If you are looking for some cheap camping spots or are RVing on a budget, New Mexico is the place to be. There are a ton of free BLM and dispersed camping spots throughout the state and the State Parks are very reasonable at $14 a night for w/e. If you are spending a significant amount of time in New Mexico, look into the annual park pass which is around $200 and cuts the nightly cost of state parks to $4 for w/e.
On average in the past 6 months, we have spent $23.51 a night on accommodation, which we think is pretty good. We spent 3 weeks traveling through New Mexico, so doing the math, that would typically cost around 500 bucks ($493.71 to be exact). But we managed to significantly cut that by more than half!!!! 21 nights cost us a total of $199.19, about $9.48 a night. AND we could have done it cheaper but we had to bail on 2 BLM sites that we had planned. Having a 30 foot class A is not the most convenient for boondocking, most of the roads are rough and rutted and sometimes the sites are too small or we just can’t get Wanda level so we have to bail.
So here is the rundown on where we camped:
1. Brantley Lake State Park, Carlsbad: $14 per night w/e
After a day at Carlsbad Caverns National Park we camped here for a couple of nights. No one mans the front entrance, you just drive through, find an open spot and pay at the self pay station. You can also reserve sites ahead of time for an extra fee. This park is kind of in the middle of the desert with not much around, but it was pretty and peaceful with a nice Lake Loop trail to take the dogs. It has the typical state park amenities: bathrooms, showers and a dump station.
2. Holloman Lake, Holloman Air Force Base: Free
This was our home base for our visit to White Sands National Monument, which was only about 10 minutes away. It was a beautiful spot to watch the sunset and while we were there we only saw a couple of other campers. For your safety, the lake water is contaminated and not safe to drink or swim in. We knew this going in and just kept ourselves and the dogs away from it and had no problem. We did hear recently that public access to the area may be prohibited in the future due to the contamination, so check before heading in.
3. Leasburg Dam State Park, Las Cruces: $14 a night w/e
This is a nice well maintained state park not too far from the main attractions in Las Cruces. We ended up here by default after a BLM spot didn’t work out. There are a couple of different loops to choose from with different levels of amenities. Our loop had w/e hookup and pit toilets, but there were showers by the park office on the other side of the park. Each site has a picnic table under a covered patio and there are several trails to walk here. One odd thing we did notice on our walk to the Dam was that there was no water in it! That was pretty strange.
4. Elephant Butte State Park, Truth or Consequences: $8 per night primitive camping
This state park is very big with several developed campgrounds, but you can also dry camp on the beach or anywhere else in the park where you can find a spot. We decided to dry camp because we wanted to stay on the beach….that did not go so well as Wanda got stuck in some deep soft sand and we needed to get towed out. But after all the drama, we ended up finding an awesome secluded spot which worked our better for us anyway.
5. Cracker Barrel, Albuquerque: Free
Good old Cracker Barrel. We really appreciate that Cracker Barrels allow RVers to stay overnight. It is always good in a pinch and we usually find that they are quieter and less crowded than Walmart parking lots.
6. Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post, Albuquerque: Passport America Rate $18 per night full hookup
Free camping spots in Albuquerque are hard to come by. There is nothing really convenient or nearby, so after the first night we found this RV park through Passport America. Before we set out on this trip we joined several membership programs for discounts on camp sites. Passport America was the cheapest at $44 a year and it is by far the one that has been most helpful to us. We use it quite frequently and it saves us a lot of money as you typically get 50% off a nightly rate at participating campgrounds. We highly recommend it if you don't already have it!
Enchanted trails is a nice medium sized campground on historic Route 66 and a convenient place to stay while exploring Albuquerque.
7. Caja Del Rio, Sante Fe National Forest: Free
This was a great BLM spot we found in Sante Fe National Forest. Just be sure to take the long way to get there, the GPS wanted us to take a shortcut down a steep rutted dirt road and across the Sante Fe River. No way Wanda could have handled that, so we had to drive the long way on Highway 599 and double back.
This was probably the most popular BLM spot we have stayed in and there were a bunch of other RVers, campers, and vans but there is plenty of space and everyone kept to themselves. The Railyard and Canyon Road, popular tourist spots in Sante Fe, was about a half hour away. And while there are pit toilets located here, I wouldn’t plan on using them.
8. Coronado Campground, Bernalillo: $25 per night w/e 3 nights
This is a small campground is located right off Highway 550. We ended up here for a few days while we waited for some packages to catch up with us. There is not much to do around here but there are plenty of stores if you need to restock or have any projects you need to work on. Our biggest complaint here was that their WiFi signal was terrible and we didn't have great reception on our phones or with our Verizon MiFi.
9. Walmart, Farmington: Free 1 night
We intended on visiting the Bisti Badlands/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area and almost made it, but the last leg of the trip is 20 miles on a terrible bumpy dirt road. We decided to turn around and not risk breaking something. Without a real plan of where to go we stopped at the Walmart in Farmington. They have a huge lot just past their auto center in the back and away from the highway where RVs can park. It was definitely the quietest Walmart we have slept in.
We enjoyed our time in New Mexico and were happy to take advantage of the free campsites to not only save some money but to camp the way we like, out in the wilderness on our own.
Do you prefer boondocking or full hookups at an RV park? Let us know in the comments below.
By: Ashley Quiambao
We haven’t hit a National Park in months and in the past couple weeks we managed to check 3 more off our list. First was a big trip to Big Bend and then we made our way north to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas. Guadalupe is only about a 30 minute drive to Carlsbad Caverns National Park which is in New Mexico. We hit both parks over a few days and think it would be a great long weekend trip for anyone. So here’s the lowdown:
What it Cost:
We have the America the Beautiful Annual Pass so daily entry into both parks was free. Otherwise its $7 per person for Guadalupe and $15 per person for Carlsbad (plus the cost of any additional tours you do). Honestly, the parks pass is amazing and we HIGHLY recommend it. If you plan on hitting a couple parks in a year it will save you a bunch of money and it supports the parks so WIN WIN. It’s $80 per pass which can cover up to 4 adults (passholder and passengers) and gets you in to all the NPS sites for free. If you are a senior it’s $20 per year (or you can get a lifetime pass for $80) and if you are a veteran or disabled you can get a free pass.
Where to Stay:
If you have ever driven in west Texas you know there is nothing there. For miles and miles its just the highway and flat open fields. So your options are pretty limited for where to stay. We stayed at the NPS campground at Guadalupe, which is really just a big parking lot by the trail heads. Certainly not glamorous but easy and convenient. There are no hookups available and it’s $15 a night. But they do have bathrooms (no showers) and potable water. Keep in mind if you are heading there to make sure you are fully stocked - food, gas etc because there are no close amenities.
We arrived mid morning and had no problem claiming a spot, there were about 20 RV spots with some smaller van or car spots available. We parked in the middle row and got plenty of sun for our solar panels. One thing to note, be mindful of the weather forecast. They get a fair amount of wind there, in fact we stayed a day longer because of 60-70 mile an hour gusts that we opted not to drive through. When the wind kicks up like that, visibility on the mountains is tough and it makes hiking some of the trails pretty miserable.
We stayed at Guadalupe for a few nights so we could do a couple of hikes and then drove Wanda to Carlsbad Caverns for our visit and then stayed in Brantley Lake State Park after. The state park is not too far from the caverns and it’s a cool spot in the middle of the desert. It was really quiet and only $14 a night for a w/e spot. But I will say the showers left much to be desired, they were freezing.
What to Do:
At Guadalupe, we hiked 2 trails. The first day we set off on the Devil’s Hall Trail (3.8 miles) which was a very unique hike. After the first half mile or so you are dumped into a rocky wash where you have to pick your own path, moving and jumping on and over boulders. It feels like it goes on for a lot longer than it does but you eventually reach the Hikers Staircase which you have to scramble up. Here the terrain changes pretty dramatically and you head through a pretty slanted section with more rock stairs...kinda feels like you are a bit tipsy walking through. At the end is Devils Hall. It is really pretty and beautiful and not at all what we were expecting, a happy surprise. Overall, it’s an easy trail just be mindful of your footwear choice because the boulders are a little rough on your feet/ankles/knees.
The second trail we tackled was Guadalupe Peak which is the highest peak in Texas rising to 8,751 feet. The trail is about 8.4 miles long and rated as strenuous, which it is. It was really quite a tough hike up. It’s pretty much straight up 3,000 feet with not many sections of plateaus or flats. The trail also tricks you a bit, we thought we were close to the top several times only to turn a corner and see in the distance another ridge and another taller mountain to climb. The view from the top is worth the climb and you have to sign the register at the top proving you made it! If you take this hike on we would recommend packing light, taking plenty of water/snacks and head up early before the heat.
There is a primitive campground about a mile from the top that you can stay overnight in but we went up and down in one day. We spoke to a couple hikers who stayed up there who said it was absolutely awful up there with the heavy winds.
We have been in a couple caverns in the past month or so and we decided to do something a little different, to try an adventure cave tour at Carlsbad. They offer several options at different times and different days. Our only option was the Lower Cave Tour. It was a 3 hour tour. Armed with headlamps and hard hats you use a rope to climb down and then descend approximately 60 feet of ladders into a section of the cave beneath the main "Big Room". It was a fun way to explore and we really liked viewing the cave in its natural state. After the tour we walked the Big Room which is very appropriately named. It is massive, the size and depth of it blows any other cave we have seen out of the water. There is a nice path which loops around the whole room highlighting different formations along the way.
It was awesome to be able to explore 2 National Parks back to back like this. It is such a quick easy drive between the two and the parks are so different from each other. You get to experience two unique environments and terrains.
Have you ever been to Guadalupe or Carlsbad? Let us know in the comments below.