Fluttering white triangles – boat sails – make their way towards shore across the glassy water of a large lake. An osprey alights from the top of a nearby Ponderosa pine, soaring smoothly over the water and searching for its next fishy meal. In the brush nearby, a horned lizard creates a rustle as it chases after an insect. As the sun sets, the distant but imposing Brazos cliffs take on a subtle orange glow. Welcome to Heron Lake State Park!
Whether you’re hoping to pull some monster salmon out of the lake, looking to go on a quiet sail, or eager to explore the high deserts and forests of northern New Mexico, Heron Lake State Park will provide. After a day of adventure, guests can enjoy a picturesque picnic or learn about the area’s natural history through the great exhibits at the visitor center. If you are traveling through during winter, don’t fret, there’s still plenty to do, and the park remains open. Ice-fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are just a few of the cold-weather activities which visitors can take part in.
There are over 60 RV spots available, and all are in scenic spots within a stone’s throw of Heron Lake’s shores. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance – make sure to do so, especially if you’re planning on arriving during the busy summer season.
RV Rentals in Heron Lake State Park
Transportation in Heron Lake State Park
Heron Lake is beset on several sides by mountainous country, so some of the roads visitors may take on their way to the park can be steep or windy in sections. However, most access routes are major, paved roads, so driving is never precarious. NM – 95 S runs straight through the park, and drivers can access that road from the east via Hwy 64/84, or from the west via NM – 112 or NM – 537. NM – 95 S follows the eastern lake shore, and campgrounds, trail heads, boat launches and day use areas are spread out along this shore, accessible via short spurs off of the main road.
Parking can be a bit tricky, especially at the Brushy Point and Island View spurs, which are only meant to accommodate small rigs; but there are no extremely sharp turns or steep kills. Due to the spread out nature of the campsites, visitors may need to head a mile or up or down the park’s main road in order to reach boat launches, trail heads, or the visitor center.
Campgrounds and parking in Heron Lake State Park
Campsites in Heron Lake State Park
Heron Lake Camping
RV camping spots at Heron Lake are spread along a series of lakeside loops; these loops branch off the main road which runs through the park, NM-95 S. All spots offer fantastic views of Heron Lake to the west and the Brazos Cliffs to the east.
The Blanco and Willow Creek loops are located towards the northern end of the camping area, near the visitor center. The Blanco loop has 27 RV suitable sites with electric hookups, but no water or sewage. The length of these sites are 50 feet. Neighboring Willow Creek loop has two full hookup sites, and four primitive sites. The Willow creek sites range from 30 to 45 feet in length.
Just down the road from Blanco and Willow Creek, about a mile southwest along NM-95 S, you’ll find the entrance for the Brushy Point spur. Located on a small peninsula jutting out into the lake, Brushy Point has 13 small, primitive RV suitable sites. No hookups are available at these, and the maximum site length is just 25 feet.
Finally, just another half mile down the road is the Island View spur, on which visitors can find an additional fifteen RV sites. These, like the ones at Brushy Point, are primitive and have lengths capped at 25 feet.
A sanitary dump station is located between the visitor center and the Willow Creek loop. Both modern restrooms with showers and vault toilets are spread throughout the camping loops.
All sites at Heron Lake can be reserved up to six months in advance.
Seasonal activities in Heron Lake State Park
Bikers visiting Heron Lake and the surrounding areas can expect world-class mountain biking in an absolutely gorgeous setting. Connect the East Meadow Trail and the Salmon Run Trail to make a 12+ mile out-and-back; mountain bikes are permitted on both. Or, if you’re looking for a longer, steeper ride, use Heron Lake as a base from which to explore the nearby San Juan Mountains. Carson National Forest, which extends along the mountains and mesas to the west of the park, has dozens of miles of bike trails.
Several miles of trails are available to eager hikers at Heron Lake. The Salmon Run Trail and the Eastern Meadow Trail (five and three miles, respectively) stick close to the lake, offering sweeping vistas and the chance to see ospreys dive into the nearby water. The five and a half-mile Rio Chama trail heads out of the park, carving a scenic route across desert, cliffs and ponderosa forests which ends at the nearby El Vado Lake State Park. Many more miles of hiking trails wind their way through nearby Carson National Forest, just a short drive to the East.
Boating is perhaps the most popular activity at Heron Lake, and it’s easy to see why. On watercraft, visitors can explore the far nooks and crannies of the lake, paddling or sailing along gently sloped, vegetated shorelines or sharp cliff lines. Anglers on the water have the chance to fish from a stock that has produced record-sized salmon and trout. Motorized boating is limited to no-wake activity, so conditions on the lake are almost always calm and quiet. Two conveniently placed boat launches provide easy access. Make sure you check up with the park’s specific boating regulations before heading out!
Hiking and biking trails become stellar cross country skiing routes once snow rolls across the landscape. Sailing on drifts of freshly fallen powder, you can skirt around frozen Heron Lake on the five-mile Salmon Run Trail. Or head over to the shorter East Meadow trail to explored snow-covered fields where deer and elk frequently browse. Winter visitors will be able to get away from the crowds and experience greater solitude; that being said, camping at the park is open year-round, so there’s no need to worry about making special accommodations.
Heron Lake offers year-round opportunities for viewing a wide range of desert and montane wildlife. Cougars and black bears are the area’s top predators. Elk, deer, coyotes, foxes, yellow-bellied marmots, roadrunners and American dippers are also present, as are a wide variety of reptiles, such as rattlesnakes, fence lizards, collared lizards and short-horned lizards. The lake, and its copious stock of fish, attracts ospreys and bald eagles; the latter winter at Heron Lake and nearby El Vado Lake State Park in huge numbers.
Just because the dog days of summer are over doesn’t mean you still can’t pull a keeper out of Heron Lake. At over a mile in elevation, the state park and the surrounding highlands experience cold, montane weather during the winter. Heron Lake often accumulates a healthy layer of ice on its surface; when this layer gets thick enough, intrepid fishermen can venture out onto the lake for some high-desert ice fishing. Patient anglers can hook hefty trout and salmon as they look out over the glimmering, snow-glad Brazos Cliffs.