El Malpais National Conservation Area
Guide

Introduction

El Malpais National Conservation Area is a beautiful area in New Mexico that was established in 1987. It is currently managed and preserved by the Bureau of Land Management. Visitors from all over come to enjoy the beautiful scenery of bluffs, cliffs, desert and more.

There are a couple of free campsites nearby if you want to pitch a tent or take the RV for a spin. El Malpais National Conservation Area offers plenty of activities for the entire family to enjoy, such as biking, hiking, horseback riding and more.

El Malpais National Conservation Area has five lava tube caves that you can explore when visiting. In order to see these, you should be sure to pack some warm clothing and proper hiking boots. Surrounded by canyons, wildlife and stunning sights, this conservation area just west of Albuquerque is a must-see.

RV Rentals in El Malpais National Conservation Area

Transportation

Driving

You'll be able to find El Malpais National Conservation Area just 80 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is easily accessible via two state highways and there aren't any sharp turns or hard to navigate areas. The park itself is located just off of exit 89. There are plenty of signs that will lead you to the conservation area, making the trip that much easier.

There is a ranger station where you can stop if you need directions or any help at all. The roads surrounding El Malpais National Conservation Area are paved and easy to navigate for vehicles of all sizes. One thing to know when it comes to transportation for this area is to be aware of the monsoon season. This can cause sudden flooding and may make driving dangerous.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in El Malpais National Conservation Area

Campsites in El Malpais National Conservation Area

First-come first-served

Joe Skeen Campground

Joe Skeen Campground is easily the most popular campground near El Malpais National Conservation Area. There are 10 campsites available for visitors at no cost. Each campsite comes with a covered picnic table, a space to pitch a tent and a fire grill. There are two vault toilets for the entire campground. Both toilets are in close walking distance to each campsite.

RV campers are more than welcome and there are pull-through sites that can fit vehicles that are up to 50 feet in length. You are allowed to have two vehicles per campsite and eight campers at once. The roads around the campground are gravel and easy to navigate. There are several fun activities to do nearby including hiking and wildlife viewing.

At this BLM campground, you are not able to stay more than 14 days per month. There is even a local solar-powered area too if you need a bit of electricity. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Joe Skeen Campground does not accept reservations at any time.

Seasonal activities in El Malpais National Conservation Area

In-Season

Hiking

If you enjoy hiking, there are five trails to choose from in the El Malpais National Conservation Area. If you consider yourself a more experienced hiker, you can take on the Narrows Rim Trail. This trail will give you incredible views as it lies on the edge of a cliff.

If you're looking for a multi-day hike, consider checking out the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. There are also guided hikes available with Ranger guides. This will give you an opportunity to learn about local history. Whichever hiking option you go with, remember to wear proper footwear.

Biking

In most areas where you can hike, you can also bike. As long as your bicycle does not have a motor, it is permitted on any of the backcountry roads. Biking can be an extreme sport in these areas if you choose to bike on rough terrain.

This can be a great adrenaline rush it is a unique way to check out the local scenery. It is important that you wear proper biking attire and safety gear, as there isn't always a Ranger on duty.

ATVs

Riding an ATV throughout backcountry roads is one of the most exciting activities you can take part in when visiting the El Malpais National Conservation Area. You can also bring dirt bikes to these trails if you'd like instead of ATVs.

Uniquely, any all-terrain vehicles are also allowed on the roads nearby. With that being said, there are only specific designated roads where this is allowed. The surrounding wilderness areas are limited to foot traffic only.

Off-Season

Picnicking

Who doesn't enjoy a delicious meal in the middle of nature surrounded by beautiful scenery? There is a picnic area available called The Narrows. It has five picnic tables sites, one wheelchair-accessible site, and toilets.

If this area is full you can also enjoy picnicking at La Ventana Natural Arch. El Malpais National Conservation Area in its entirity is a "no trace left behind" area. This is put in place to ensure visitors clean up their trash to preserve the area.

Photography

El Malpais National Conservation Area is a beautiful place to photograph. There is a massive archway bringing two rock forms together that makes a great backdrop for just about any photo. There are also plenty of relatively easy hikes that will end with stunning views of New Mexico.

You also have the opportunity to photograph the unique plants in the area as well as several different types of wildlife. Don't forget to pack your camera when you're planning your trip to El Malpais National Conservation Area.

Horseback Riding

Something that many visitors find entertaining about El Malpais National Conservation Area is the ability to ride horses and other stock animals on designated trails and paths. You can even ride horses on the backcountry roads surrounding the conservation area.
Unfortunately, there are no nearby equestrian venues that rent out horses for day rides. If you do choose to bring your own horse make sure they stay hydrated and that they aren't being ridden on extremely warm days.