U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Carson National Forest

New Mexico

Custom Search

Forest Information

The Carson National Forest is comprised of 1,491,355 acres and is located in northern New Mexico. There are 35 developed campgrounds of which 16 met the selection criteria.

From pinon-juniper woods at 6,000 foot to the 13,161 foot Wheeler Peak, the Carson National Forest offers visitors magnificent mountain scenery, cool summer temperatures, diverse recreational opportunities supported by a variety of camping locations. With the lure of camping, hiking, fishing, exploring, and just plain loafing around, the Carson National Forest has something for everyone.

To share in the experiences of early European visitors to northern New Mexico, the Carson has a 100,000-acre tract of land called Valle Vidal Unit. Donated to the people of the United States by the Penzoil Company of Houston, Texas in 1982, the Unit retains much of its original features. Valle Vidal is managed as a wildlife habitat where disperse camping permitted. (Dispersed is undeveloped camping and not included in this campground review. Contact the Carson National Forest for more information about this type of camping.) It is not quite a wilderness but does have seriously limited vehicle use. Cimarron and McCrystal are the only two developed campgrounds in the Unit. At either location, campers have the luxuries of a Forest Service developed campground while enjoying the vastness and openness of the Unit. However, the entire Unit is open to dispersed camping for those who want to experience how the West really was not to long ago. One of the more unique features of the Valle Vidal Unit is its lack of maintained trails. The Forest seems to encourage visitors to park their vehicle (in a designated parking area), and packing water, a compass, map, and whatever else might be needed, head out to explore the pristine Unit. The crystal clear rivers, rolling grass covered hills, and towering tree-covered mountains will keep hiker or horseback rider entertained for many, many hours.

For those visitors to the Carson National Forest who prefer more formalized trails, there are over 330 miles of maintained trails within the Forest. Trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain bikes, and four-wheel drive vehicles abound. The trails in the Carson offer visitors a range of opportunities from exploring the Forest close up and personal to those featuring quiet solitude and physical challenge. These trails are, in general, maintained by volunteers. (For more information and maps contact the Carson National Forest Supervisor's Office.)

With 400 miles of cold mountain streams and numerous lakes, the Carson National Forest offers some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the area. Some popular spots are: Canjilon Lakes near Lower and Middle Canjilon Lakes campgrounds; Rio Pueblo near the Agua Piedra campground; and Red River with Junebug, Elephant Rock and Fawn Lakes campgrounds

The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is an 84-mile driving loop from Taos to Eagle Nest, than to Red River through Questa and back to Taos. This drive features panoramic vistas of the southern Rocky Mountains, a major molybdenum mine, several downhill ski resorts, and, in Angel Fire, New Mexico's equivalent to The Wall in Washington, D.C., the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial.

Another pleasant day trip, this one from the Canjilon campgrounds, is the Ghost Ranch. Not a working ranch, the Ghost Ranch offers a full range of educational courses for all ages. Although closely affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, the Ghost Ranch builds on its close proximity to the land that inspired Georgia O'Keefe with a large number of classes in the Arts and the Outdoors. The co-located Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology, found on the Ghost Ranch grounds, provide the basis for many classes in their areas of study for the young and young-at-heart. (For more information try the Ghost Ranch web site or contact the Cuba Ranger District Office.)

Wildlife viewing is another popular activity found within the Carson National Forest. Once a native to this area, the Bighorn Sheep were re-introduced in the early 1990's. Since then they have done very well and can be found in several of the Carson National Forest's wilderness areas. Marmots, pikas, elk, mule deer, golden eagles and many other species of mammal and bird are more readily accessible for viewing by the Forest's many visitors. The variety of vegetation and topography found within the Carson National Forest provide excellent habitat for wildlife and adds to the robust populations.

Along with a large number of developed campgrounds, the Carson National Forest has five wilderness areas: Wheeler Peak, Latir Peak, Cruces Basin, and northern portions of both the Pecos and Chama. These 86,163 acres have been set aside to preserve their pristine and wild nature. Humans are considered only a visitor here and are asked not to disturb the natural environment. No mechanized equipment, including bicycles, are prohibited. This balance between developed recreation opportunities and the undeveloped nature of a wilderness give visitors a wide assortment of activities to enjoy. It is also one of many reasons why many visitors return for another stay - far too much to do for one visit.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS Forest Service Building 208 Cruz Alta Rd. P.O.B. 558 Taos, New Mexico 87571 575-758-6200 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Camino Real P.O.B. 68 Penasco, New Mexico 87553 575-587-2255 Canjilon P.O.B. 469 Canjilon, New Mexico 87515 575-684-2486 El Rito P.O.B. 56 El Rito, New Mexico 87530 575-581-4554 Jicarilla 664 E. Broadway Bloomfield, New Mexico 87413 575-632-2956 Questa P.O.B. 110 Questa, New Mexico 87556 575-586-0520 Tres Piedras P.O.B. 38 Tres Piedras, New Mexico 87577 575-758-8678

Fred and Suzi Dow