The Manzano Mountains State Park is an isolated campground situated in the forests of the eastern slope of the Manzano Mountains, just over an hour’s drive south of Albuquerque, NM. The mountains shelter the tiny nearby community of Manzano with under a hundred people in residence. Manzano is the Spanish word for apple tree, and the town and mountains were so named because of the apple orchards that were planted in the town during the 18th or 19th century. The trees planted in the town of Manzano are believed to be some of the oldest apple trees planted in the United States.
This state park is a wonderfully private getaway, and campers are sheltered from their neighbors’ noise by an abundance of trees, including Gambel and Emory oak trees, Pinon and Ponderosa pines, and Alligator Juniper. Many birds make their homes in these trees, and the area is also notable as a popular raptor flyway. The park is rustic but well-kept, and although there are no sites with water hookups, there are water spigots found throughout the park. The modern restrooms are clean and convenient, but they do not include showers. There is a ranger’s station and visitor’s center in the park that can provide more information about the area as well as equipping campers with trail maps and birding lists.
The Manzano Mountains State Park is a small, isolated campground and the road to reach it can be a little challenging to traverse, especially if you are in a larger RV or towing a trailer. From NM-55 you will need to turn west on NM-131. If you are driving a large vehicle or are towing a trailer, the turn is extremely sharp and may be difficult to achieve when coming from the south. It may be advisable to go further up the road where you can turn around as the curve is much more manageable coming from the north.
Roads are paved with asphalt until you reach the park entrance, at which point they become narrow dirt and gravel roads with steep inclines and several twists and turns. There are no restrictions for cars or RVs on the park roads, but off-highway vehicles, such as ATVs, snowmobiles, and off-highway motorbikes, are prohibited. It is worth noting that road closures in this area are frequent, particularly in the winter months.
There are 32 camping sites available for reservation, but it is important to note that only nine of these have electrical hookups. Water and sewer hook-ups are not available, but there is a dump station located near the ranger’s station. Reservations can be made anywhere from two days to six months in advance of your trip, and the park quickly fills up during the peak season.
Each campsite is generously sized and includes a fire ring to build a campfire in, a table, many of which are sheltered, and a charcoal BBQ grill. The nearby cell tower offers better cell service that the remote location would imply and there are modern restrooms in the park, but no showers are available. If you bring your pet, they must either be kept on a ten-foot lead within the park, or they must be restrained in the camper or in a crate.
Campsites can sometimes become available on a first-come, first-served basis after 4 PM if the campsite has not been reserved or if the camper that reserved the site has not either arrived or contacted the ranger’s station to inform them of a late check-in.
There are many miles of well-marked trails that wind through the mountain landscape of this park, many of which have interpretive signs. The ranger’s station also provides trail guides for the hiking trails in and around Manzano Mountains State Park. Trails in this area are fairly simple to traverse but challenging enough to provide plenty of exercise. Remember to pace yourself and bring water when navigating these trails as the higher elevation reduces the amount of oxygen your body is getting and makes the hike more challenging. If you experience headaches, nausea, or begin to feel more exhausted than usual, you should take heed. Rest, hydrate, and take steps to reduce your elevation.
Whether you're an avid or novice bird watcher don't forget to bring those binoculars in your campervan. Manzano Mountains State Park is a fantastic site for birdwatching enthusiasts. There many different varieties of birds that make this park their home all year round including Hummingbirds, Flycatchers, Jays, Crossbills, and Tanagers. Many migrating birds take routes through the area as well, including a large number of birds of prey. You may spot up to 18 different species of raptor that regularly travel through the area. The highest volume of migrating raptors typically occurs during the tail end of the peak season, between September and October.
The remote location of this park makes finding a restaurant to eat at a challenging proposition. Fortunately, each campsite has both a charcoal bbq grill and a campfire ring available so that you can make your favorite gourmet (or not-so-gourmet) campground food right there in the campsite. Remember to check for signs and notices when cooking outdoors as the park may be required to ban fires from time to time due to dry weather conditions. When you are done cooking, secure any leftover food, cooking implements, and other garbage in a place where it is inaccessible to wildlife like bears or cougars.
The majestic beauty of the mountains and forest that surround the park are sure to inspire the artist in anyone. Whether your preferred art form is drawing, painting, writing, or even photography, there are plenty of subjects to draw motivation from. Wildlife is abundant, including squirrels, rabbits, and a plethora of birds, and there are many varied plants and beautiful views. The quiet solitude of this park and its remote location helps to avoid distractions and ensure that you are able to craft your vision the way you wish to.
The visitor’s center and ranger’s station is manned by friendly and helpful hosts who are happy to give you more information about the park, as well as providing helpful publications. Trail guides and birding lists can be picked up here and is an interpretive area just outside the visitor’s center that can help to educate you about the history of the area and the flora and fauna that live here. A well-maintained horseshoe pit is located near the visitor’s center for visitors to use as well.
The well-marked hiking trails that wind through the 160-acre park become well-marked snowshoe and cross-country ski trails when the snow covers them in the winter. The preponderance of evergreens in the area means that the trails remain scenic throughout the winter. While many of the animals in the area hibernate through the winter, there are still many that remain active. You may be more able to spot animals like porcupines, foxes, bobcats, and tasseled-eared squirrels in the winter months than in the summer.