9 Best Places for Free Dispersed Camping in New Mexico

Looking for dispersed camping in New Mexico?

You’re in luck. Five national forests (and small sections of two others) plus a heck of lot of BLM land give you plenty of options for setting up camp without spending a single penny.

To make finding free campsites in New Mexico even easier, I’ve rounded up 9 of my personal favorites to share with you below.

See Also: Where to Go Dispersed Camping in Arizona

Please always follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles (especially packing out all your trash, properly disposing of human waste, respecting campfire bans, and only using previously-used campsites) when dispersed camping in New Mexico.

Best Dispersed Campsites in New Mexico

Here’s a quick list of the free campsites I dive into below: 

Or, browse these free campsites on our New Mexico dispersed camping map to find one near you.

My Favorite Dispersed Campsites in New Mexico

The following free campsites are among the very best in New Mexico (in my opinion). Use them to help plan your next dispersed camping trip. 

Caja del Rio

Location: Near Santa Fe

The Caja del Rio area in Santa Fe National Forest is my favorite place for dispersed camping near Santa Fe.

The first campsites appear just off Forest Road 24 near Headquarters Well. Almost immediately after this, the dirt access road becomes much rougher. RVs and trailers should stick to the first couple pullouts rather than attempting to drive up to the plateau.

Most passenger vehicles can continue up the road. However, know that the dirt roads here often become incredibly muddy and rutted when it rains. To be safe, I recommend AWD/4WD and high-clearance if you plan to venture up to the top of the Caja Del Rio Plateau.

It does get busy here thanks to the proximity to Santa Fe. However, there’s a ton of room to spread out, so you’re sure to find something quiet and peaceful, especially if you’re willing to brave the rough roads.

What I Like:

Beautiful views from the top of the plateau. Quiet campsites throughout. The first stretch of campsites is great for boondocking in RVs and trailers. A quick drive into Santa Fe. 

What I Don’t Like:

The dirt access roads can get extremely rough and rutted after it rains. Even 4WD vehicles should be cautious about camping here if rain is in the forecast.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Just before you enter Santa Fe National Forest near Headquarter Wells is a small slice of BLM land (GPS coordinates: 35.692300, -106.086200). The campsites here are spacious and level, making them perfect for boondocking in RVs and trailers. 

For More Info:

The Caja del Rio area is part of Santa Fe National Forest.

Call the Espanola Ranger District for more information: (505) 753-7331

Get Directions to Caja del Rio

Juan Tomas Road

Location: Near Albuquerque

Finding good dispersed camping near Albuquerque is surprisingly difficult.

Out of a handful of options in nearby Cibola National Forest, my favorite free campsites in the area are those along Juan Tomas Road south of Tijeras.

The best campsites are within about a half mile in either direction from Juan Tomas Trailhead (GPS coordinates: 35.034879, -106.320276). You can access these sites from either direction, although RVs and trailers should arrive via Highway 217 from the east for the smoothest approach.

Expect plenty of peace and quiet, despite some daytime OHV use. Most campsites have partial shade. It stays a little cooler here than down in Albuquerque thanks to the higher elevation.

What I Like:

Juan Tomas Road is most notable for its proximity to Albuquerque (about an hour away). It’s up in the mountains with lots of scrub pine and juniper. It typically doesn’t get very busy here. A lot of mountain biking and hiking trails are located nearby if you’re into those activities.

What I Don’t Like:

The drive in from Highway 337 to the west is much rougher than arriving from Highway 217 to the east, although any passenger vehicle can do it if you take your time (and it’s not wet).

Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of trash here (an all too common sight at dispersed campsites nowadays). Pick up your trash – or, better yet, pick up trash left behind by others too – and make sure to pack out all your waste.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Dispersed camping is abundant throughout the Sandia Ranger District in Cibola National Forest near Albuquerque. Explore the spur roads off Juan Tomas Road to find other campsites. Nearby Forest Road 462 is rough but has excellent dispersed campsites if you can reach them.

For More Info:

Juan Tomas Road is part of Cibola National Forest.

Call the Sadia Ranger District for more information: (505) 281-3304

Get Directions to Juan Tomas Road

Cosmic Campground

Location: Near Glenwood

Even though dispersed camping isn’t allowed here, Cosmic Campground is hands down my favorite place for free camping in New Mexico – and it’s not even close.

For starters, it’s an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. As that designation implies, it’s incredibly dark here at night. The views of the Milky Way are among the very best I’ve experienced in the United States.

In fact, Cosmic Campground is the first campground built for amateur astronomers. It boasts four concrete telescope pads (camping isn’t allowed on these) and requires campers to use red light filters on all flashlights and headlamps to minimize light pollution. Try not to arrive after dark so you don’t flood the campground with your headlights.

Aside from the stargazing, this campground is notable for its remoteness and wide-open desert views. It has 8 total first-come, first-served campsites (all completely free!) with a maximum RV limit of 36 feet. A vault toilet is located on-site.

What I Like:

Cosmic Campground is clean and well-maintained. It’s over 40 miles from the nearest significant source of light so the night skies are great for stargazing. In fact, “star parties” are held regularly throughout the year with telescopes provided for all to use. Don’t forget to check out nearby Cat Walk Recreation Area for a short yet scenic daytime hike.

What I Don’t Like:

There’s minimal shade here. And, it does get quite hot in the summer. I believe there are plans to install shade shelters in the near future. Along with the lack of shade, both wind and dust can be issues depending on the time of year.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

You’ll see a couple large dispersed campsites just after you exit Highway 180 towards the campground. Many of these will accommodate large RVs and trailers. Additional dispersed camping can be found throughout Gila National Forest, including along Copper Creek Road.

For More Info:

Cosmic Campground is part of Gila National Forest.

Call the Glenwood Ranger District for more information: (575) 539-2481

Get Directions to Cosmic Campground

Parks Ranch Campground

Location: Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Dispersed camping certainly isn’t in short supply near Carlsbad Caverns.

Yet, I personally prefer staying at Parks Ranch Campground, a primitive BLM campground that allows free camping for up to 14 days.

There are just two or three marked campsites here. They’re best suited for tent camping or van camping. Small RVs and trailers will likely be just fine, but the Bureau of Land Management recommends RVs and trailers head to Sunset Reef Campground or Chosa Campground (both also free) instead.

Although Parks Ranch is called a campground, don’t expect any amenities other than fire rings and tent pads. There are no vault toilets here so plan to pack out human waste as if you were dispersed camping.

What I Like:

Beautiful views of the desert in every direction. Just a half hour to both Carlsbad National Park to the north and Guadalupe National Park in Texas to the south. Around 45 minutes to the town of Carlsbad. Very dark and quiet at night. Strong cellular reception from most providers.

What I Don’t Like:

Only a handful of campsites. Not ideal for RVs or trailers. The dirt access road isn’t typically very rough – but definitely don’t try to camp here with rain in the forecast.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

In addition to Sunset Reef Campground and Chosa Campground, the BLM lands near Carlsbad Caverns National Park are littered with dispersed campsites. Dark Canyon is perhaps the best and is suitable for small to medium RVs and trailers in addition to tents and vans.

For More Info:

Parks Ranch Campground is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Call the Carlsbad Field Office for more information: (575) 234-5960

Get Directions to Parks Ranch Campground

Mills Canyon Campground

Location: Northeast New Mexico

* I believe the USFS plans to require a nightly fee here ($10 to $12) in the near future.

Mills Canyon Campground is another free campground that’s well worth an overnight stop.

It’s located in Northeast New Mexico about an hour off I-25. Although you must camp in a designated campsite, Mills Canyon used to allow proper dispersed camping and retains much of this primitive charm.

With just 12 campsites (three with their own horse corrals) spread between two camping loops (upper and lower), you’ll never have too much company around.

The USFS advises RVs and trailers to look elsewhere for camping. The dirt access road isn’t horribly rough, but high-clearance is certainly helpful. Be very cautious driving here after heavy rains.  

What I Like:

Extremely beautiful desert scenery throughout the canyon. Each campsite is large and spacious (and most are wheelchair accessible). There are several horse corrals and an abundance of horseback riding (and hiking) trails nearby. Reasonably convenient to I-25 if you’re driving from Santa Fe to Denver.

What I Don’t Like:

A small camping fee will possibly be implemented soon (although staying here will still be worth it). The access road gets rough and slick, especially after rains. I’ve seen people stay here in RVs and trailers up to around 24 feet, but it’s probably better to find a different campsite, unless you’re comfortable navigating rough roads.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

I’m not aware of any other free campsites in the immediate area. However, about an hour to the north and just to the west of I-25, you’ll find Springer Lake Wildlife Area and Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge. Both allow dispersed camping with several spots suitable for larger RVs and trailers.

For More Info:

Mills Canyon Campground is part of Kiowa National Grassland administered together with Cibola National Forest.

Call the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands for more information: (575) 374-9652

Get Directions to Mills Canyon Campground

Angel Peak Scenic Area

Location: Near Farmington

Free camping in New Mexico doesn’t get much more scenic than Angel Peak Scenic Area.

Located just 45 minutes southeast of Farmington, this stunningly gorgeous slice of the state centers around towering Angel Peak and the surrounding badlands and canyons.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe dispersed camping is allowed within the scenic area, even though it’s administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

No matter though – the free Angel Peak Campground is a great alternative. Not only is camping here free for up to two weeks, but the campground is very clean and well-maintained. Each of the nine campsites has a picnic table and fire rings. There’s even a vault toilet here.

Angel Peak is an excellent place to stop for an overnight on your way to or from the Four Corners Monument. It’s also a great place for boondocking in RVs and trailers of all sizes.

What I Like:

Angel Peak Scenic Area is, as the name describes, incredibly scenic. This is hands down one of the most beautiful places in New Mexico, in my opinion. The campground is small and each campsite is spaced quite far apart. Although you shouldn’t expect solitude, camping here is a lot more private than you might expect from a BLM campground.

What I Don’t Like:

Summer gets very hot despite the high elevation. Aside from a handle of picnic shelters and a handful of trees, there’s minimal shade. Angel Peak is normally pretty mellow, but does become something of a local party spot on nicer weekends, especially around holidays.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

You’ll likely see others dispersed camping along BLM Road 7175 on your way to Angel Peak Campground, especially near the Angel Peak Badlands Overlook. However, I don’t believe dispersed camping is actually allowed outside of the campground within the scenic area.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area (often simply called Bisti Badlands) is an alternative to Angel Peak. It’s a little over an hour away and is notable for its badland scenery, especially its hoodoo formations.

For More Info:

Angel Creek Scenic Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Call the Farmington Field Office for more information: (505) 564-7600

Get Directions to Angel Creek Campground

Capitan Wilderness

Location: Near Capitan  

The Capitan Wilderness is a great place to set up camp for free in south-central New Mexico.

Located about 5 miles north of the town of Capitan, this expansive section of Lincoln National Forest isn’t known only for its many recreational opportunities – it’s also famous as the place where the real Smokey the Bear was found in 1950.

There are several different options for camping here. My favorite are the dispersed campsites just off County Road C001 in the Capitan Gap area on the way to the Capitan Mountain trailhead.

High-clearance is all but a must and 4WD is extremely helpful, especially for the last several miles of road. Don’t take anything but the smallest trailer here (and it likely needs high-clearance itself).

The campsites themselves are quite spacious but there’s not a whole lot of privacy in between them. Luckily, it never seems to get very busy here, so chances are you’ll find a quiet space all to yourself.

What I Like:

The Capitan Wilderness is the place to go for peace and quiet. It doesn’t get very busy here and you’ll almost certainly find a private campsite. Beautiful wilderness scenery abounds and there are plenty of hiking opportunities nearby.

What I Don’t Like:

This is pretty much only for car camping and tent camping. Look elsewhere for boondocking in RVs and trailers. The access roads aren’t terribly rough if you have high-clearance, but 4WD is certainly helpful.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Lincoln National Forest is chock full of dispersed campsites. The nearby White Mountain Wilderness is another good place to look.

There are also a handful of free developed campgrounds in the area, such as Cave Campground which is part of the Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

For More Info:

The Capitan Wilderness is part of Lincoln National Forest.

Call the Smokey Bear Ranger District for more information: (575) 257-4095

Get Directions to Capitan Gap

Holloman Lake

Location: Near White Sands National Park

Holloman Lake is one of the best places for dispersed camping near White Sands National Park.

The campsites are scattered around a large dirt expanse near the lake. The most popular campsites are right on the lakeside itself. Despite the proximity to the national park, there’s always plenty of room to spread out here.

This is a great place for boondocking in New Mexico, although it’s important to take things slow on the approach. It’s something of a tight turn off Highway 70 through the entrance gate, especially in a big rig.

The first couple campsites along the gravel section of the access road are best for RVs and trailers. The closer to the lake you get, the rougher the road gets, but all vehicles should be fine, unless it just rained.

What I Like:

Holloman Lake is very close to White Sands National Park and a heck of a lot less busy. There’s a lot of room to spread out, so you should have at least a little privacy from your closest neighbor. This is a great place for boondocking in RVs and trailers.

What I Don’t Like:

These campsites are exposed to the elements. It often gets very windy, making Holloman Lake better for RVs, trailers, vans, and other self-contained vehicles rather than tents. It gets extremely hot in the summer. Dust can also be a problem.

Because these campsites are right next to Holloman Air Force Base not to mention a busy highway, it’s safe to say you shouldn’t expect much quiet. But the noise really isn’t as terrible as you might think.

Last but not least is the lake itself. While it’s beautiful to look out at, Holloman Lake isn’t safe for swimming or wading (due to sewage from the air force base, I believe).

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

A great alternative to camping at Holloman Lake are the free dispersed campsites off Dog Canyon Road (GPS Coordinates: 32.7442, -105.9306). It’s a little farther away, but still convenient to White Sands National Park.

For More Info:

Holloman Lake is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Call the Las Cruces District Office for more information: (575) 525-4300

Get Directions to Holloman Lake

Cebolla Mesa

Location: Near Taos

Las but certainly not least on our list of the best places for dispersed camping in New Mexico is Cebolla Mesa.

Located in Carson National Forest about 45 minutes north of Taos, this area is best known for its peace and quiet as well as its beautiful canyon views.

You have a couple options after turning off Highway 522 onto Forest Road 9. Perhaps most popular is Cebolla Mesa Campground at the very end of the road (about 3.5 miles from the turnoff).

This free primitive campground has 5 first-come, first-served campsites and offers the best views of the Rio Grande far below. Small and medium sized RVs and trailers (up to about 32 feet) will fit here.

On the drive in to Cebolla Mesa campground, you’ll pass several spur roads and roadside pullouts that are suitable for dispersed camping. Just make sure you’re not on private land (it’s well-marked) before setting up camp.

What I Like:

A choice between dispersed camping and a free USFS campground. Beautiful views of the Rio Grande cutting its way through the canyon below. A relatively quick and easy drive into Taos. It never seems to get very busy here.

What I Don’t Like:

Not much to complain about here – the access road is a little bumpy, but nothing that any passenger vehicle can’t handle as long as you take things slow. And, please be extra cautious after rain as Forest Road 9 can get very muddy.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Nearby Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Area and Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area (both also part of Carson National Forest) have countless dispersed camping opportunities. Check out the pullouts and spur roads along Highway 150 on the way to Taos Ski Valley for starters.

For More Info:

Cebolla Mesa is part of Carson National Forest.

Call the Questa Ranger District for more information: (575) 586-0520

Get Directions to Cebolla Mesa Campground

Another Option: New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass

It’s not free, but the New Mexico annual camping pass is still a heck of a deal.

For just $225 for out-of-staters ($180 for residents and $100 for resident seniors), this pass allows you to camp at any of New Mexico’s state parks for “free” for 12 months starting from the month of purchase.

Obviously, this isn’t worth it if you’re just passing through. But, if you live in the state and go camping regularly, it’s definitely worth thinking about.

Many full-time boondockers and vandwellers utilize this annual pass. New Mexico is one of the best places for fall, winter, and spring camping. It’s not hard to see why it’s such a popular RV snowbirding destination.

Make New Mexico an affordable wintertime boondocking homebase by investing in this annual pass. Although it’s only good for dry campsites, you can pay just $4 extra per night for an electric hookup (when available).

I know a lot of full-time boondockers who split their winters between New Mexico (utilizing the annual camping pass) and Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Arizona (the LTVAs near Quartzsite are very popular) and Southern California.

Learn more about New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass.

How to Find Even More Free Camping in New Mexico

Rock formations in the desert near Abiquiu, New Mexico

The 9 dispersed campsites outlined above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to free campsites in New Mexico.

Countless other dispersed campsites are scattered across the state’s public lands. Here’s how to track these down on your own:

  • Online Maps – Satellite view on Google Maps gets the job done, but I’ve found Gaia GPS so much more helpful thanks to its super accurate BLM and USFS boundary maps.
  • MVUM Maps – Download free MVUM (motor vehicle use maps) with the Avenza Maps (you can use them offline). Or pick up paper copies at the nearest ranger station. 
  • Ranger Station – In addition to providing MVUMs, USFS and BLM rangers are happy to direct you to the best dispersed camping and boondocking locations near you.
  • Just Explore – I’ve found my absolute favorite dispersed campsites (which I keep secret!) by just driving around the backroads on USFS and BLM lands without a real plan of attack.

Dispersed camping is far from the only way to camp for free in New Mexico.

“Camping” in store parking lots (here are which stores allow overnight parking for camping) and casino camping (“camping” in a casino parking lot) are two additional options. In a pinch, you can even try “stealth camping” as long as your vehicle blends in with the crowd.

Related Post: Where to Go Dispersed Camping in Utah

New Mexico Dispersed Camping Rules and Regulations

White sand dunes underneath cloudy skies at sunrise in New Mexico.

Protect our public lands by always treating them with respect.

New Mexico’s national forests and BLM lands are busier than ever before – and with that increased use comes a much higher risk of misuse, abuse, and damage.

Here are a few of the most important rules to follow:

  • Pack Out Trash – Garbage cans are extremely rare when dispersed camping. Please come prepared to pack out all of your own trash, including food waste. Better yet, pick up after others and leave your campsite cleaner than it was when you arrived.
  • Dispose Human Waste – I strongly encourage you to pack out your human waste (with WAG bags or a portable camping toilet like the Luggable Loo), especially in very popular dispersed camping areas, even though burying waste in a cat hole is still allowed many places.
  • Respect Campfire Bans – Always follow current fire restrictions when dispersed camping in New Mexico. Wildfires are a huge problem and are most often caused by irresponsible campers. 
  • Use Existing Campsites – Please use existing campsites whenever possible. These are usually pretty obvious thanks to worn vegetation and handmade rock fire rings.
  • Don’t Overstay Limits – Most public land in New Mexico has a 14-day camping limit, except for a handful of very popular dispersed camping areas.

If you’re new to primitive camping outside of developed campgrounds, I strongly recommend reading up on the 7 Leave No Trace principles before your trip.

Please also visit the USFS or BLM website for the area you plan on visiting (or talk to a ranger) for the most up-to-date information on current rules, restrictions, and area closures. 

Related Post: Where to Dispersed Camping in Colorado

Have Fun Camping in New Mexico!

Still have questions about dispersed camping in New Mexico?

Don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll happily provide additional suggestions if none of the free campsites above hit the mark for you.

Shoot me a line: jake@campnado.com

See Also: My Dispersed Camping Gear List