Dispersed camping is free, private, and does not require any permits. New Mexico is a great place to go dispersed camping because the National Forests cover millions of acres.
There are also plenty of dispersed campsites to be found in New Mexico Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas and in the New Mexico Recreation Areas. In this article, we’ll let you know exactly how to find dispersed camping in New Mexico and the rules to follow.
There Are 5 National Forests In New Mexico
- Carson National Forest
- Cibola National Forest
- Gila National Forest
- Lincoln National Forest
- Santa Fe National Forest
You can find free, dispersed camping in each of these National Forests. They are also the best place to see wildlife, go for a hike, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Rules For Dispersed Camping In New Mexico
The rules for dispersed camping are pretty similar for all National Forests in the US. This park system is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The most important rules for dispersed camping are:
- Camp within 150 feet of roadways, if possible
- Always use existing fire rings when available
- No camping within 100 feet of a water source
- No camping at developed trailheads or picnic areas
- You must move your campsite every 14 days
- Do not leave personal property unattended for more than 10 days
- Minimize your environmental impact
- Leave no trace
14 Day Stay Limits
All National Forest and Bureau of Land Management Areas have a 14-day stay limit. This is to prevent excess damage to the environment. In New Mexico, this means that you can’t camp in the same spot for more than 14 days within a 28 day timeframe.
That includes both consecutive and non-consecutive visits.
After you’ve reached the 14 day maximum, you must move your campsite outside of a 25 mile radius.
Dispersed Camping Areas
Following these rules, you can go camping for free in most areas of the New Mexico National Forest. Many places have site-specific rules to follow as well.
How To Find Exact Dispersed Camping Boundaries
The most difficult part about dispersed camping is finding out exactly where it’s legal to camp. National Forest boundaries are not clearly marked from the road.
Our top tip is to talk to a local park ranger. They can give you the best lay of the land, road conditions, and any special considerations that need to be taken into account.
Aside from that, the USDA offers this interactive map which accurately labels the National Forest boundaries in New Mexico.
Finding Free Campsites With The Dyrt
One of our favorite tips if you’re on the move and don’t have reliable access to the internet is to download The Dyrt Pro App. The app makes it easy to find National Forest boundaries and download the maps for offline use.
You can toggle the layers to find the exact boundaries for:
- Bureau of Land Management Areas
- National Parks
- National Forests
And you can also read reviews of campsites in the area.
Dispersed Camping On Bureau Of Land Management Areas In New Mexico
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is run by the US Department of the Interior. Dispersed camping on New Mexico BLM land follows the same rules as that of the National Forest.
There are over 40 dispersed camping locations on BLM land in New Mexico.
Here are a few of our favorite areas to explore:
- El Malpais National Conservation Area
- Sabinoso Wilderness Area
- Aden Hills OHV Area
- San Lorenzo Canyon
- Cebolla Wilderness Area
BLM campsites range wildly. Some come equipped with vault toilets or trash services; others will have fire rings only. You should never expect a BLM campground to be fully serviced. That’s why reading reviews can be so important!
Before committing to a dispersed camping site, we recommend stopping by one of the forest service offices nearby. The rangers there can give you the most up-to date information about the area.
Dispersed Camping In New Mexico National Monuments
New Mexico has several National Parks Monuments which allow dispersed camping. A few of the monuments also have free designated campgrounds which means you can get a couple of amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings along with your visit.
National Monuments do require a National Parks Pass for entry. So it’s not entirely free, but if you purchase an annual “America the Beautiful” National Park Pass then it’s about as cheap as you can get!
- El Malpais National Monument
- El Moro National Monument
- Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
Boondocking In New Mexico
Having traveled through all 48 contiguous states, we found New Mexico to be one of the easiest places to find dispersed camping! There is so much public land in New Mexico, and we were surprised to find that the region is very mountainous and green in some areas.
Visiting New Mexico was truly a gem, and one of our favorite road trip destinations!