It’s an easy hike down from the painted desert inn down and into the wilderness. Permits are free and easy to obtain. Ask for a wilderness hiking booklet as well, it’s very well made and can help orient yourself in the vast wilderness as well as offer hiking options and specific destinations and points of interest.
Once you’re out there - you’re out there! No amenities and you only have what you packed!
Drove in here late in the day (about 9:30pm) to find the bathrooms locked and sites full of RVs. Turns out their policy is that you get a key to the bathroom if you check in, and the office closes at 4:30pm, so if you haven't arrived by then you are going to be looking for a place to squat, and good luck finding one that's not in sight of at least 8 other campers.
Unpowered sites are $10 and powered are $20. The rock in the area is pretty, but that's about it. Otherwise this is an unpleasant, muddy city park with little to offer. Keep on driving, if you ask me!
Dispersed Camping was wonderful here. Permits are available at the visitor center. We walked down into the wilderness area behind the painted desert Inn. Beautiful views, an easy hike out, and no one else around
I have stayed at this campground several time it was a New Mexico Stae Park, it has since been turned over to the city of Gallup as a city park. There are several hiking and horseback riding trails around this campground. One of the best is to castle rock a really good hike. Make sure you call to check for availability, there is a rodeo arena near by and will fill up if there is a rodeo.
In my second trip to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert we wanted to explore the opportunity to try a little dispersed camping. We checked out the park and inquired about permits, which are free and were ready to take on the adventure head on.
What we were not expecting was the WIND!! Lots and lots of wind!! In this area there are not large ares of coverage from the elements. Very minimal in fact so it made it a bit harder than we had thought it would be in selecting an area we felt comfortable even attempting to make a home for the night.
On other trips to the same location we have had wind but never like this! Since there are no barriers to block it camping cannot be comfortably done in these conditions.
We opted to throw in the towel and try again next time.
What we did gather from this however was that the park staff is very friendly and helpful in regards to setting up your adventure and issuing permits. The park itself has sites to numerous to list that are of interest for doing this style of camping. And the biggest one of all, without camping you CANNOT get sunrise or sunset pictures because of opening and closing times of the facility.
- Check wind advisories in area before traveling to the location
- Pack a lower profile tent which does not grab the wind as much
- Bring a headlamp because it is a true dark sky when you are camping here, you can see nothing at night!!
This RV Campground is great, one of the nicest, cleanest we’ve ever been too. The price was fantastic for what you get. We only stayed one night here and left wanting to stay longer. Everything is so clean and nice looking. Heated pool, BBQ dinner plate for purchase is available some nights. There’s a nice playground for kids. Although the kids were wanting to take advantage of the WiFi lol we were able to stream and download what we needed fast. We’d stay here again FOR SURE. Conveniently right off of the I40.
After we paid the park entrance fee ($16, I think), we picked up our FREE back country permit from the visitors center first thing. There we were told we were going to be the only people in the desert that night.
After we did all the road side attractions by car, we headed to the trial head at the Painted Desert Inn. About 1.5 hours before sun set, we backpacked into the Painted Desert from the Inn visitors center where there is water and toilets available. The trail that goes down about 200 feet via switchbacks then ends in a magical lunar landscape of red dirt and petrified pieces of tree. Once you get to the end of that trail, you just have to walk 1 mile in any direction to camp. We hiked a for about an hour across amazing desert-scape and found an incredible plateau to camp on top of. We had a fantastic view of the surrounding dessert without being able to see any man-made structures!
While it is definitely back country camping with no water, electric, toilets, defined sites or anything, it is the most amazing camping I've ever done! There's no light pollution so seeing the stars and the milky way is is no problem. It's so quite, my husband said all he could hear all night was his tinnitus.
It was beautiful, magical and remote. I would go again and again. There's so much to explore and so far you can go. We even found out you can bring your dog with you in the desert!
The only downside is you have to pack in all your water with you, making a multi-day trip a little harder.
- The most fantastic and magical backpacking you can imagine
- So remote and peaceful
- You can see the Milky Way (it was my first time seeing it).
- You can bring your dog!
- Incredible lunar landscape! You get to live out fantasies of being part of the Apollo 11 mission
- No amenities in the desert (no water available to pump from natural sources either)
- No showers for when you get off the trail
You should camp in the Painted Desert. Seriously, do it!!
Densely wooded PRIMITIVE campground with trails and fishing but NO WATER. We only stayed there while driving from ABQ to the coast, which was perfect for us, but we will plan to return to explore the Cibola National Forest more. It was cool and shady in August so we quite enjoyed it as a stopover. In our little sedan we didn’t have trouble, but I think there are other forest service roads you’d want a jeep for?
My first visit to New Mexico and the southwest. Red Rock Park is in Gallup, NM right on the Arizona state line in between Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Church Rock Trial and Pyramid Rock Trail are both about 3 to 3 and a half miles round trip from the campground. Your surrounded by desert on one side and dark red stone on the other, very cool place and trails.
We stayed at Quaking Aspen Campground for one night but thats all it took. I fell in love with the campground. The big aspen trees, how remote and quiet it was. The elevation at which the cg is at is 8000' makes for cool days and nic crisp cool nights, even in the summertime.
We used this campground as a starting point for a research trip sampling Precambrian rocks of the Zuni Mountains. I hadn't spent much time in this part of New Mexico, and assumed that the trip was going to be hot and sun-bleached, similar to the desert exposed in nearby Gallup, NM. I was surprised to drive into a beautiful forest just a few minutes off I40.
The campsite includes basic forest service amenities: pit toilets, picnic tables, and metal-rimmed fire pit/grill sites. What set this apart from other non-hosted campsites for me was the condition of the grounds. The tent camping sites had well maintained, leveled tent pads, maintained gravel roads, and clean facilities. The Sites offered a reasonable degree of privacy, although some of the sites near the middle of the loop road place you in close proximity to your neighbor. The area is moderately wooded with pine and aspen, providing shade throughout the day and easy access to the dirt road that transects the Zuni Mountains, letting you out near the Bandera volcano and ice cave, which is a wonderful drive if you have a high clearance/4x4 and time to drive through.
We saw abundant wildlife while working in the Zunis, including several brown bears, deer, and elk. While we didn't have any run ins with these guy in camp, be aware that large animals are present in the area and be sure to take necessary bear-proofing precautions.
Camp fees were $5/night, which is quite the bargain given the well-kept grounds and wonderful scenery. If you're looking for a less-traveled escape from Albuquerque, or just want the chance to explore the under-valued Zuni mountains and western New Mexico landscape (and some pretty interesting geologic features such as orbicular granite), this campground is an excellent place to spend some time on the cheap.
Photos included are from the Zunis south of the campsite, as I didn't think to take any photos while we were at camp.