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Carson National Forest Camping Guide

There are 154 national forests in the United States, all of which are more than worthy camping destinations! However, there’s something truly special about camping in Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico — they call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment for a good reason!

This national forest is a must-visit in any season. Keep reading to learn what to expect on your Carson National Forest camping trip.

Fall color along a river in northern New Mexico.
Fall color in northern New Mexico.

What to Expect in Carson National Forest

There are six ranger districts in the Carson National Forest: Camino Real, El Rito, Canjilon, Jicarilla, Questa, and Tres Piedras.

Different ranger districts have different types of camping; for instance, only two allow for remote (or dispersed) camping.

You will want to check fire restrictions before your trip, particularly if you plan on remote camping.

There are two other rules to remember when remote camping in Carson National Forest: first, you are not allowed to cut down trees or pull down branches for firewood.

Second, you cannot leave your campfire unattended, even if it is down to just embers. It must be put out entirely before you head home.

(One exception: you are allowed to cut your own firewood in the Tres Piedras Ranger District. However, you’ll need a fuelwood permit.)

Camping in Carson National Forest

A sign for Carson National Forest after a snowfall. Carson National Forest camping.

What to Consider Before Booking

The biggest thing to determine is what amenities you’ll need when camping in Carson National Forest before booking your site!

Not all sites are outfitted with electric, sewer, or water hookup. Some campgrounds offer showers and modern toilets; others don’t. Some have access to potable water; others don’t. We suggest writing down a list of your “must haves” before searching for your campsite!

If you’re planning to remote camp, you have more options for camping locations. Your biggest challenge will be preparing for the New Mexico weather in your chosen spot!

Best Seasons to Visit

The best times to plan a Carson National Forest camping trip are early summer or early fall.

Mid-to-late summer weather leans a bit hotter; when it’s not hot, it’s rainy. Neither one makes for great hiking and camping weather!

Winter isn’t ideal, either. Temperatures can plunge to well below zero later in winter. Snow can start early, so avoid planning a trip any later than September!

If you choose to visit in the winter, come prepared and educate yourself on staying warm and safe. As you’ll see in our blog post, winter camping is a whole different beast!

However, if you’re ready to brave the cold, Carson National Forest offers plenty of fun opportunities for winter campers.

Best Spots for RV Camping

One of the best spots for RV camping in Carson National Forest is Canjilon Lakes Campground in Camino Real Ranger District.

This campground is a stunning place to park your RV, allowing direct access to the forest. However, the sites do not include any hookups.

Another fantastic place for RV camping is Angel Fire RV Resort. If you’re all right about staying a bit further out from the actual forest, this is a beautiful resort to spend time in.

Angel Fire RV Resort has all the modern amenities you could hope for when RV camping. There are full hookups, free Wi-Fi, and much more to enjoy!

Best Spots for Group Camping

The best spot for group camping in Carson National Forest is Agua Piedra Campground!

This campground offers two group camping site; one that accommodates 50 people, another that accommodates 100.

Best Spots for Remote Camping

You can camp just about anywhere in the Carson National Forest, as long as you don’t settle too close to established campgrounds.

A tent campsite near sunset.

However, you will need to find a spot to park your car. If you’re staying in Questa Ranger District, there will be parking available at the Valle Vidal Unit.

You can always park your car in Valle Vidal and hike your way to your camping destination, even if it’s outside Questa!

Best Spots for Cabin Camping

Though the name might be misleading, Road Runner RV Resort is actually one of the best places for cabin camping in Carson National Forest!

The Waters Edge Cabin is a beautiful little cabin that offers modern amenities alongside a river view.

You’ll find this cabin outfitted with a kitchen, cable TV, an oven, and even wifi!

Things to Do


There are hikes for all experience levels available when camping in Carson National Forest.

If you’re an inexperienced hiker looking for a longer adventure, try the Red River Nature Trail.

If you’re up for a bigger challenge but not quite ready for an intense hike, try Chimney Rock Trail. You can even bring your furry family members along for this hike!

If you’re looking to truly test your hiking mettle, take the trail to Sheepshead Peak!

Horseback Riding

If you prefer to explore the Carson National Forest on four legs instead of two, you’re in luck. There are many trails where horses are welcome.

You can either bring your own horse along and take advantage of equine camping options, or you can book a guided tour in certain areas.

Agua Piedra Campground in Camino Real Ranger District has a horse corral on site. Another place that offers guided tours is Roadrunner Tours, which is located near Questa Ranger District.

In fact, if you choose to stay at Angel Fire RV Resort, you’ll be located very close to these rentals!

Mountain Biking

Most trails allow for mountain biking in Carson National Forest; just be careful! More popular trails can get crowded and end up being treacherous to traverse by bike.

Fishing and Hunting

You can fish and hunt during your Carson National Forest hunting trip, but certain hunts require extra permits.

Permits to hunt turkey are available on an unlimited basis. To hunt certain big game, such as Bighorn Sheep, there is a drawing conducted for a limited number of permits.

Fishing is much more accessible. You will need a fishing license, but these are not limited.

Carson National Forest camping is a fantastic opportunity for trout fishers! You’ll find many species of trout in this forest’s waters, including brown, rainbow, and Rio Grande Cutthroat.

Winter Activities

If you’re a skiing enthusiast, you’ll want to experience Carson National Forest camping in the winter.

Not only that, but there are opportunities for snowboarding, snowmobiling, sledding, and even snow tubing!

If you’ve never tried tubing in the snow, it’s definitely different. Think of it as a more unique version of sledding.

You use an inflated tube instead of a sled to go down the hill. These tubes go faster than your average sled, so be careful! You might even want to wear a helmet, just in case.

The best places to experience Carson National Forest winter activities are in Camino Real Ranger District and Questa Ranger District.

In Camino Real Ranger District, you’ll find the US Hill Snow Play Area; in Questa, you’ll find the Enchanted Forest Snowplay Area.


There are many creatures that call the Carson National Forest their home…all awe-inspiring, but some more dangerous than others.

This includes black bears and cougars, which require certain safety practices.

Cougars are less likely to approach your campsite, particularly in more populated campgrounds. However, you’ll want to ensure any pets stay inside or with you at all times; never leave them unattended.

Bear safety practices include cooking your meals far from where you sleep if you’re camping outside of established campgrounds, storing your food properly, and disposing of your trash properly.

Another mammal you might encounter on a hike is the Bighorn Sheep!

These sheep are particularly prolific in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area and the Pecos Wilderness Area. They’re not particularly shy, so you have a good chance of spotting a few!

Make Sure To Bring

When heading out on your Carson National Forest camping trip, be sure to bring:

  • Sunscreen
  • Rain gear
  • Clothing for all weather types
  • Bug spray
  • Food storage containers
  • Fishing gear and license

Enjoy Your Carson National Forest Camping Trip!

View of Echo Amphitheater in Carson National Forest in New Mexico.
Echo Amphitheater.

No matter how you choose to explore this gorgeous destination, you won’t regret camping in Carson National Forest.

For more national forest camping guides, be sure to visit our National Forest page next!