Having stayed in the Telluride area many times, the west fork of the Dolores River was a welcome reprieve from the leaf-peeping crowds in late September who flock to the upper reaches of Lizard Head Pass.
After passing the Mavreeso Campground and finding the gate already closed for the season, we were happy to pull into West Dolores, where a sign greeted us saying that it would be open, but with very little amenities, until the snow came. Didn't see a host or firewood, but paid our money in the envelope regardless. There were a few sites still available on a Saturday night at this time of year.
We stopped here for a night on a week long NM road trip - probably not a destination in itself for us, but the campground had the amenities we were looking for and there was only one other group at the entire campground on a weeknight in late September.
No views of the water or hookups here, but a variety of spots to pull or back into, clean restrooms, campfire rings, and a friendly host. There was trash service. Think it was around $12 a night.
We spent a week road trip camping around New Mexico and this was our favorite campsite, despite the lack of upkeep on the restrooms and the trash strewn around which we attempted to clean up. Even with all that, the confluence of the east, west and middle forks of the Gila River at Grapevine Campground made for a magical experience.
In late September there were only a couple of other groups at the campground, which doesn't have designated sites per se, but fire rings are clearly established. There is also a JEEP road whose trail cuts across the river which looked really fun.
We fell asleep to the sounds of the river and woke the next morning to the sun filtered through the giant trees. This campground is a real gem, really hope that people start taking care of it better!
Pro tip: There is no water at the campground, but up at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument we were able to fill up our 10 gallon tank free-of-charge.
Beautiful drive on Highway 82 west towards Cloudcroft. Stop at the roadside petting zoo!
Apache appeared to be the only campground of the three open in late September. Super nice hosts and well maintained - there were even trash cans and hand sanitizer in the restroom which was a nice touch.
The sites were relatively far apart and backed up into a nice wooded area.
Hardly anyone else there on a weeknight in September.
Strange animal noises at night!
We were travelling through in late September and the camping appeared to be shut down for the season. No one around and just a few back in sites for RV's. Picnic tables were in a grouping and not site specific. Didn't appear to be campfire rings.
This is not a campground.
We had Bottomless Lakes on our radar to stop for the night as we left Santa Fe to head to Carlsbad Caverns. Looked like a nice enough place, but no campfires were allowed due to a burn ban (didn't even look to be rings) so we opted to continue heading south to see what we could find. Turns out not a lot as we ended up at the Carlsbad KOA, but it was an hour closer to the park the following morning AND they allowed campfires!
After learning that Bottomless Lakes State Parks do not allow campfires, and striking out at Lake Van (also no campfires and didn't look to be open in late September), we settled on the Carlsbad KOA to be closer to the Caverns the following morning - and they had campfire rings!
The owners were very friendly and even showed us to our spot in their golf cart.
Your typical KOA with lots of camping amenities. Enjoyed a long hot shower and clean restrooms. We appeared to be the only folks outside their camper in the evening.
Was a bit windy, but the landscape allowed for beautiful views all around and a gorgeous sunset.
We camped here on a Monday night in late September and had no trouble finding an open site without a reservation. The spots were a little close together, but thick foliage in between provided some nice shade and privacy. There was also a nice stone wall at our site to help with erosion control. Good fire pit too.
Toilets were clean and stocked.
The Black Canyon Loop trail at the north end of the campground is a great jaunt up to a view of the Santa Fe watershed and the Pecos Wilderness. It's 1.3 miles long and does a lollipop loop allowing for different views on the way up and back - would highly recommend.