Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. The stress of everyday life, the chaos of busy streets and highways, and the demands of work can make you just want to escape into the wilderness.
When the great outdoors call, camping, hunting, and hiking are great ways to find relief from urban life. If you’re looking for something to do, New Mexico camping and bushcraft can be a fantastic way to plan your next adventure.
Whether you want to throw everything in the bed of your truck and find a relaxing camping spot, hunt elk and board in the rugged wilderness, or lose yourself in a 2 week survival training trip, getting out there will melt your stress away.
When you think about camping and backpacking, many people picture the dense alpine forests of the Sierra Nevadas and the clear blue waters of a Rocky Mountain lake. What they don’t picture is the serene and vast landscape of the American Southwest.
New Mexico is a huge state with plenty of desolate, open wilderness areas. It’s perfect for any outdoor enthusiast to escape and make an adventure for themselves. We’ll cover some of the major wilderness regions, what gear you need, and some of the best camping spots in the state.
Major Wilderness Regions in New Mexico
Like any state, New Mexico has vast and diverse geography, with cascading mountains, open plains, and baron desert. If you’ve seen any movie about the wild west, though, you know that New Mexico is on the dry side.
There aren’t as many major wilderness regions here as you would find in a larger state like camping in California, or even in a similarly sized state like Montana or Colorado. But there’s still more than we can fully cover in this single guide.
These location make up just a handful of every major region you can find in the state. From the southern Rockies to the Rio Grande, these areas offer a wide range of experiences for any outdoor enthusiast, but don’t be afraid to look up more places.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains
This is the southernmost mountain range in the Rocky Mountains, and runs from Southern Colorado through the northeast corner of New Mexico. If you’re a huge fan of rugged mountain hiking, this is your go-to destination.
These mountains hold the highest peak in the state, as well as some of the best vistas you can find in New Mexico. These mountains aren’t always covered in dense forests, giving you options for both green alpine hiking and baron desert backpacking.
Expect snow cover all year in this region, and even summers can have cold nights. While you can expect it to be a lot warmer than Montana, you still need to be prepared for both hot and cold weather year round.
The continental divide runs straight through the state, making for a stark difference between the eastern and western half of the state. These mountains don’t go all the way through the state, so if you’re coming in from the west, you’ll have to drive quite a bit before getting to them. But you can take advantage of the opportunity for an extended road trip full of camping and hiking.
The Colorado Plateau
The Colorado Plateau is actually mostly outside of Colorado. It makes up the 4 corners region, and makes up huge portions of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. It’s a higher plateau, and includes a range of topographies.
You can find flat deserts, steep mountains, and deep ravines in this region, and it even includes the Grand Canyon. The north and northeastern segments of New Mexico house this massive region, bordering the the Sangre de Cristo Range.
This is a great place for a variety of outdoorsman to test their skill. Whether you want to see how long you can tough it in the desert, or you’re doing some casual natural sightseeing, this region is going to be one of your stops.
There isn’t a lot of surface water in New Mexico, making it tough to survive on your own. If you’re trying to go backpacking, you’ll want to make sure you’re carrying plenty of water. This region is the worst offender, with nearly no water in the region.
Like with any desert camping, there’s a surreal charm to the way the sun colors the land. The landscape transforms from a yellowish brown into a bright and saturated red. Between the extreme survival training and the mesmerizing views, you have plenty to do in this region.
The Great Plains
When you think of camping in New Mexico, you may not think of the Great Plains. But this massive, vast region runs from southern Texas to northern Canada, and makes up a huge portion of eastern New Mexico.
Hunting and backpacking on the great plains is a great experience, with soothingly wide horizons and roaming herds of antelope. You ditch the quick changes in elevation from the mountains and have a smooth, vast plain to wander around on.
The Great Plains are dotted with loan bluffs and isolated canyons, and the New Mexico portion of the plains runs straight into the Rio Grande drainage basin. It’s perfect to get abundant solitude for some truly relaxing time in nature.
The weather on the plains is turbulent and unpredictable. You can have a warm, sunny morning, and within a few minutes a thunderstorm can roll in. It’s why many of these states see a lot of tornadoes, so make sure you’re prepared for some unexpected weather.
The Great Plains makes up the camping scene in a lot of different states, but in New Mexico it gives you access to the desert and range that you picture with the American west. It’s for more arid outdoors enthusiasts, but everyone should give it a shot.
The Basin and Range
When you hear about life on the range, or you picture the wild west, you’re picturing the Basin and Range region of New Mexico. This vast and open space calls back to the glory days of the frontier, and is the perfect getaway spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
If you just want to do some sightseeing of some gorgeous natural scenery, then this is the place to do it. Or if you want to test your survival abilities, you can’t go wrong with this massive natural playground. It occupies the southern part of the state.
This region alternates between lower desert basins and small mountain ranges, extending for hundreds of miles. This is the true desert of the region, giving you some of the toughest outdoor training that you can find in the United States
Expect the weather to be hot and dry during the day, but cold at night. Deserts lack humidity, which massively regulates the climate of a region, meaning there are big swings in temperature.
Like with most of the rest of the state, you can’t really find natural surface water, so make sure you’re packing plenty of water for your trip
This region offers some of the most iconic sights in the state. It’s what you really associate with the desert badlands of New Mexico, and is great for outdoorsman of any experience level, so add this spot to your next outdoor adventure.
What You Need to Bring
Now that we’ve gone over some of the major regions where you can go camping and backpacking in New Mexico, let’s go over the essential gear that you need in order to have a successful, safe trip.
Like with any outdoor adventure, the scale and scope of your plans will have a huge impact on what you need to bring. A casual car camper can carry much heavier equipment than a person backpacking through the wilderness.
From sub zero sleeping bags to survival hatchets, we’re going to cover all of the gear you need to have a successful trip out in this wilderness. We assume you have the basics like boots and jackets, so let’s go over what else you need.
When you’re camping, you can drive all of the equipment you need right to your campground, meaning you don’t have to worry about getting lightweight gear. The only things you really need to be successful with your camping trip are a sleeping bag, a tent, and fire.
Most tents comfortably house 4 people, which should do it for most trips. This option from Coleman is a great, affordable tent that will protect you from the elements. It’s not space efficient, but that’s only a big deal for backpacking.
Sleeping bags are a given in any camping trip, but you may not realize that not all sleeping bags will keep you warm in every temperature. So make sure you have a sub-zero sleeping bag that ensures you stay warm on those cold nights out on the range.
Of course, one of the most important parts of the getting into the wild is making sure you can get a fire going. You’ll want a small camping axe like the Husqvarna Carpenter’s axe to make sure you can gather fuel.
You’ll need a powerful flashlight to see at night. My personal favorite is the Hybeam, which you can check out here. And when nigh falls, you’ll need to be able to get a fire going. The Everstryke waterproof match is impressively resistant against the elements, so check that out here. You can see it in action with this video:
When you’re out backpacking, you want to make sure that everything you’re bringing is comfortable to carry on your back. If you’re particularly in shape, you can maybe swing an 80 pound pack, but you should avoid going over 60.
To carry all of this stuff, make sure you have a durable, sturdy pack like this 50 liter backpack. That way you can always fit everything you need inside.
Tents shouldn’t weigh more than 4 or 5 pounds, and this option from Featherstone is a great, lightweight option that will comfortably house you on your night trips. Also consider bringing this Estwing Tomahawk, an incredibly light axe for any cutting job.
To save space, upgrade your flashlight to something like the compact, sleek, and powerful Hybeam Micro. This video shows you how powerful it is.
Top Camping Spots in New Mexico
We’ve covered the major wilderness regions of New Mexico, and the gear you need for a successful camping trip. Now we’ll go over a few of the top camping destinations in this state, from deserts to forests.
Like any state, New Mexico is home to hundreds of fantastic places to get in touch with nature. There’s so many that we can’t possibly cover everything in this guide, so we’re just going to include a small sample of everything.
From the beautiful chaparral forests of Carson National Forests to the serene and surreal sand dunes of White Sands National Monument, these spots will have something for everyone. All you have to do is get out there and have your next adventure in one of these great spots.
Carson National Forest
Carson National Forest is one of the few alpine regions you can find in New Mexico. It’s located in the Rockies in the northern part of the state, near the border of Texas and the Rio Grande river valley, making it a great addition to an extended tour of the Rockies.
The crisp alpine air is perfect for calming yourself as you take in some of the state’s massive vistas. This mountainous region is littered with crystal clear lakes, snowy passes, and gorgeous views. It also has quite a few campgrounds for anyone to enjoy.
This is a great place for nearly every type of outdoor enthusiast. From casual car campers to survivalists, anyone can lose themselves in this pristine wilderness.
City of Rocks
City of Rocks is one of the more unique locations on this list, and is really more of a spectacle than a playground. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most interesting places to get out into the wilderness in New Mexico.
The park is a rugged desert with arid flora that’s littered with odd rock formations, each of which make mesmerizing formations for anyone to observe. It’s a sight to behold, and makes for a truly memorable experience.
This will really appeal to casual campers and backpackers. It’s not a massive area, so survival enthusiasts can’t really stretch their abilities.
Wild Rivers Recreation Area
Wild Rivers Recreation Area is located near Carson National Forest, but lies to the northeast. It’s near the formation of the Rio Grande, just south of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, and is marked by deep ravines and rough rivers.
This is a great way to experience the raw force of nature, seeing how water can carve out deep ravines and shape entire valleys. You can choose to do day hiking, or even an extended backpacking trip around the region.
This won’t be great for hardcore survival training, but it’s a great way to do some intense hiking and even some simple survival practice. Even casual outdoorsman can enjoy themselves here, with the recreation area providing easy access.
For some, desert camping is the ultimate test. The dry, arid plains dotted with lone mountains and rocky bluffs are a fantastic way to get out into the wild. Add in some sand and you have excellent resistance for hiking and survival.
White sands is a desert sprawling more than 250 square miles that is covered in thick, white sand. You can spend a day in the dunes, or chance your survival skills by venturing out for overnight camping and backpacking.
Laws and Regulations for Camping and Bushcraft in New Mexico
New Mexico has some pretty clear cut laws regarding camping. Camping on developed sites is pretty easy, but you’ll have to brush up on the rules for “dispersed camping,” or camping away from developed facilities.
You can’t camp for more than 14 nights in a 28 day period, so make sure that you keep your trips to under 2 weeks in a month. You also can’t set up camp within 900 feet of a developed water source, and campfires must be attended at all times.
If you’re looking to chop your own firewood, you’ll need to get a wood cutting permit through the Federal government. This lets you cut certain wood in national forests, ensuring that you can keep warm at night.
Enjoying the Vast Deserts of New Mexico
New Mexico has some of the most iconic scenery in America. Tales of the wild west call back to this open range, and the vast desert is truly mesmerizing. From interesting sights like City of Rocks to massive wilderness regions like the Sangre de Cristo Range, the state gives something for everyone to enjoy.
Whether you’re just planning a car camping trip or you’re trying to push your survival skills, this state is one of the best stops. It’s filled with natural wealth and scenic locations, letting you have a fulfilling and relaxing adventure. Of the 50 states, it’s hard to beat the dessert camping you can find here.
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