Fort Stanton – Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area
Guide

Introduction

The Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area is a BLM property in central New Mexico. At the heart of the conservation area and one of the main reasons for its existence is the Fort Stanton Cave. The subterranean cavern is a staggering thirty-one miles long, which makes it the fourteenth longest in the United States and allows it to rank in the top one hundred longest caves in the world.

Surrounded by the Lincoln National Forest on all sides, and with the Capitan Mountains in the distance, the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA is BLM land as scenic above ground as it is below. Roll up in your rig at the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA, and you'll have a twenty-five thousand acre wilderness to go boondocking, so long as you don't go more than ninety feet away from any designated roadway, as well as RV camping in a primitive and semi-primitive style.

Once you're pitched, you'll soon discover there's no shortage of amazing outdoor activities to participate in or historical sites to see. The conservation area is a haven for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, with over seventy miles of multi-use trails, and if that's not enough, there are even more in the forest lands that border it. For avid history fans, there's the nineteenth-century military installment, Fort Stanton, to explore as well as the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway to drive along. The Smokey Bear Historical Park is also close by and is where you can get an insight into the famous bear that delivered those all-important messages on forest fire prevention. For another blast from the past, head over to the Lincoln Historic Site just outside of Lincoln , and you'll feel as if you've time-warped back to the late 1880s.

RV Rentals in Fort Stanton – Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area

Transportation

Driving

The Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA is an easy to access BLM property served by several county roads all in good condition. The RV campground at the NCA is located in the northern section and can be reached off the NM 220, whether you're coming from the north or south. From the east or west, you'll be traveling on the US 380, and you'll find the junction with the NM 220 just before or after, depending on which direction you're coming from, the town of Capitan. The primitive campground at the NCA is situated partway along the East Well Trail. There's a signposted turn-off to it from the US 380 though be aware, once you're off the US 380, it's a gravel-surfaced road all the way.
If you've been up in the north of New Mexico RV camping in the Cibola National Forest near Albuqerque, the shortest route down to the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA is via the I 25 and US 380. It will take you approximately two and a half hours. It's a scenic drive that cuts right through the heart of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. If you're motoring in from the east after a few days in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo, you'll be behind the wheel of your rig for about four and a half hours. It's main highway all the way and easy driving that shouldn't cause you any problems. Once inside the NCA, all vehicles are restricted to the twenty-two miles of designated roads.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Fort Stanton – Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area

Campsites in Fort Stanton – Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area

First-come first-served

Rob Jaggers Camping Area

The Rob Jaggers Camping Area at the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA is a gravel-surfaced parking lot open twelve months of the year with plenty of space to park any length of RV. The campground offers a total of eight campsites for RVs on a first-come-first-served basis with both electricity and water hook-ups. There are also pitches with no utility hook-ups that are free to use and some with just a water hook-up for which there is a minimum daily charge.

While RV camping at the Rob Jaggers Camping Area is free, the use of the utilities carries a small fee as does use of the campground's dump station. There are no amenities on-site other than vault toilets, but the campground is pet and equestrian-friendly and has paddocks for exercising horses.

Cave Campground

The Cave Campground in the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA is a primitive campground with no utilities whatsoever located on the eastern edge of the NCA. It's a great get-away-from-it-all campsite if you're not too confident to go boondocking in the wilderness or are traveling solo and still want that back to nature solitary experience.

While there's nothing else but wilderness all around, you may still find another RV camper pitched up close by. The campground does have a vault toilet, a few picnic tables, and fire rings, but that is it.

Seasonal activities in Fort Stanton – Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area

In-Season

Hiking, Biking & Riding

If you're planning on hiking some of the trails in the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA, with over seventy miles worth to choose from, it's not the sort of place for breaking in new hiking boots.

The Rio Bonito Petroglyph National Recreation Trail, which runs alongside Bonito Creek, is a two and a half-mile loop graded as easy to moderate. It's a good place to get started since, just as with many other trails in the NCA, the trailhead can be accessed from the Rob Jaggers Campground. All the trails are multi-use and suitable for riding and mountain biking.

Scenic Driving

Take a drive on the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway and you'll be able to indulge in your love of the history of the wild west while enjoying some superb scenery.

Before you set out, stop off at the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway Visitor Center in Ruidoso Downs to pick up a map and some information brochures. In the center, you can also walk around a scale model of the byway with recommended stops included, so you'll know just what to expect when you hit the road.

Fort Stanton Historic Site

The Fort Stanton Historic Site is an unmissable visit on anyone's RV trip to the BLM lands of the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area. The historic fort is one of the best examples of a nineteenth-century military installation anywhere in the United States.

There is a museum on the property with interesting collections of military-related memorabilia, and there are frequent live re-enactments of moments important to New Mexico's history throughout the year.

Fishing

While it may not always be an all year round activity, given that the closest water source often dries up in summer, you can still go fishing when you're RV camping at the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area. The Rio Bonito or Bonito Creek runs alongside the boundaries of the NCA and in winter, spring and fall is renowned for its trout fishing.

You could well hook a rainbow or brook trout, but the rules of the state mean that anything you catch there has to be released. If you want to catch a trout you can keep for dinner, you'll need to head over to Grindstone Lake about half an hour's drive south of the NCA.

Lincoln Historic Site

More like a film set than a museum, the Lincoln Historic Site is a collection of authentic buildings that will time-warp you back to the nineteenth century and make you believe you're actually walking around a wild west town as it was then.
With seventeen historic buildings in total, you can explore the diversity of an old courthouse and the various uses it was put to during its active lifetime. plus a general store with its era-related products still on the shelves and much, much more.

Caving

While caving at the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave was once a major draw for visitors wanting to see the unique geological formations they hold, public access has, at present, been temporarily restricted due to White Nose Syndrome in the bat population.

If you're RV camping at the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave NCA and still want to explore some subterranean passages, although they might not be quite so exciting as the Snowy River Cave, you can still go underground in the caves of the Lincoln National Forest with the specified permit. You can check for updates on the Snowy River Cave accessibility on the BLM official website here.