there’s still cell service, a major plus for remote workers.
The campground loops around and hosts 47 wheel-spoke campsites, some of which sit right on the lake. I recommend staying in the outer circle of campsites because they have more privacy. In addition, there is a dump station and water and electric hookups, making this a top choice for RV campers in New Mexico.
Guadalupe Peak Wilderness Campground
A campground right across the border in one of the most scenic American national parks.
Technically just across the border in northern Texas, Guadalupe Peak Wilderness Campground is one of the best day trip campsites from New Mexico. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a hikers’ paradise and one of the least visited national parks in the U.S., giving campers a peaceful yet primitive experience.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the wilderness. Camp under ponderosa pines and Douglas firs in one of 10 designated campsites in the Guadalupe Peak Wilderness. Permits are required to camp, which is available at the Pine Springs Visitor Center.
All primitive campsites require a minimum of 3 miles to hike to, reserving these campsites for true adventure lovers. You will want to keep your food in a bear canister because black bears frequent the area.
Angel Peak Campground
A free campground in the convenient northern New Mexico location between Chaco Canyon and Colorado.
The Angel Peak Scenic Area is a BLM recreation area with nine campsites that are free of charge. This is the perfect campsite for travelers moving north from Chaco Canyon to either the Aztec archaeological ruins or the epic national parks in Colorado.
Angel Peak Scenic Area offers more than 10,000 acres of recreation area, including the banded colors of the New Mexico badlands and petrified forests. There are nine campsites in Angel Peak Campground, each with picnic tables and fire pits.
Vault toilets and dumpsters are available although there’s no water at the campground. There’s also a short nature trail nearby, making this one of the best free campgrounds in northern New Mexico.
Terrero Campground – Pecos Canyon State Park
A culturally-rich campground with archaeological ruins within walking distance of the campsites.
Camp just 30 minutes outside of Santa Fe at an archaeologically-rich state park. Pecos Canyon State Park houses ruins that date back 1,000 years and has seen Indigenous dwellers, colonial Spanish frontiersmen, and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail throughout the years.
The Terrero Campground hosts many surrounding activities like various hiking trails, ruins overlooks, and many fishing access areas. At heights of 7,000 and 8,000 feet, this campground feels like a world removed from the neighboring big cities.
This is primarily a tent site but campers smaller than 19 feet are also allowed inside the state park campground.
Taos Valley RV Park
A full-hookup site just outside of one of the most picturesque towns in the state.
An RV is a great way to explore the state on an extended road trip. This is the best option for travelers with motorhomes, trailers, or other recreational vehicles who need to recharge, dump, or add water to their rigs. If you need an RV rental, check out our review of Outdoorsy (a peer-to-peer RV rental service).
The Taos RV Park offers campers pristine views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and has native New Mexico flora scattered throughout the park. 92 sites that can accommodate both tents and RVs with or without hookups.
The Taos RV Park also offers campers monthly rate deals, which is the best option for nomads who like to travel slowly.
Kingston Campground – Gila National Forest
A campsite amid dense pines that allows campers to overextend their welcome.
This small campground encircles a small creek and allows up to 14 consecutive days of camping. The site is right next to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, a popular archaeological site.
Kingston Campground is open year-round but because it sits at an elevation of 6,400 feet, it gets pretty cold at night, especially in the winter months. Be sure to bring an adequate sleeping bag and warm enough thermal base layers to bear the cold of the Gila National Forest.
McCrystal Campground – Sangre de Cristo Mountains
A campground nestled between high-altitude mountain peaks.
McCrystal Campground is one of my favorites in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This is one of the best spots for camping in New Mexico that’s close to high-altitude, snow-capped mountain peaks and alpine lakes.
Although this site is more accessible for tent camping, van and RV camping is also allowed here. McCrystal Campground is near an abundance of hiking trails, fishing from the San Juan River, and horseback riding trails.
👉 Pro Tip: Camping is usually $16 per night ($8 with a senior or access pass) but there are no fees required in the winter months. Roads may be impassible at this time, however, so 4WD is recommended.
Elephant Rock Campground
This campground encompasses both jagged sandstone formations and dense pine forests.
Located on the Red River, Elephant Rock Campground is one of the best low-key campsites just outside of Taos. This is the perfect place to stay if you want to explore the adobe abodes of Taos without getting caught in weekend tourist traffic.
Retreat to the mountain solitude of Elephant Rock Campground, a campground that encompasses the best of both worlds; red rock cathedrals on one side and dense pine forest on the other.
Besides easy access to the nearby Red River, Eagle Rock Lake and Carson National Forest Hiking Trails can be accessed from Elephant Rock Campground.
Aguirre Spring Campground
A scenic campground in southern New Mexico that happily welcomes both tent and RV campers, so long as they’re shorter than 23 feet.
🗺️ Distance from White Sands National Park: 45 minutes | Google Maps | Website | Reservations: first-come, first-serve | Amenities: water, tent sites, dry RV sites, shade shelters, picnic tables with grills
Camp at the base of jagged spires of granite mountain towers at the Aguirre Spring Campground. This dry campsite is one of the best places for camping in New Mexico, with campsites disguised in the thick nature surrounding them.
The Aguirre Spring Campground sits in the Chihuahuan Desert habitat surrounded by cliffs overlooking both Tularosa Basin and White Sands National Park. 55 first-come, first-serve campsites aren’t easy to snag during peak season, so get there early.
RVs are allowed in the campground but the road leading to the entrance becomes narrow and winding. As a result, 23-foot RVs and smaller ones are recommended.
Santa Fe Skies RV Park
Stay only minutes outside of Santa Fe with every amenity imaginable available at your fingertips.
RV owners rejoice at the myriad of RV parks in New Mexico. Santa Fe Skies RV Park is right on the outskirts of the major city and is the perfect option for visitors in big rigs who want to explore the Indigenous/Spanish town.
Located on the Western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe Skies RV Park has views of the vast Rio Grande Gorge, miles away. You will find the perfect balance of major city and nature at this campground.
Catch the sunrise or sunset from the Turquoise Trail, which is within walking distance of the RV park, or take a short ride into town from the RV park to shop for the precious gem from one of many jewelry boutiques.
Cimarron Campground- Carson National Forest
A horse-friendly campground that’s free when the roads freeze over, granted adventurous campers can reach the site.
There is no shortage of campsites in Carson National Forest. Bring your tent, string up your hammock, or back in your motorhome at Cimarron Campground, a small woodsy campground snuggled between ponderosa pines.
This high campground sits at 9,300 feet and welcomes snow, frost, and freezing temperatures in the non-summer months. Fees aren’t required in the winter months.
Wildlife is frequently spotted roaming through this natural campsite and the nine horse sites welcome equestrians of all ages. Keep an eye out for elk and black bears and remember to always maintain a safe distance from the wildlife.
Pilar Campground- Rio Grande Gorge
Camp right on the iconic Rio Grande river at this scenic campsite, laden with wildlife.
New Mexico and the Rio Grande go hand-in-hand. Experience breathtaking views like never before by camping on the edge of the famous river.
Enjoy nearby access to the river from the Pilar Campground and try your luck at rafting along the small rapids in the area. Bird-watching and wildlife spotting are other top activities to do at the Rio Grande Gorge. Be sure to bring your binoculars and look for eagles, hawks, beavers, cougars, ringtails, mule deer, and more.
Heron Lake State Park Campground
A campground with easy access to a liberal amount of lake activities.
Camp on one of the most scenic lakes in New Mexico, Heron Lake. Heron Lake State Park Campground is located in Rio Arriba County in northern New Mexico and is the perfect place to kayak, sail, windsurf, fish, and explore hiking trails around the lake’s perimeter.
There are 250 developed campsites with 54 electric sites, perfect for RV camping. Heron Lake State Park campers typically stay for a few days, given the large number of activities to do and the affordable price per night.
Columbine Campground (Hondo Wilderness Area)
A campground with plenty of nearby hiking trails for the intrepid adventurer.
Located between Questa and Red River, Columbine Campground sits at a high elevation of 7,900 feet and offers 26 campsites. Campers can enjoy potable water, vault toilets, and views of the looming mountains.
The Columbine Twining hiking trail can be accessed via the south end of the campground and takes hikers on a 14-mile journey through the Hondo Wilderness Area. Because bears frequent the area, be sure to clean up your trash and leave no food unattended in the campground.
Tips About Camping in New Mexico
Be Prepared for Dirt
Unless you are staying in an RV park, most campgrounds in New Mexico are only accessible via dirt roads. Some roads are short and well-maintained while others, like the road leading to Gallo Campground in Chaco Canyon, aren’t.
You’re better off in a car that you don’t mind getting a little dirty. You should also have a spare tire on you in case you get a flat somewhere with no cell service or services within walking distance.
🚗 Need a Car? Durable, 4WD cars are available for rent via Discover Cars in New Mexico.
Carry Enough Food and Water
There are often no towns or stores near New Mexico campgrounds. Bring everything you need with you before you head into the great wilderness.
Make sure you have at least 1-2 liters of water per person per day. Dehydrated meals are usually my go-to camp food. They’re light to carry, take little effort to make, and have an enormous amount of nutrients.
Reserve Campsites Ahead of Time in National or State Parks
You will want to reserve a campsite ahead of time in national or state parks in New Mexico because they usually fill up fast, especially on the weekends. That can be done through Recreation.gov.
You may be able to snag a campsite without reserving it before arriving, but this is a gamble. National and state parks often have limited space, so it’s best to reserve ahead of time.
Get Gas Before You’re on Empty
This may sound like a no-brainer, but I always like to fill up when I’m at ½ or ¼ of a tank. Most of the campgrounds in New Mexico are in hard-to-reach places or require long stretches of highway to get to.
For peace of mind, I recommend filling up the tank before you’re empty. This way, you can arrive at your campsite on a full tank without having to worry about running out of gas in the backcountry.
Leave No Trace
Make sure you leave each campsite better than you found it. That means packing all trash out if the campground doesn’t have dumpsters and not leaving food around your site.
This holds true for any hiking you do around the campground and in the greater Santa Fe National Forest areas. A trash-filled campsite can ruin the next camper’s experience, so pack it out and leave no trace at all times.
👉 Read Next: New Mexico Packing Checklist
FAQs About Camping in New Mexico
What are the best campgrounds in New Mexico?
How much does it cost to camp in New Mexico State Park?
Primitive sites are typically $8 per night, developed sites are $10, sites with electricity are $14, sites with sewage are $14, and sites with electric and sewage are $18.
Where can I camp for free in New Mexico?
You can camp on any BLM land for free in New Mexico. There are helpful camping apps that alert campers about where free campsites are.
What should I know about camping in New Mexico?
Some primitive sites only take cash so it’s always helpful to carry small bills on you. Although some campgrounds may offer water, others don’t. It’s recommended that you bring enough water for the durability of your camp experience.
Have fun camping in New Mexico! Let me know which campsite was your favorite in the comments and give my camping in California guide a read before you head out on your ultimate Southwestern road trip.
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