If you’re traveling in western New Mexico and want to stay amidst a stunningly beautiful desert landscape, Caballo Lake State Park might be the perfect place for your next RV vacation. Created in the 1930s, Caballo Lake State Park is a gem of an area. The Caballo Mountains rise over 2,000 feet above the lake to provide an amazing backdrop for all your adventures in the park. Even better, it’s not far from Las Cruces and is even closer to the town of Truth or Consequences (yes, that’s a real town name)! No matter what time of year you visit, you’re unlikely to find a crowd. The peak season for Caballo Lake includes summer weekends, but nearby Elephant Butte Lake relieves much of the tourist pressure.
What attracts most visitors to Caballo Lake State Park is, of course, the lake, with its glistening waters reflecting the expansive sky and it’s billowy cloud shapes. The lake (around 11,500 acres in size when full) is formed by the mighty Rio Grande, which had a much more seasonal flow before the Caballo Dam was built, and now the lake provides extensive recreational opportunities. Boating, motorized and non-motorized, is popular during the summer months when New Mexico’s high temperatures have everyone looking for a place to cool off.
When it’s cooler, though, hiking and horseback riding are also popular, and there’s a vast network of trails running along the lake’s western edge. Lower temperatures also bring out an abundance of wildlife that spends their time burrowed into the ground or hidden high up in the trees to escape the summer heat. Always carry a pair of binoculars in Caballo Lake State Park; you never know what you might see.
Four campgrounds within Caballo Lake State Park have developed areas, so you will have an expansive choice when deciding where to park your RV and rest. The sites vary between full hookup, water, and electric, electric only.
Getting to Caballo Lake State Park is a cinch, whether you’re coming from the north or south. If you’re driving from Truth or Consequences, it’s less than a half-hour down Interstate 25 and just over an hour from Las Cruces. There’s a small section of two-lane road connecting the park to the interstate, but it’s plenty wide enough for most RV and trailers.
If you need to get any last-minute supplies before your RV adventure, there are a few places you can stop in at, most notably Truth or Consequences (around 12 miles away) or Las Cruces (about 66 miles away). The closest major city to Caballo Lake State Park is El Paso, which is located around 110 miles to the south.
Most of the facilities in the park, including the campgrounds, are located near the lake’s southern end. The park is split into five camping areas: Riverside, Stallion, Appaloosa, and Palamino. Apallosa is first-come, first-served while the other four areas take reservations. All of the RV parks are built on a semi-circular loop, so you’ll need to be able to back your RV in order to be able to stay within one of the sites.
For those just visiting for the day, you won't have to worry about where to leave your RV as there is plenty of parking available.
The Palamino Campground is one of the smaller campgrounds at Lake Caballo with six RV-friendly sites for travelers to choose from. Located near the boat ramps and the day-use parking areas, all of the sites at Palamino Campground are equipped with full-hookups for you to enjoy. Along with the full hookup sites, the campground also has some extra amenities, including restrooms, showers, and trash disposal. There is also a group shelter that can be used for picnic and family gatherings too, so you won't have to travel anywhere to have your picnic fun. If you’re spending a lot of time on the water, this is one of the best campgrounds to stay in. Pets are allowed at Palamino Campground, and reservations can be made online up to six months in advance.
The Stallion Campground is a relatively large semi-circular loop between the Caballo Dam and the lake’s boat ramps. This campground is great for RV lovers who are looking for a quiet stay away from the water. All of the campground sites are unshaded, feature water and electrical hookups, and are suitable for pull through navigation. Stallion Campground is also close to the main park camping office, a public telephone, and a set of showers and restrooms.
Due to the large pull-through sites, we recommend staying at Stallion Campground if you have a big rig. Pets are also allowed, and you should be able to get cell phone service on all of the major networks. Reservations can be made online up to six months in advance.
The Riverside Campground is one of the larger ones in the park and is also the most popular. Located on the opposite side of the dam, there are water and electrical hookups available at all sites within this campground. The Rio Grande passes to the east of the Riverside Campground, but this section is below the dam and has no boat traffic, making sites much quieter than those adjacent to the lake. Besides the electrical and water hookups, other amenities within the campground include picnic tables and a small playground as well as showers and restrooms between the campground and the lake. Pets are allowed, cell phone reception is present, and reservations can be made up to six months before your stay.
Appaloosa Camping Area is one of the larger campgrounds that you can call home during your visit to Caballo Lake State Park. The campground consists of a semi-circular loop and contains 23 sites, all of which are of the pull-through variety. The campsites within the Appaloosa Camping Area don't have full hookups, but there are water and electrical connections for you to enjoy.
While there are no showers or restrooms at the campground itself, they can be found to the north and the south at the Stallion and Palamino Campgrounds. Other amenities at Appaloosa Camping Area include a group shelter area and a very short hiking trail leading down to the lake. Pets are also allowed, and you should be able to get cell phone reception on any of the main networks. Reservations can be made online up to six months in advance.
Saddle up, because you’re in cowboy country out here in New Mexico. If you’re visiting Caballo Lake State Park with your horse or have access to one while you’re there, the trails surrounding the lake are perfect for a ride. Most of the trails aren’t very well developed, so bring a map or your phone so that you don't end up getting lost. There aren’t any facilities set up for horses like hitching posts or corrals, so be prepared for self-sufficiency and some primitive expeditions.
Hiking in Caballo Lake State Park is best enjoyed in the winter months so that you can avoid the terrible effects of heatstroke or dehydration. There’s not much in the way of marked trails inside the park, but it’s not hard to find a walkable path amidst the sparsely vegetated desert landscape. Just start wandering north from the campgrounds, and you’re sure to find something interesting. There are also some unique drainages and canyons on the eastern side of the lake, but these can be difficult to access without a boat and can also be quite dangerous. Only attempt these areas if you’re an experienced hiker, and you are hiking with a partner.
Summer temperatures in Caballo Lake State Park can soar above 100 degrees, so bird watching is best experienced in the cooler months of late fall and early spring when the days are a much more pleasant 70 to 75-degree range. The Audubon Society has designated Caballo Lake an important birding area and you’re likely to see herons, pelicans, grebes, and many other species if you’re lucky during your visit. The waterways are great for birders who don't want to trek too far as many migrating waterfowl will visit the lake during the year.
If you want a place to cool off during the summer, park your campervan and head-on into the Visitor Center. Located in the main area of the park, the Visitor Center has a few exhibits pertaining to the area’s geology and the wildlife that lives around the lake. It probably won’t take more than twenty minutes to see everything, but it can still be a nice reprieve or first stop when you arrive at the park. If you have any questions to ask park staff, this would also be a great time to do so.
Caballo Lake is known for being home to some record-breaking walleye and bass, so you’ll probably want to get yourself a New Mexico fishing license (available online) if you are a keen angler. Fishing can be done from in watercraft or the banks of the lake, and there’s a kayak fishing tournament held in May of each year. Visiting during the tournament could be a great time to visit the park if you take your fishing seriously. Remember to pack all of your fishing gear before beginning your journey, and don't tell anyone your secret fishing spots!
Caballo Lake State Park is one of the best places to go kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddling boarding in all of western New Mexico. The waters of the Rio Grande are warm enough that if you fall in, it won’t be an entirely unwelcome experience. This large lake can be accessed from the three boat docks and two boat ramps that surround it. However, it’s also quite popular with motorized boats, so stay vigilant for them, as they won’t see you as easily. There are no watercraft available to rent at the park, so make sure you rent one privately or bring your own if you want to get out on the water.