Boondocking in New Mexico

Last updated on May 25th, 2021 at 09:09 am. Originally published on April 26th, 2021

New Mexico is a remarkable destination for camping; it’s packed with gorgeous landscapes and some of the most interesting historic sites in the United States. In a few days, you can explore Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings, go snowboarding high in the mountains, and hike across enormous white sand dunes. In most places, there’s no need to pay for a campsite — boondocking in New Mexico is a breeze, thanks to the state’s wealth of public lands. More than 47% of the state is publicly owned, and much of that land is open for free dispersed camping. Whether you’re looking for forests, mountains, or remote desert, New Mexico offers free campsites that will exceed your expectations.

A tall, jagged red-rock butte stands alone in an empty desert under a blue sky.

Boondocking Sites in New Mexico

Chosa Campground

Explore the southern part of New Mexico from your home base at the Chosa Campground. Run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), it’s located close to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Bring RVs of all sizes; the campground consists of a large, open gravel lot that’s easy to navigate. The nearest community is Carlsbad, which sits about 27 miles north.

Upper Bonito Dispersed Recreation Area

Camp within driving distance of White Sands National Park at the Upper Bonito Dispersed Recreation Area. Located in the Lincoln National Forest, this beautiful spot is also close to Cloudcroft and the fascinating historic mining sites in the region. The town of Alto is about 10 miles away. This campground offers designated sites, toilets, and drinking water, so it’s a popular choice; get there early, especially on weekends.

Dripping Springs Road, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

The Dripping Springs Road dispersed camping area is located in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. This spot is best suited for vehicles with high clearance and four-wheel drive; spots are limited for larger RVs. Nearby, the Organ Mountains offer fantastic hiking and biking opportunities. Cell service is strong, and Las Cruces is just 11 miles west.

Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary

The views of the stars are spectacular at the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Since it’s popular among stargazers, the Forest Service suggests that you arrive and set up camp before dusk and avoid campfires or light sources when other campers are outdoors looking at the sky. Alma is located about 8 miles away; you’ll find basic services there. The eight sites accommodate RVs up to 32 feet long, and there are vault toilets in the campground.

Sante Fe National Forest

Explore Santa Fe and Bandelier National Monument from your campsite in the Sante Fe National Forest. This is one of the most convenient spots for free camping in New Mexico — most of the forest is open for dispersed camping as long as you’re at least 100 feet away from lakes and streams. Depending on where you camp, Santa Fe, La Cienega, and White Rock are within an hour’s drive.

Where to Boondock in New Mexico

You never need to worry about where to boondock in New Mexico — most of the state’s public lands allow free dispersed camping. Start with the BLM; local offices are always happy to recommend locations. On most BLM lands, you can camp for up to 14 days. After that, you should move to a new spot that’s at least 25 miles away. Make sure that you’re at least 900 feet from a water source, and always park your RV close to an existing road or a designated campsite. You can also camp almost anywhere in New Mexico’s five national forests; some, including the Gila National Forest, offer designated dispersed campsites. Others allow you to pull off and create your own campsite.

Free Camping in New Mexico

When preparing for your boondocking trip, remember that New Mexico has a remarkably varied landscape. The southern regions are hot and remote, and the northern part of the state features deep forests and rugged mountain peaks. Travel can be slow, especially if you’re searching for a peaceful campsite off of a forest road, so allow ample time to get there. Some spots require high clearance and four-wheel drive, especially in the desert. If you’re uncertain, walk or drive ahead — this is particularly important after it rains in the desert since mud pits and ruts can form quickly.

If you’re exploring New Mexico’s excellent off-the-beaten-path destinations, cell service can be limited. Make sure to fill your gas and water tanks, and bring extra supplies in case of emergency. Always note the location of the nearest gas station before heading into the wild. For remote backcountry hikes, consider registering your itinerary with a BLM or Forest Service office. Prepare for the intense desert heat, especially in the summer; in the winter, bring supplies for snow and cold weather.

For prepared RVers, New Mexico has a nearly endless supply of exciting adventures. Some of the most important Ancestral Pueblo sites are located in the state — explore ancient kivas at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, or hike up steps that were carved in the stone thousands of years ago. Whether you’re interested in historic mining, indigenous people, our outdoor fun, the wild and beautiful landscapes of New Mexico have an activity for every day of the year. Before you head out on your trip, check out our blog for all you need to know about boondocking.

Boondocking is a fantastic way to experience New Mexico, and you’ll find numerous free campsites scattered around the state. If you want to experience off-grid dry camping for yourself, why not consider renting an RV? Visit RVshare to find the perfect motorhome in a convenient location, and you’ll be ready for adventure in no time.

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