One of the true gems of the American Southwest, New Mexico is an outdoorsman’s nirvana—a state with a wide variety of great camping spots boasting amenities galore.
A very large state in terms of total area, New Mexico is the fifth-most extensive U.S. state, and the 36th most populous (out of 50), making it one of the least densely populated regions in America, ranking sixth in that particular category. New Mexico shares borders with a number of other U.S. states, as well as the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. It is also part of the renowned “Four Corners” region of America, where it comes together with the states of Utah, Arizona and Colorado—a region that literally allows visitors to stand in four different states at the same time.
The landscape/terrain of New Mexico varies widely, from its vast rose-colored deserts to its scattered mesas to its high, snow-capped peaks. This amazing topographic variety offers campers and outdoor enthusiasts a vast assortment of camping opportunities, where activities such as fishing, hunting, skiing, hiking and boating are more than plentiful.
In the following article we will highlight five of New Mexico’s most well-loved camping areas, and provide a brief description detailing the various characteristics and amenities associated with each campsite.
1. El Provenir Campground
Located just 15 miles outside the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, El Provenir is one of the top rated campsites in the entire state. The campground is located in—and controlled by—the Santa Fe National Forest and the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District, and is situated in the North-Central portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Campers who enjoy ample room to spread out will truly enjoy El Provenir—a peaceful and pleasant camping region in a wide open forest of tall Ponderosa trees. The site’s easy access to a number of great trails also makes El Provenir a great base camp for those interested in taking day hikes and more extensive backpacking adventures. A small meandering stream winds through the edges of the campsite, adding to the serenity that has made El Provenir so popular with local and out-of-town outdoor enthusiasts.
El Provenir has a great number (19) of campsites, including a wide variety of tent sites and a few that are suitable for RV access, although only sites 10 and 13 are rated for “pull through.” Most of the camping spots have leveled off parking areas, and while there are no pre-established tent pads, it is never difficult to find a flat and level surface on which to pitch a tent.
The facilities at El Provenir are top-notch, including flush toilets, drinking water, trash bins, cookout grills and expansive fire pits, where friends and families can gather round to relax and share stories after a fun-filled day of activities. Campers can participate in a vast assortment of activities when staying at El Provenir, including hiking, backpacking, fishing, snowshoeing (in the winter), and nature walks, on which they’ll be exposed to a wide variety of local vegetation, and many species of birds and other wildlife.
El Provenir is open year round, and the nightly cost per campsite is a mere $8.00, rented on a first-come, first-serve basis.
2. Iron Gate Campground
Nestled among Aspens and Pines roughly 25 miles from the town of Pecos, New Mexico, the Iron Gate campground is one of the most beautiful and intimate campgrounds in the entire Santa Fe National Forest. The campground has been a fixture of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for many years now, and Iron Gate boasts 14 great campsites that are as picturesque as they are roomy.
The Iron Gate Campground is located 9,400 feet above sea level, just at the edge of the Pecos Wilderness—a spot that is gorgeously decorated with a vivid array of colorful wild flowers. However, to arrive at this breathtaking location, campers will need to endure a bumpy, almost white-knuckling 4.3 mile drive up the Pecos Forest Service Road, which is fraught with challenges. Upon arrival, campers will find a quiet and peaceful oasis, with shady sites that have more than enough spacing between them. The whole campground is carpeted with lush, deep green grass and plenty of local vegetation.
Activities at the Iron Gate Campground include hiking, horseback riding, and plenty of trails for nature walking. All of the campsites at Iron Gate are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, with check-ins beginning at 2:00 PM on the day of arrival and checkout at Noon sharp on the day of departure. The per-night cost for camping here is $8.00 per site. Recreational Vehicles are not recommended at the Iron Gate Campground.
Check out our guide to the best camping hammocks.
3. Sleepy Grass Campground
Located in the beautiful town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, in the Lincoln National Forest, the Sleepy Grass Campground is a site that truly has to be seen to fully appreciate. The site, situated in a grass and pine meadow, is positioned at 8,800 feet above sea level and each individual campsite feels totally secluded from those around it, despite the campground’s mere one-mile proximity to Cloudcroft’s Burro Avenue, on which most of the town’s best restaurants and shops are located.
Sleepy Grass Campground boasts 45 family units, all of which can accommodate trailers and Recreational Vehicles up to 35 feet in length. Amenities at this gem of a campground include drinking water, fire rings, BBQ grills, picnic tables, showers, toilets, RV hookups and sanitation bins; and up to two pets are allowed at each campsite.
Recreational enthusiasts will be in heaven while staying at the Sleepy Grass Campground, as the park offers a full range of activities, including hiking, biking, boating, fishing, climbing, horseback riding and a number of great water spots, ranging from kayaking and canoeing to kite boarding and wind surfing, all on the nearby lake.
The Sleepy Grass Campground is the perfect base camp for tourists looking to visit some of New Mexico’s most popular destinations: Driving time to the White Sands National Monument is just 48 minutes; and the renowned Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a mere 2 hours and 30 minutes away by vehicle.
4. Heron Reservoir
The expansive pine tree paradise that is the Heron Reservoir Campground is a beautiful outdoor retreat and one of the premier camping spots in all of New Mexico. Located in the town of Chama, New Mexico, the campsite provides visitors with a one-of-a-kind experience of peace, quiet and seclusion that is so typical of the New Mexico wilderness. In addition, campers here are treated to some of the best amenities—characteristics that all outdoor enthusiasts love and appreciate.
Heron Reservoir Campground is situated in a beautiful setting and provides campers with a number of modern camping conveniences, including full service restrooms, showers, picnic tables, trash receptacles, BBQ grills and centrally-located fire rings, which provide campers with the full “campfire experience.”
With many well-traveled trails branching out from the Heron Reservoir Campground, hikers and backpackers will have an unlimited number of opportunities to survey this great forest setting—an exploration that is sure to illuminate the spectacular scenery of the region and the many species of wildlife that call it home.
Activities are also plentiful at the Heron Reservoir Campground and its nearby lakes and rivers. Campers can participate in fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing and more, all while being blanketed by the deep blue New Mexico sky and the majestic mountains that stand proudly below it. All in all, the campground makes for the ideal family getaway, with amenities and activities that are sure to please every member of your group.
5. Cottonwood Campground
Those who enjoy an activity-loaded day and a peaceful, serene forest experience come nightfall will undoubtedly fall in love with New Mexico’s Cottonwood Campground, recently named one of the “best family campgrounds” in the entire state. Situated some 27 miles outside the town of Bloomfield, New Mexico, this secluded paradise offers acres of shade-producing Cottonwood trees that together make up a very pleasant portion of the Navajo National Forest—a region notorious for its secluded camping sites, glistening trout lakes and remarkable hiking trails.
In the cool, refreshing waters below the regal Navajo Dam, many different species of trout (rainbow trout, brook trout, and brown trout) find their ideal habitat, and the fishermen who come to these beautiful lakes find world-class conditions for their sport.
Come the summer and autumn months, campers at the Cottonwood Campground are angling for something else altogether: a prime spot near the golden cottonwood trees that emblazon this valley. Campers who make their way to Cottonwood Campground can pitch their tents beneath the shimmering leaves of these beautiful Cottonwoods and enjoy the crisp night air along the sandy banks of the San Juan River. For those planning on packing fishing tackle, the trout-rich quality waters are just a short walk away—and worth every step.
The individual and family campsites at the Cottonwood Campground are available on a first come, first serve basis, with a nightly cost of $8 per site.
image credit: Iron Gate Campground/Santa Fe Hiking Enthusiasts