The cool mountain landscape of Carson National Forest is a nice change from the often blistering heat of Tucson. A 10-hour Tucson to Carson National Forest RV road trip has even more appeal when you consider the many national and state parks and points of interest along your route. Finally, you won't want to miss some of the unique cities along the way that embody the spirit of the American Southwest.
Saguaro National Park
Why not make your first stop at Saguaro National Park since it’s so close? Only 20 minutes away from Tucson, Saguaro National Park is actually two parks in one. The Tucson Mountain District is west of Tucson, and the Rincon Mountain District is east of Tucson. The west section is more developed, and the east section offers extensive wilderness areas. You’ll see interesting Sonoran Desert terrain on either side, including plenty of Saguaro cacti, the nation’s largest cacti, and an iconic symbol of the American West. On the west side, you can also view 800-year-old petroglyphs.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a network of underground caverns. The main cavern is accessible from an elevator within the visitor center or from an outside entrance. In the Big Room, the main cavern, lights shine on the Hall of the Giants, Temple of the Sun, and Rock of Ages cave formations, among others. Those who choose to enter from the outside rather than the elevator will pass a colony of hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tail bats at the entrance. If you time it right, you can see them leave their cave at sunset. The spectacle can take up to half an hour, but there is an amphitheater for comfortable seating. Continuing into the cave, you'll find stalagmites and stalactites with names like Queen’s Chamber and the Boneyard.
White Sands National Park
Fifty-two miles northeast of Las Cruces, you’ll feel like you’re in a different country as the dirt gives way to white waves of sand. The world’s largest gypsum sand dunes – 275 square miles – are found in New Mexico. Gypsum (calcium sulfate) is an interesting mineral that dissolves in water, so you usually don’t see it as sand. Isolation and unique weather patterns allowed the white sand dunes to form here. The experience even includes a designated place for sledding down the snow-like hills of sand. White Sands National Park is the most visited national park in New Mexico for a reason.
Pecos National Historical Park
Pecos National Historical Park is 35 minutes from Santa Fe. It preserves the Pecos Pueblo, a rock-and-mud village built in about 1100 C.E., as well as the remains of a Spanish mission built in the 17th century. Other sites are the historic Santa Fe trail, the wagon trail that helped build the American Southwest in the 19th century, and the Glorieta Pass Battlefield, where Union soldiers fought Confederate forces to a standoff.
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
At Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, which is a little over an hour from Tucson, you’ll see the original red brick Cochise County courthouse, now turned into a museum detailing some of Tombstone's colorful history. A replica of a gallows stands outside the courthouse to mark the spot where seven men were hanged.
City of Rocks State Park
Wind and water formed volcanic ash over 30 million years into dramatic geologic formations, and these huge rounded rocks sort of resemble a cityscape. City of Rocks State Park has some of the darkest skies in the nation, so you might want to stay into the evening to view the night skies at the Star Observatory.
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
This wildlife preserve park has indoor and outdoor wildlife viewing areas. There are 250 species of birds at this state park, including roadrunners and wood ducks. You can also walk through the demonstration gardens and two miles of riverside nature trails.
O.K. Corral Historic Complex
This stop on your Tucson to Carson National Forest road trip features a 45-minute re-enactment of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It also has many replicas of 19th-century structures, including the stables, a blacksmith shop, and the cowboy bunkhouse. Be sure to see the Historama, where you’ll learn more about Tombstone, one of the wildest mining towns in the Old West.
Very Large Array
A barren stretch of landscape is home to the Very Large Array (VLA), a radio astronomy telescope facility. The 27 massive radio telescopes are set in a Y shape, which allows them to act as one, even more massive, telescope. The VLA observes the universe using radio waves to provide information about planets, stars, gas and dust clouds, galaxies, pulsars, and black holes. The VLA includes a visitor center with a theater, science exhibits, and an outdoor self-guided walking tour that takes you right to the base of one of the telescopes.
You can take in two experiences in one stop at Jemez Springs: You can walk the trail to a historic site with ruins and a 16th-century church, and then, you can soak in the soothing mineral waters of one of several natural hot springs. Located about an hour from Albuquerque, Jemez Springs Village is a charming spot that also offers a bathhouse, public dances at the Pueblo, and wine tastings.
The road trip from Tucson to Carson National Forest in New Mexico has plenty of hospitable campgrounds. There is so much to see that you'll want to take your time. Here is a list of dump stations along the way to keep your RV clean and comfortable.
The city at the junction of I-10 and I-25 is home to New Mexico State University. You can find lots of fun activities at Las Cruces. Go to the Fort Selden State Monument and get a taste of johnnycakes with molasses. Visit Museum Mile for some history, culture, and art, or trek one mile to the top of Tortugas Mountain (really a hill) to get 360-degree views at the top. Finally, you can tour the 47-acre New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum to learn about farming and ranching throughout New Mexico’s history. There are many comfortable campgrounds around the city.
Truth or Consequences
Truth or Consequences can’t really be considered a "main" city. It’s tiny, with a population of about 6,500 people. However, it's on our list for two reasons. First, it has many natural hot springs and is located on the long stretch of freeway between Las Cruces and Albuquerque, so it's a nice stop to break up the drive. Second, its name deserves a mention. In 1950, Ralph Edwards, host of a popular radio game show, announced he would broadcast a show from the first town willing to change its name to Truth or Consequences. Tired of the generic name “Hot Springs,” the town voted to make the change, and the special broadcast happened on April 1, 1950. Thereafter, Ralph Edwards visited every year for the Truth or Consequences festival on April 1st.
Did you know that Albuquerque is considered the hot air ballooning capital of the world? Hot air ballooning happens year-round in Albuquerque, but for an unparalleled sight, come in October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. Campgrounds are plentiful here.
Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is considered one of the world’s greatest art cities. Visit one of the many art galleries or museums, such as the George O’Keefe museum, to see why. The area around Santa Fe has been occupied for several thousand years by indigenous peoples. With both Pueblo and Spanish Colonial influences, Santa Fe combines history and culture for a unique appeal. You can choose from many campgrounds in the area.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from Tucson to Carson National Forest, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in Tucson or near Carson National Forest.