Riverside to Santa Fe National Forest Road Trip Guide


A weekend road trip with plenty of natural beauty, wilderness areas, and RV camping opportunities can be found on the drive from Riverside, California, to the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. Before leaving Riverside, California, take in the popular attractions in the region which include amusement parks, gardens, parks, and museums. For something a little more off the beaten track try a meal at Tia's Tacos, a unique Taqueria in historic downtown Riverside, with the expected Mexican cuisine, and an unexpected, extensive collection of unique folk art that gives the establishment a special ambiance.

Visitors to Riverside can also visit the Graffiti Waterfall, a secluded waterfall with a rock face that has been painted with murals, “street art”, and graffiti, many times over. The resulting colorful wall coupled with the natural waterfall creates a beautiful feature. The hike to the falls is surreal with junk like abandoned cars strewn along the trail that have also been decorated with graffiti and artwork.

The trip from Riverside to the Santa Fe National Forest is 798 miles. Take Interstate 10 east to Scottsdale, Arizona, then take Route 87, 260, 277, 377, and Interstate 40 to Albuquerque, New Mexico. From Albuquerque take Interstate 25 north to exit 271, then head north on access roads into the Santa Fe National Forest.

While staying in Riverside RVers can camp at the Banning-Stagecoach KOA east of town or the San Bernardino National Forest to the north and east of Riverside.

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Max RV length
Max trailer Length
Road trip length: 2-3 days
Recommend rig: any
audience: family

Point of Interest

Windy Hill Campground, Tonto National Forest

Stay overnight in the beautiful Tonto National Forest at the Windy Hill Campground. You will pass through the 2.9 million acre National Forest on your trip to New Mexico along Route 87. To get to the campground from Route 87 head southeast for just over 35 miles on Route 188. This campground has 347 campsites with ramada covered picnic tables, campfires rings, and grills. The campsites accommodate RVs up to 50 feet in length, but there are 147 large pull-through sites that can accommodate almost any sized rig. The campground has both reservable and first come first serve sites. Go to Windy Hill Campground for more information.And get there early on weekends to secure a spot.

Windy Hill Campground sits right on Theodore Rosevelt Lake, where visitors can enjoy fishing and boating on the 19200-acre waterbody. Fishing enthusiasts will find catfish, sunfish, crappie, and large and smallmouth bass in the lake. Several boat ramps allow launching watercraft from the campground. Other amenities include playgrounds and an amphitheater which holds programs for kids, shower houses, and restrooms.

Activities in the park include horseback riding, OHV trail riding, and hiking. Even during the winter visitors to the national forest can enjoy outdoor activities and camping in Arizona's warm climate.

Petrified Forest National Park

As you continue northeast on Interstate 40 from Tonto National Forest, you will pass through the Petrified Forest National Park. A stop in this park which is filled with colorful mesas and geological formations, petrified wood, and the ruins of ancient Pueblo settlements, is definitely in order!

From Interstate 40 take the Petrified Forest Road loop to the north to the Tawa Point trailhead where there is a parking lot. The trail here will take you to the Tawa Point Lookout which looks over the Painted Desert Rim, don’t forget your camera to capture this amazing vista! If you don't want to get out of your vehicle, take a scenic drive around the park. Much of the wonderful scenery can be viewed from the road.

The more adventurous can get out and hike or bike down the many excellent trails to get more up close and personal with the desert wilderness. If the weather is uncooperative, stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum where murals, displays, and exhibits explain the rich ecosystems, natural, and human history of the region.

Petroglyph National Monument

As you continue down Interstate 40 to Albuquerque, RV road trippers interested in the fascinating history, geological wonders, and ancient people's artwork, will want to take in the Petroglyph National Monument. Be sure to stop at the visitor center which provides a short film, information, and displays, that will provide guidance and help you appreciate the petroglyphs, archaeological sites, and natural wonders of the monument. The monument protects 24000 images of spiritual and cultural significance to the descendants of the Native Americans and early Spanish settlers in the area, on 7236 acres.

Hiking trails provide access to the ancient artworks. Venture down the Rinconada Trail or Boca Negra Canyon Trail to take in hundreds of interesting petroglyphs. When you're done your outdoor art tour, head over to the western edge of the monument to hike amongst the volcanic cinder cones and enjoy the view of the Rio Grande Valley and Sandia mountains from the scenic overlook located there. Trails in the Volcanoes Day Use area range from one to four miles in length, and there is parking and vault toilets available. Camp near the city at Albuquerque KOA or in the Cibola National Forest to the east of the city.


When you arrive at your destination, the Santa Fe National Forest, in New Mexico, be prepared for more excellent outdoor adventures. The national forest has 1.6 million acres of forest, mountainous terrain, streams and rivers, and four wilderness areas. There are miles and miles of trails for cycling, hiking, and horseback riding, or skiing in the winter.

With elevations that range from 5300 to over 13000 feet, be prepared for some challenging terrain. The forest consists of pinyon and juniper scrub at lower elevations, with Ponderosa pine on hillsides, and spruce and fir trees at the highest elevations. Alpine wildflowers carpet the forest floor and open meadows at higher elevations and put on a real show in springtime. Keep an eye out for local residents like mountain goats, deer, raptors, and songbirds while exploring the park.

There are several RV campgrounds in the park that accommodate RV units up to 50 feet in length, however, some access roads in the park are not suitable for large RV units as they have tight switchbacks. RV rentals in the region can be found at Santa Fe National Forest RV Rentals.

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