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9 Best El Morro National Monument Boondocking Spots

El Morro National Monument

I visited the El Morro National Monument because I’ve always been interested in history, and this monument has plenty of it. El Morro means “the headland” or “promontory” in Spanish. This national monument preserves the longest historic trail in America, with 600 years of history that can be traced back to the island’s first inhabitants. The park also preserves centuries-old inscriptions on seashells, rocks, and petroglyphs.

History of the El Morro National Monument

I had never visited this national monument before. After reading more about its history, I knew that I wanted to see the trails for myself! I first saw El Morro in 2021 and was amazed at what I found. I stood on the top of this great rock mesa, looked out to see a view that stretched for miles. I often wondered who had been smart enough to make use of this high ground as a fortress against raiding tribes from the west.

El Morro (which means ‘The Head’ or ‘The Point) is a natural fortress located at the mouth of El Morro Canyon in western New Mexico. The mesa has two summits: the North summit, an enormous rocky outcropping, and a lower South summit, which some people mistakenly call ‘Sunrise Rock.’

The walls on either side of the canyon are sheer cliffs that drop hundreds of feet to the canyon floor. A small creek flows through a natural breach in the South wall and then joins El Morro Creek, which runs into Zuni Creek and then on to the mighty San Francisco River.

The top of South summit is covered with a forest of Ponderosa and Pinion Pine that provide ample shade to darken the interior during most hours of the day, but at mid-day in July, they do little to tame the 130 degree dry heat that scorches this rock.

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Places and Things to Do and See with Descriptions in El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument is a unique place. I could spend weeks exploring all the nooks and crannies, but I will focus on what I think are the best places to visit, along with a few of my favorite memories from visits there in 2012 and 2013.

I first visited El Morro National Monument with Laurel in our tent camper. We drove to Zuni Pueblo, where we stopped for breakfast then on to find a boondocking area.

After leaving Zuni, we turned south on NM-53, traveling over the dry red rock mesas through San Fidel and past the turnoff for El Malpais National Monument. We approached the canyon carved through these sandstone cliffs that shelter the two springs bubbling out of the base of this massive rock.

The first stop was at a sign just north of Zuni Spring, where you will find two large cottonwood trees and a metal post with a register book. Zuni Spring had been a popular camping spot for the Spanish Soldiers traveling between Santa Fe and Mexico City during the 18th Century. Still, it had been virtually abandoned after an Apache raiding party wiped out a group of Goat Herders from this area in 1760.

The second stop was at a large pull-off just north of Kinishba Spring. A pair of large cottonwood trees had provided shelter to Spanish Soldiers on this spot until 1775 when a group of Navajos from the area ambushed them and killed all but one soldier who managed to escape back to Zuni. I traveled down into the canyon carved through these sandstone cliffs between two massive red mesas and followed the creek bed south to the spring.

A few years earlier I had visited with a friend who had never seen this place before. We left Vegas early and drove a direct route down NM 53 between the red mesas. We arrived at about 8 AM and enjoyed feeling like we had the place all to ourselves since it was still early in the morning. As we were checking out the petroglyphs on the way up to Kinishba Spring, I noticed that there seemed to be tire tracks leading up to the spring, and all of a sudden, one popped out from behind some rocks, and we had company.

We didn’t realize that we were not the only ones enjoying El Morro on this beautiful morning. A woman with her two young children had pulled in and set up for their day of exploring. After settling in, we hiked up to Kinishba Spring, where we had lunch under the cottonwood trees. We then spent the better part of the day exploring all over this magical place between those two substantial red mesas.

El Morro National Monument Boondocking

9 Best El Morro National Monument Boondocking Spots

1. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Spots – 191 off 400

Address
Fort Wingate, New Mexico
GPS: 35.42214, -108.55003
Elevation: 7503′

Management: Public – Forest Service

Dispersed campsite. Loved this spot. There are probably 8 spots to camp here all are separate from each other, flat, and surrounded by tall pine trees. Saw a 40 foot here. 8 miles off the interstate. All good paved road to 191 which is a wide well maintained gravel road. No cell service.You may stay 14 days at 191 off 400.

2. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Sites – County Rd 162

Address
Fort Wingate, New Mexico
GPS: 35.39849, -108.52882
Elevation: 7700′

Management: Public – Forest Service

The road in is Dirt. Several dispersed sites along a dirt road that starts even but gets more rough. No water or toilets. I stayed at a nice big one on a ridge with a fire pit. I think it’s closed in winter.

3. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Spots – El Malpais Scenic ByWay

Address
County Road 42
Grants, New Mexico
GPS: 34.705776, -108.028586
Elevation: 7083′

Management: Public – Bureau of Land Management

Free Dispersed camping in the Bureau of Land Management Rio Puerco District. First come -> first served. No reservations accepted. This is a high elevation location. big, flat, empty, dispersed camping.

4. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Sites – El Morro National Monument

Address
HC 61 Box 43
Ramah, New Mexico
GPS: 35.036999, -108.335999
Elevation: 7216′

Management: Public – National Park Service

The road in is Paved. El Morro National Monument is open All year round. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 27 Feet. You may stay 7 Days at El Morro National Monument. El Morro National Monument operates a nine-site campground year-round. Each site has a graveled tent pad; picnic table and ground grill for fires. Water is available in spigots, but there are no hook-ups for motor homes. The length limit on all motor homes is 27 feet overall. One site, #5, is handicapped accessible.

5. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Spots – Joe Skeens – El Malpais NCA

Address
HWY 117
Grants, New Mexico
GPS: 34.941908, -107.820155
Elevation: 6898′

Management: Public – Bureau of Land Managment

The road in is Dirt. Joe Skeens – El Malpais NCA is open Year-round. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is 36′. You may stay see description at Joe Skeens – El Malpais NCA. Offers ten free, primitive campsites with picnic tables and shade pavilions. Vault toilets on site. A Camp Host is on duty. There is a water spigot at the ranger station that may be used to fill up your holding tanks during the station’s business hours.

6. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Sites – Lobo Canyon Campground

Address
Grants, New Mexico
GPS: 35.20367, -107.71503
Elevation: 7437′

Management: Public – USDA Forest Service

The road in is Paved. Lobo Canyon Campground is open May 9 for 2015. You may stay unknown at Lobo Canyon Campground. The campground is located 10 miles northeast of Grants at an elevation of approximately 7,437 feet. Ponderosa pine, pinon, and juniper trees provide shade and some privacy for visitors. There is a group picnic area that was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Drive North from the Forest Service office approximately 8 miles on Lobo Canyon Road (SR 547). Turn right onto Forest Road 193 and continue past the Lobo Canyon Volunteer Fire Department to the campground entrance on the left.

7. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Spots – Ojo Redondo Campground

Address
Forest Road 480
Thoreau, New Mexico
GPS: 35.158545, -108.108508
Elevation: 8815′

Management: Public – USDA Forest Service

Ojo Redondo Campground is open June-October. You may stay 14 days at Ojo Redondo Campground. This free campground accommodates tents and trailers less than 22 feet. It has 15 campsites. There aren’t any trash services, so pack it out. There isn’t any drinking water. Bring what you’ll need. Take Exit 53 at Thoreau and drive south on NM State Highway 612 past Bluewater Lake. The road becomes FR178 at the Forest boundary. Continue south on FR178 for 8 miles to the junction with FR480. Turn east (left) and drive two miles further to the campground entrance on the right.

8. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Sites – Quaking Aspen Trail

Address
Quaking Aspen Trail
Fort Wingate, New Mexico
GPS: 35.410365, -108.551326
Elevation: 7690′

Management: Public – Forest Service

Dispersed camping, no water, no toilets (though they had bathrooms at the trailhead at the entrance to the campsites). Tent and RV camping. Amazing place! Went about half a mile down from gate and found a very private spot…only saw 1 other person, many campsites. Not very many bugs. The forest road that gives access to the campsites is closed from Dec 15-Mar 31. You can still hike-in.

9. El Morro National Monument Boondocking Spots – Six Mile Canyon

Address
Fort Wingate, New Mexico
GPS: 35.471178, -108.462524
Elevation: 7024′

Management: Public – Forest Service

Free camping. No services. Google shows a campground area further down the road, but we just put up the tent wherever. Sign at the gate says closed December thru March. Loved this campsite… no noise from highway. Peaceful and even had super nice neighbors. Long dirt road.



Top 2 Trails to Hike at El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument Hiking Trail #1. El Morro National Monument Loop Trail

El Morro National Monument

This was an important stop off for pioneers and travelers in the area due to WATER that is always there. A small pretty pond and 2000 carved signatures, dates and petroglyphs line much of the way and a hike to the top will lead to a Woodpecker looking arch, great views and pueblo ruins.

This 1.8-mile loop trail near Ramah, New Mexico. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 51 min to complete. This is a popular trail for hiking and walking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

Length: 1.8 mi
Elevation gain: 324 ft
Route type: Loop

Dogs on leash, Kid friendly, Hiking, Walking, Partially paved, Views, Historic site

El Morro National Monument Hiking Trail #2. The Inscription Trail

El Morro National Monument Boondocking

The Inscription trail is a must-see! If you only have an hour or less, you will definitely want to take the trail to the pool and past hundreds of Spanish and Anglo inscriptions, as well as pre-historical petroglyphs.

Head out on this 0.7-mile loop trail near Ramah, New Mexico. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 17 min to complete. This is a popular trail for hiking and walking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime. You’ll need to leave pups at home — dogs aren’t allowed on this trail.

Length: 0.7 mi
Elevation gain: 82 ft
Route type: Loop

Wheelchair friendly, Kid friendly, Stroller friendly, Hiking, Walking, Paved, Views, Waterfall, Wildflowers, Historic site, No dogs



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