New Mexico might be famous for its rich history, but that is not the only thing the Land of Enchantment has to offer. Sprinkled around its unique and iconic landscape are several dispersed camping spots waiting to accommodate the most adventurous of campers.
Are you looking for dispersed camping spots in New Mexico? Here are some of the best dispersed camping spots you can find in New Mexico.
Going Camping In New Mexico
Home to stunning locations and chile peppers (farmers in New Mexico harvest approximately 8,000 to 10,000 acres annually), New Mexico is a state located in the Southwestern part of the United States. It is bordered by Colorado in the north, Oklahoma, and Texas in the east, Mexico in the south, and Arizona in the west.
New Mexico is known for its unique locations that make it home to one of the best camping experiences in New Mexico. Although the state is known to have some of the flattest desert lands in the United States, this depiction is mostly incorrect. The Land of Enchantment boasts three topographic zones that range from forested mountains to rolling plains and vast plateaus. In fact, mountainous regions are spread across a significant portion of the state, as there are 88 named mountain ranges nestled from end to end.
New Mexico measures about 121,365 square miles and cuts across more than 30 counties. A land of extremes, every square mile in the state offers unique and exciting scenery that is the average camper’s dream. This explains why New Mexico is a vacation hotspot for culture, adventure, and nature enthusiasts.
The abundance of natural attractions like the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, Capulin Volcano, Tent Rocks, and other curious landforms in the state are undoubtedly major reasons why tourists find themselves visiting the state. From overlanders looking to see the world on wheels to campers trying to enjoy an intimate experience with nature, New Mexico embraces millions of tourists in its territories annually. Although many of these tourists prefer to enjoy the luxurious side of their nature expeditions, others choose simpler forms of fun in the form of dispersed camping.
Dispersed camping involves camping outside designated campsites, either while off-roading, overlanding, or even camping (check out the difference between overlanding and camping here). Also sometimes fondly known as boondocking, dispersed camping usually involves camping for free on legal public areas like federal and state lands.
As with any other place, dispersed camping as a recreational activity in New Mexico is allowed on public lands. However, knowing where to boondock and where to avoid can be difficult for tourists who are not familiar with the area. This is why it is essential to prepare yourself for subsequent dispersed camping leisure activities in New Mexico by arming yourself with information on which public lands can be legally used as dispersed camping spots.
Knowing what areas in New Mexico hold the best dispersed camping spots will give you plenty of options when exploring the state. However, familiarizing yourself with the rules of the area will help you stay out of trouble during your adventure.
As a rule, many public lands have regulations put in place to minimize camper impacts on the environment.
Where Is Dispersed Camping Allowed In New Mexico?
As previously mentioned, dispersed camping is often allowed in allocated public lands. Public lands in New Mexico are managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The United States Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that manages the nation's 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands. Altogether, the United States Forest Service manages 193 million acres of land.
The USFS offers vast areas for campers to live out their dispersed camping dreams. However, this privilege comes with regulations that campers must adhere to. Some of these regulations include the following:
- Do not set up camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds
- Use existing sites and fire rings if available
- Keep your campsite small
- Don’t camp on vegetation
- Don’t camp within 200 feet of a water source
- You can only camp for 14 days within any continuous 30-day period
- Extinguish campfires completely
- Practice the Leave No Trace principles, which includes traveling and camping on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave everything you find at the campsite
On the other hand, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is within the United States Department of the Interior. This agency is cloaked with the responsibility of managing over 247.3 million acres, governing about one-eighth of the landmass in the United States.
In New Mexico, there is much less BLM land. Public land areas are mostly managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS), making it so that you will find it easier to run into USFS dispersed camping public lands than those owned by the BLM.
Although BLM-dispersed camping lands can be a bit harder to find, there are a handful of BLM lands that can easily be located with the updated maps.
Although camping on BLM land in New Mexico is legal, campers are required to abide by a set of rules tailored to protect them and the areas. Some of these BLM dispersed camping regulations include:
- Campers should stick to authorized areas and those areas without “closed-to-camping” markets
- Campers can only spend 14 days in a BLM dispersed camping ground within a 28 consecutive day period
- Campers must not leave any personal property unattended for more than 10 days
- Camping is prohibited within 900 feet of any developed water source
- Fire regulations must be observed
- Park your vehicle near existing roads or dispersed campsites
Finding The Best Dispersed Camping Spots In New Mexico
When it comes to finding dispersed camping spots, navigating your way around the public lands can be one of the most difficult parts of your trip. It can become especially tricky if you are unfamiliar with the state.
For many campers, discovering dispersed camping spots in New Mexico can be easily done by driving around the area and exploring the trails. For many others, consulting online resources is the best way to find these camping spots.
However, for some campers, doing all the work of researching dispersed camping spots can be frustrating. As a result, to help you enjoy excellent dispersed camping experiences, we have compiled a list of the best camping spots in New Mexico.
1. Caja Del Rio
Caja Del Rio is a breathtaking arid plateau of volcanic origin. Located in Santa Fe county, Caja Del Rio is a beautiful collage of a large expanse of land occasionally interrupted by woodland and rocky formations.
Caja Del Rio covers about 84,000 acres of land. Also fondly known as The Caja, Caja Del Rio Plateau, and Cerros del Rio, Caja Del Rio is mostly owned by the United States Forest Service and managed by the Santa Fe National Forest.
With a generally flat and rolling terrain and occasional steep cones and escarpments on the perimeter, Caja Del Rio has a low elevation and remains mostly economically intact. Although it is an unprotected area, it remains home to a diverse range of fauna and flora that contribute to its beautiful natural state.
Inside the Caja Del Rio are many dispersed camping sites. Just off Forest Road 24 near Headquarters Well, campers will easily find a few campsites. Continuing up the road will lead to more campsites, although the road gets rougher and may not be fit for every vehicle type.
The network of roads is generally tricky and can become muddy when it rains. As a result, we recommend visiting these dispersed campsites with a suitable 4WD with high clearance.
The campsites are vast and are perfect for vehicle and tent campers. They are very nomadic, so you shouldn't expect any amenities except a vault toilet on one of the campgrounds.
2. Juan Tomas Road
If you choose to explore the Albuquerque part of New Mexico, finding dispersed campsites can be surprisingly difficult. However, there are a handful of interesting spots for campers, and Juan Tomas Road is one of them.
Cradled in an area way to miss, it is no surprise that Juan Tomas Road is a mostly undiscovered gem. Located in the Cibola National Forest area, Juan Tomas Road is near the south of Tijeras.
Entering through either side of the area less to completely nomadic dispersed campsites free for campers to use. Although the roads are mostly rocky and dusty and will easily be navigated using any truck, RVs and trailers will have more luck entering the area through Highway 217 from the east, especially because these areas offer the smoothest approach.
Juan Tomas Road not only offers dispersed spots but opportunities for other recreational activities such as OHV riding and hiking. Its close proximity to Albuquerque means campers can take time to explore other interesting localities.
Up in the mountains, Juan Tomas Road does not get busy. This is a blessing because campers will be privy to the peace and quiet that comes with camping in secluded areas.
3. Holloman Lake
Holloman Lake is something straight out of a dream. Adventurers who choose to camp here are privy to one of the most beautiful scenic areas in New Mexico.
Holloman Lake is an estimated 55 miles northeast of Las Cruces on US-70. To get there, turn left from US-70 3.8 miles northeast of the White Sands National Monument Headquarters onto a mostly flat dirt road that leads north on the east part of the playa.
Located near White Sands National Park, Holloman Lake is an excellent place to camp as it is located right near the lake. This provides a surreal experience that will leave anyone stunned.
On Holloman Lake, you enjoy gorgeous sunsets, enough space to enjoy various activities as you camp, and a safe area to live out your dispersed camper dream. Although the area can grow pretty crowded, it is still very comfortable, even without amenities. This ultimately makes Holloman Lake one of the best places to camp in New Mexico.
4. Cebolla Mesa
Cebolla Mesa is located in Carson National Forest. It is about 45 minutes north of Taos, and it is a free dispersed camping spot for adventurers to enjoy while in New Mexico.
Cebolla Mesa campground is one of the many dispersed campgrounds located in the area after turning off Highway 522 onto Forest Road 9. It can also be traveled 8.3 miles southwest of Questa, followed by taking State Highway 522 for 4.9 miles south from Questa to Forest Road 9, after which you need to drive 3.4 miles.
The road is generally rocky and covered in gravel in some places. Overall, we recommend using a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle to complete the journey.
Cebolla Mesa itself is a 2.6-mile out-and-back trail close to Cristobal. The trail is only moderately challenging, with the campsites offering shelter in extremely primitive areas. Camping on Cebolla Mesa offers beautiful views of the Rio Grande in the distance.
5. Bosque Redondo Park
Bosque Redondo Park offers another of the best places to enjoy free dispersed camping in New Mexico. It is located in eastern New Mexico, existing as a public land Fort Sumner and Sumner Lake State Park.
Bosque Redondo Park offers a dreamy experience, perfect for campers who are more interested in the mellow part of dispersed camping. The area is a beautiful little spot with beautiful wildlife and equally beautiful scenery.
The campsites have a few amenities, such as picnic tables, some shade/awning structures, and vault toilets that are located near the entrance road. Generally, unless on busy days, Bosque Redondo Park is one of the most peaceful areas you can go dispersed camping in.
Enjoying Unbeatable Camping in New Mexico
New Mexico might not be overly blessed with dispersed camping spots like in Utah. However, there are numerous camping spots that adventurers can use.
Before setting out for a dispersed camping trip in New Mexico, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the area and its regulations. This is both your safety and best bet to having an excellent camping trip.
From Caja Del to Bosque Redondo Park, here is our list of some of the best and totally free dispersed camping spots in New Mexico. Although the list is in no way exhaustive, it offers a great starting point for campers who are not familiar with the state.
Are you interested in more adventures? Check out our list of the 20 best dispersed camping spots in Washington.