If you’re looking for a camping experience well off the beaten path, head to Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. Here, you can enjoy seemingly infinite miles of hiking trails, mineral hot springs, ancient cliff dwellings, some of the best hunting in the U.S., and much more.
Because Gila National Forest is remote and so much of the area is a true wilderness, the best way to experience it is RV camping. Many of the campgrounds in the national forest are partially developed or boondocking sites, allowing you to slow down, unplug, and connect with Mother Nature. In this vast area, it can be challenging to decide where to start, so we’ve put together five of the best Gila National Forest campgrounds.
Best Gila National Forest Campgrounds
These five campgrounds offer the best Gila National Forest RV camping experience. Browse the list and find the best spot for your needs!
One of the most developed campgrounds in Gila National Forest, Mesa is situated just outside Silver City and offers lovely views of Lake Roberts. The lake provides opportunities for fishing and boating (non-motorized and electric motors only), and there’s a boat launch available.
Twelve of Mesa Campground’s sites have electricity and water hookups and can accommodate RVs up to 32 feet. Every site has a picnic table and grill, and there are complete restroom facilities with flushing toilets and heat. This campground is first-come, first-served and a camp host is on duty to assist campers.
Just outside the town of Glenwood along Highway 180 (literally just outside — within walking distance!), this Gila National Forest campground offers convenient access for quick getaways.
Bighorn has just six campsites, all partially developed and well-maintained. Each site has its own fire ring with a BBQ grate and a picnic table, and there’s a vault toilet on the grounds. There is no trash service or potable water available, so campers should plan ahead. The maximum RV size permitted at Bighorn is 24 feet.
Located along the western shores of Snow Lake, Dipping Vat Campground offers a wide variety of recreation opportunities. Trout are stocked three times a year, and the fishing is excellent (note that you’ll need a New Mexico fishing license); plus, there are several nearby hiking trails to explore.
While this Gila National Forest campground is open year-round, services are only available seasonally, from April through November. Between December and March, all campers need to pack out their trash and bring in their own water. There are 40 level campsites, each with a picnic table and fire ring. Note that RVs must not exceed 19 feet long.
One of only 14 certified International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the entire world, this campground in the Gila National Forest is ideal for astronomy enthusiasts and photographers. You’ll enjoy stargazing with unobstructed 360-degree views of the night sky, and there are even four concrete observation pads designated specifically for telescopes.
The campground itself is fairly primitive, so it’s geared more toward those who enjoy boondocking — a fair trade-off for the peace, quiet, and incredible night skies! Cosmic Campground is first-come, first-serve, and totally free to enjoy. Each site comes with a fire pit, a BBQ grate, a picnic table, and a vault toilet on-site.
Another boondocking campground in Gila National Forest, Armijo Springs is a surprising hidden gem. The campground is tucked away off the beaten path in a forest of dense ponderosa pines and oak trees, yet it’s close to Quemado Lake and both Quemado and Apache Creek, each with small general stores and gas.
Armijo Springs is a partially developed campground, so each site has a picnic table and fire ring, and there’s one vault toilet, but there’s no potable water or trash service available. A natural spring nearby may provide clean drinking water and offer relief on hot days, but campers should not rely on this as a water source.
Fun Things To Do in Gila National Forest
Now that you know some of the best places to stay in the national forest, it’s time to talk about what there is to do!
- Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument - Visit the ancient cliff dwellings, which include large rooms, pottery, and other fascinating artifacts. The one-mile round trip Cliff Dwellers Trail is one of the best ways to experience the ruins up close.
- Hike the Catwalk Recreation Area - Remnants of an old mill from Gold Rush mining days, “the Catwalk” is a unique, accessible half-mile wooden boardwalk trail that passes pristine pools and a couple of small waterfalls. Once the boardwalk ends, the trail continues for about .75 miles into the rugged Gila Wilderness.
- Soak in mineral hot springs - Close to the Gila Visitor Center, there are two fairly accessible natural hot springs, Jordan and Lightfeather. Jordan Hot Spring requires a 7-to-8-mile hike and features a 20-foot pool that maintains a comfortable temperature of 94 degrees year-round. Lightfeather is just a 20-minute walk from the visitor center and features several visitor-maintained rock-lined pools ideal for a quick soak.
Best Time To Visit Gila National Forest
Because of its elevation, Gila National Forest enjoys four mild seasons, especially in comparison to many other Southwest destinations. The best times of year to visit are spring, when wildflowers bloom and water is at peak flow, and late summer to early fall, when temperatures are still warm and fall foliage begins to turn.
Choose Cruise America for Your New Mexico Adventure
Whatever it is that draws you to Gila National Forest, your experience will be even better in the comfort of a Cruise America RV rental. With nearly 130 convenient rental locations, including several throughout the Southwest, and several vehicle models to choose from, it’s never been easier to hit the road and enjoy camping in New Mexico!