It’s about that time of year again when snowbirds are heading south for the winter to destinations like Arizona and Florida. While everyone flocks to popular places like Quartzsite and Tampa, take advantage of the season and venture to a new area with less crowds such as the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.
Over 3 million acres of pristine wilderness are preserved in the Gila NF, with terrain varying from forested hills to semi-desert and rugged mountains. This vast forest bordering the Arizona border is only a few hours from Las Cruces, the town of Truth Or Consequences, Elephant Butte, and Pie Town.
Several National Forest campgrounds and private RV parks are located throughout the Gila NF as well as hundreds of miles of hiking trails. These five campgrounds are not only RV-friendly, but they have lots to see and do nearby.
1. Sundial Springs
Sundial Springs Campground is located just off Highway 180, south of Glenwood along the San Francisco River. It is a smaller, privately-owned campground with only six pull-through, full hookup RV sites, a couple of tent sites, and a cabin.
In addition to their camping accommodations, they have two hot pools with natural sulfur-free water that you can rent out privately by the hour. The little pool, which is run during the cold months, has enough room for about three people. A larger pool is open during the warm months with room for 4-10 people.
When you’re not soaking in the springs, take a hiking trail nearby or your fishing pole out for the day. There is also an old mining town, Mogollon, about 40 minutes away, that is worth taking the time to explore. All that remains are a few seasonal residents, historic buildings and relics, and a couple of small businesses, including The Purple Onion Cafe, which serves one of the best burgers in the state.
2. Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary (CCIDSS)
If you continue about a half-hour north on Highway 180, you’ll reach Cosmic Campground, which is well-known for its dark night skies and occasional sky parties. This free campground is designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary (IDSS), one of only ten in the world. This is because of its ideal location, far away from artificial light sources, with the nearest significant source over 40 miles away. Bring a pair of binoculars and you’ll have a completely unobstructed, wide-open view of the stars and constellations.
The campground is open year-round with only six sites suitable for tents and small RVs. Visitors can make use of the four concrete telescope and observation pads, or learn more at the site’s information kiosk.
3. Apache Creek Campground
About 45 minutes north of Cosmic Campground, larger RVs can find more room at the quiet Apache Creek Campground. Only ten sites without hookups are available, first-come first-served, with enough room for RVs up to 40 feet. It’s free to camp up to the 14-day stay limit.
Come prepared as amenities are minimal; there is a pit toilet and no drinking water. There is great hiking in the area as well as bird watching and rockhounding.
4. Mesa Campground
On the eastern side of the Gila National Forest, you can take Highway 15 or Highway 35 to reach Mesa Campground, a scenic USFS campground on a wooded bluff overlooking Lake Roberts. Boating and fishing are popular activities on the lake, and Silver City attractions are only about an hour away.
Twelve sites can accommodate RVs with water and electric hookups; 24 sites are for tents and have fire rings available. The campground also has more modern amenities including heated restrooms with flush toilets, grills, picnic tables, and garbage facilities. Rates are only $15 a night for hookup sites and $10 for tent sites.
5. Gila Hot Springs Campground
About a half-hour north of Mesa Campground is another great springs in the Gila National Forest: Gila Hot Springs. The family-owned business has RV campsites and natural hot springs pools by the Gila River, a short drive from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Fees for camping and soaking in their springs are both very reasonable. Camping is priced at $8 a person per night and includes access to their pools. If you want to soak without camping, the fee is only $5.