Carson National Forest
Guide

Introduction

Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico is a 1.5 million-acre forest that was established in 1908. It encompasses many lakes and rivers that are well-stocked with rainbow trout and provides a home to many different types of wildlife. You can spot larger animals such as mule deer, cougars, black bear, bighorn sheep, and pronghorns, as well as smaller animals, such as marmots, squirrels, rabbits, and pika. This area also has an abundance of avian wildlife, from large predatory birds like golden eagles and red-tailed hawks to smaller forest dwellers like woodpeckers, chickadees, and Canada jays. There are miles of hiking trails that wind throughout the mountains and hills of Carson National Forest, allowing RV visitors to explore mixed pine forests, stands of aspens, and meadows filled with stunning wildflowers. While the campgrounds themselves are closed down during the winter months, the Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort remains open, and many people enjoy winter activities. Many of the hiking trails are used as snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails once the mountains are blanketed in snow. There are only a handful of campgrounds within the park that have sites suitable for RVs: the Agua Piedra Campground, the Elephant Rock Campground, and the Fawn Lakes Campground. They tend to fill up quickly, so it is advisable to make your reservations early if you are bringing your campervan or trailer to Carson National Forest.

RV Rentals in Carson National Forest

Transportation

Driving

Carson National Forest is massive, covering over 1.5 million acres, so you'll have to drive alot to explore every corner of the park. At least during all that driving you can soak in gorgeous mountain and forest views! Santa Fe is only two hours south, so you'll be close to those big city amenities. US-84 and NM-55 will take you to the Forest from Santa Fe. These highways are mostly straight and relatively wide, so you won't have much trouble navigating them. However, once you get in the Forest, many of the local roads can be narrow and winding, since you are in a mountainous area. Make sure to use caution when driving a big rig or towing a trailer on these smaller, curvy roads. Take care to check weather and road conditions if you are traveling in the winter as well.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Carson National Forest

Campsites in Carson National Forest

Reservations camping

Agua Piedra Campground

The Agua Piedra Campground is located around 30 miles south of Cerro Vista, one of the tallest peaks in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, and only three miles from the bustling Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort. There are 40 sites available for registration during peak months, each able to accommodate rigs up to 36 feet in length, as well as two large group shelters. The sites do fill up quickly, so you will want to make your reservations well in advance of your trip. All of the sites at this campground are rustic and ungroomed, so if you don’t have built-in levelers you will want to pack blocks to ensure that you are able to get your rig level. Each spot has fire rings, grills, and picnic tables provided, and there are several vault toilets and drinking water available throughout the campground. Pets are welcome at the Agua Piedra Campground but must be on a six-foot or shorter lead when in developed recreation areas or on developed trails.

Elephant Rock Campground

The Elephant Rock Campground is located in the northern portion of the Carson National Forest, approximately ten miles east of the small town of Questa, NM, with several campsites available during peak months. There are twenty-one campsites available at this campground, but only ten of them will accommodate RVs up to 18 feet in length, as well as vault toilets and potable water. The sites are rustic, ungroomed campsites that are situated in a single loop on the hillside. The campsites are nestled in among a combination of aspen, pine, fir, and spruce trees, and several of them feature picturesque stone terracing. Not all of the sites are particularly level, however. If your rig does not have built-in levelers you will want to pack blocks in case you need to level out your camper. Each campsite provides a tent pad, a picnic table, a fire ring, and a hibachi-style grill. This campground tends to fill up very quickly and campers will want to ensure that they make reservations well in advance of their trip.

Fawn Lakes Campground

The Fawn Lakes Campground is located in the northern portion of the Carson National Forest, less than a mile east of the Elephant Rock Campground. There are 18 campsites available for reservation during the peak seasons at this campground, 15 of which are suitable for campers or trailers up to 30 feet in length. The rustic sites do not provide electric, water, or sewer hookups, and while they are not groomed specifically for RVs, they are well maintained. There are three vault toilets that serve the campgrounds as well as faucets with potable water. Not all of the sites are particularly level and campers who do not have automatic levelers in their rig may want to ensure that they pack blocks with them in case they need to level out their vehicle. Each tree-lined campsite comes equipped with a fire ring, a grill, and a picnic table. Pets are welcome to join their human companions at the Fawn Lakes Campground but must be kept on a six-foot or shorter lead when they are visiting developed recreation areas or trails.

Seasonal activities in Carson National Forest

In-Season

Fishing

If you enjoy fishing you will want to ensure that you have your rod and reel packed in your trailer when you visit Carson National Forest. The Rio Pueblo River has an accessible fishing dock that is close to the Agua Piedra campground, and both the Red River and Rio Pueblo River are stocked with rainbow trout. If you prefer lake fishing, there are several small lakes that are also stocked with a healthy population of rainbow trout and are within walking distance of the Elephant Rock and Fawn Lake campgrounds.

Hiking

Hikers will delight in the large number of trails that wind through this mountainous national forest and allow visitors to explore pine forests, rocky outcroppings, wildflower-filled meadows, and hundreds of miles of streams and rivers. The trails in this forest are well maintained and range from fairly short, simple hikes, like the two-mile La Jara Canyon trail or the four-mile Rito De La Olla Trail, to more challenging hikes, like the four-mile Yerba Canyon Trail, and longer hikes, such as the South Boundry Trail at a little over 20 miles long.

Birdwatching

Birdwatching enthusiasts will want to be sure that their birding kits are packed in their campervans when they visit Carson National Forest. There are many different types of birds that either migrate through the forest or make it their home. Raptors such as golden eagles and red-tailed hawks make their homes here, often nesting on the cliffs and side canyons that surround the many rivers that criss-cross the forest. There are also a large number of smaller birds that reside here, including dusky flycatchers, woodpeckers, western bluebirds, and pygmy nuthatches.

Off-Season

Visiting Pot Creek Cultural Site

Carson National Forest has a long history, and before it became a national forest it was home to an ancient Native American culture known as the Ancestral Puebloans or the Anasazi. An ancient pueblo, abandoned in the 13th century, still stands in the forest, now referred to as the Pot Creek Cultural Site. It is believed that this large adobe pueblo, consisting of a large plaza, a kiva, used for religious practices, and several smaller plazas, which were occupied for at least three generations and may have housed up to 1,300 individuals.

Wildlife Viewing

There is a wide variety of animals that call Carson National Forest home, from big game animals to tiny shrews. Mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorns graze this area, luring in predators such as bobcats, cougars, and black bears. Beavers can be found building their dams along many of the streams and rivers, and if you are lucky you may spot a river otter, a species reintroduced to the region in 2008. Squirrels and rabbits can be found throughout the forest as well and in the higher elevations you are likely to see marmots and you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive pika.

Skiing

RV travelers who enjoy exploring the wilderness during the snowy season should be sure to pack their skiing equipment in their camping trailer when they travel to the Carson National Forest. Not only do many of the hiking trails make great cross-country ski trails in the winter months, but there are also several downhill ski slopes as well. Premium alpine downhill ski slopes can be found at the Red River, Taos Ski Valley, and Sipapu ski areas, each located within the forest. For safety reasons, it is advised that people either ski in groups or ensure that someone is aware of where they are. Before venturing out into the wilderness be sure to ask about trail closures and weather conditions at one of the Forest Services Offices.