The small town of Truth or Consequences was once called Hot Springs. However, the name was changed in 1950 when the host of the popular game show “Truth or Consequences,” Ralph Edwards, asked for any town to change their name to celebrate the game show’s 10th anniversary. So, the town held an election to determine whether the town’s citizens would be willing, and they were. Their town has had a major boost in popularity since then. Located just a few miles north of the town of Truth or Consequences, Elephant Butte Lake State Park is New Mexico’s largest state park. With a 40,000 surface-acre lake at its center, this sprawling New Mexico state park has plenty of recreation options for your next RV vacation, both on water and on land.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park’s central feature, Elephant Butte Lake, was formed by a dam created in 1916 on the Rio Grande, and today offers nearly endless opportunities for boating. Boaters can enjoy the lake from a sailboat, jet ski, pontoon, cruiser, houseboat, kayak, or canoe, and make use of the park’s four boat ramps, five docks, and three marinas. The lake also offers great opportunities for fishing and swimming, with fishing piers and miles of sandy beaches. On land, visitors can meanwhile enjoy 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as great opportunities for birding, with species ranging from American white pelicans to loons to longspurs.
Guests who plan to stay overnight at Elephant Butte Lake State Park can take advantage of the park’s 144 water and electric sites, and eight full-hookup sites. The park’s southern New Mexico location and desert climate allow it to be open year-round, though there are seasonal closures of particular boat ramps and campground comfort stations, so visitors should review the park’s announcements when planning a trip. Those eager to experience the park’s central feature will be happy to learn that motor and sail boating are enjoyed year-round on Elephant Butte Lake.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park is situated in a fairly remote spot, sitting about two hours south of Albuquerque and two hours north of El Paso. Despite its distance from larger cities, this awesome park in southeast New Mexico is easy to access by car or RV, as it is located just a few miles off of Interstate 25.
Once inside, visitors can plan to park at their campsite or in various designated areas located throughout Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Despite its large size, the park has an elaborate system of roads within it that makes the park reasonably easy to navigate—NM-181, NM-195, NM-171, and NM-51 all wind through parts of the park. Inside the campgrounds, visitors can make use of sites that accommodate rigs of up to nearly 90 feet long, with a mix of pull-through and back-in options.
Visitors can take advantage of boat rentals within the park, but if you need more extensive supplies, you can venture just outside the park to the town of Elephant Butte for restaurants and gas stations, or head to the nearby town of Truth or Consequences just a few miles away for even more restaurant, gas, grocery, and shopping options.
For additional RV sites, visitors can also check out South Monticello Campground, which is home to 15 additional reservable sites, and even more first-come, first-served sites. The campground is located in the far northern area of the park, past many of the primitive camping areas. These sites can accommodate vehicles of up to 87 feet in length and offer water in-site, electric hookups, a table, canopy, and fire ring. Some of these sites also offer views of the lake. Guests at South Monticello Campground can also make use of the RV dump station located near the entrance to the campground, the restrooms, and showers located in the campground, and easy access to both hiking trails and a boat ramp.
Quail Run Campground is located next to Desert Cove Campground and has an additional set of RV campsites, two of which can be reserved ahead of time. These sites offer 20- to 30-amp electric hookups and can accommodate rigs of up to 73 feet in length. Some of the sites offer pull-through access and stunning lake views, depending on the water level. Each site has a table, canopy, and fire ring. Visitors can also make use of the restrooms located in the campground and the dump station located at Desert Cove Campground. Guests staying at Quail Run Campground will be about one mile away from the lake, and a half-mile from a playground. Guests can also enjoy easy access to nearby Luchimi Trail.
Located north of Desert Cove Campground, Lions Beach Campground offers 25 additional reservable sites, which feature water and 30-amp electric hookups. Many of these sites offer stunning views of the lake, and most have a table, canopy, and fire ring. These sites are all back-in access and can accommodate rigs of up to 70 feet in length. Visitors can also make use of the modern restrooms with running water and an RV sanitation dump station located in the campground. Guests staying at Lions Beach Campground can enjoy very easy access to the lake and nearby access to hiking trails. Some of the sites at Lions Beach Campground can be reserved ahead of time, while others are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park has plenty of campsites to offer guests, with 173 developed campsites, 144 water and electric sites, and eight full-hookup sites spread across four campgrounds and multiple primitive camping areas. Desert Cove Campground is in the southern half of the park, just north of the Visitor Center, and offers 16 reservable sites with water and 50-amp electric hookups. These sites are all back-in access and can accommodate rigs of up to 50 feet in length.
Just northwest of the campground, visitors can find three additional reservable campsites on Lower Ridge Road, which offer very easy access to the lake, 30-amp electric hookups, potable water spigots, pull-through access, and restrooms with showers. Guests in these campgrounds can also use the RV sanitation station located in Desert Cove Campground. Some of these sites can be reserved ahead of time, while others are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis.
This out of the way campground has only three campsites, but they are doozies! Huge spread out areas with so much space you will wonder what to do with it all. Just to the east of Desert Cove Campground and to the south of Lions Beach Campground, these three sites are spaced out on a peninsula that juts right into the southern end of Elephant Butte Lake.
With enough room for a 35-foot RV or trailer as well as two vehicles, you’ll have no trouble fitting in here. And you won’t have to maneuver your rig back into the driveway since these are all pull-throughs. Each of the sites has 30-amp electric hookups, a fire ring with a grill to cook on, and a large picnic table. You can also find a shower house and a modern restroom nearby. Pets are also welcome as long as they are on a leash or otherwise restrained the whole time you are here at the park. Reserve your site early, especially on weekends or holidays.
Almost all of the campgrounds at Elephant Butte Lake State Park have a section of first-come, first-served campsites available for people who like last-minute camping. All of the walk-up sites have the same amenities and camping options that reserved campers have, except that walk-in campers have the uncertainty of not securing a site on busy weekends and holidays. To snag a spot, be sure to pack up the camper early as arrive at the park as soon as campsites are released for the day.
Visitors who would prefer to explore the state’s largest park on two wheels can instead gear up their mountain bike and plan to bike through the winding trails at Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The West Lakeshore Trail, which is the park’s longest trail, is open to mountain bikers. This path offers a trail that is typically about six feet wide with a gravel surface, though there are some sections of uneven surfaces and deep sand. While the West Lakeshore Trail is classified as an easy trail, mountain bikers should be prepared to tackle several very steep, but short, sections.
As New Mexico’s largest state park, Elephant Butte Lake State also has plenty of trails to offer visitors. Those eager to stretch their legs and explore this massive state park on land and by foot can take advantage of the park’s 15 miles of hiking trails. The longest trail in the park, West Lakeshore Trail, stretches for over ten miles one way and winds through the desert hills above the lake, offering panoramic views and encounters with jackrabbits, lizards, and colorful wildflowers.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park is also rich with opportunities for wildlife viewing, and for birding in particular. While birds of various species can be spotted all throughout the park, some of the best birding spots are near the marinas, Three Sisters Point, Long Point, and South Monticello Point. At the lake, birders can look out for thousands of western and Clark’s grebes, American white pelicans, terns, gulls, waders, shorebirds, and loons. On land, one of the best birding spots is Rock Canyon south, where visitors might be able to glimpse birds attracted by the tall scrub and by the feeders in nearby houses.
If you enjoy fishing in the cooler weather, you’ll probably really love ice fishing at Elephant Butte Lake State Park. The lake here is known for its record-setting sized bass, both striped and largemouth. But you will find that during the winter, it’s the tiger muskie and crappie that are the hungriest. Make sure the ice is at least four inches thick before heading out there and about eight inches thick if you are going to have an ice shanty, tent, cooler, or something to sit on. Don’t forget that your gear adds weight to the surface of the ice, too. Use an auger or ice pick to make a good-sized hole and toss in your line. These fish are hungry, so they will hit fast and hard. Oh yeah, and make sure the hole is big enough to pull the whoppers out of there.
Go ahead and pack your fishing gear in the RV before heading to the park. You’ll want to take your experience of the lake a step further by fishing for some of the many fish species that call this lake home. There are many stellar fishing opportunities all over the lake. Anglers can enjoy this designated warm water fishery by fishing from a boat or from the fishing pier, trying to catch largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, bluegill, bass, catfish, and more in the park’s massive lake.
With miles upon miles of shoreline, Elephant Butte Lake also offers stellar opportunities for swimming. Visitors eager to escape the summer heat and cool off in the refreshing waters of Elephant Butte Lake can take advantage of the park’s sandy beaches. Visitors can soak up the sun on the beach while taking in the park’s stunning scenery, playing a game of volleyball, enjoying a picnic by the water, and then taking a dip in the sprawling lake. Try a little bit of everything to experience the full breadth of this New Mexico State Park.
Boating is one of the biggest draws here due to the 40,000 surface-acre lake on the Rio Grande that stretches up to 40 miles long with an average width of about 1.5 miles. Visitors have a wide range of boating opportunities in this New Mexico State Park. The park boasts four boat ramps, five courtesy docks, three marinas, and boat rentals. Boaters can enjoy motorized and non-motorized boating, paddling, and more. Motor and sail boating are popular year-round; water skiing and jet skiing are popular in the summer months, and kayaking and canoeing are especially popular in the cooler months toward the end of the peak season.
Gather up the family and pack them in the RV before heading to Elephant Butte Lake State Park for a picnic or BBQ. There are dozens of picnic tables and BBQ pits around the park in various areas, or you can reserve the picnic shelter group area if you have a big group. The group area is located at the southern end of the park on Ridge Road and includes two shelters with four large picnic tables and a BBQ grill. You’ll be right on the lake, and you can have as many as 100 people in your party.