Wednesday, April 23, 2014

RV / Boondocking Sites in Los Alamos County, New Mexico

Updated: 5/27/14
Here where we live in Los Alamos, New Mexico we have a bunch of local RV sites.  I thought I would go through them all in case folks would like to bring their rig up to explore the "Hill Top" area.

Los Alamos sits in a very beautiful area of Northern New Mexico, about 45 minutes from Santa Fe. The views are world class. Temperatures in summer are usually quite nice.  At one time the entire area was considered for inclusion into the National Park system.  There is a bill in congress to convert the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve into a park managed by the National Park Service.  There is another bill that would make parts of Los Alamos part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. (Update: both bills have passed).

We've got the spectacular Bandelier National Monument adjacent to Los Alamos County.  Los Alamos is the home of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  The history of the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons is told in the well done Bradbury Science Museum in downtown Los Alamos.  We have a historic lodge that houses an art center. Next door is our small but interesting history museum.  On Friday nights during the summer, musical concerts are held at our historic downtown pond and in other local locations.  We have more stunning views down at White Rock Canyon.  We have many miles of amazing hiking trails with incredible views of colorful plateaus and canyons.  We have a few nice restaurants. Our favorites are the Blue Window and High Altitude, both in downtown Los Alamos.  Nearby is the amazing scenery of the Valles Caldera National Preserve which was formed by an ancient volcano.  You can hike in the spectacular Valle Grande there.  (There is reserved RV/Bus parking on the street behind or north of the Bradbury Science Museum.)

One of our amazing Los Alamos views.
My wife and I are constantly saying, "we are lucky to live in Los Alamos" because of the beautiful hikes and views. Los Alamos and White Rock make up most of Los Alamos County.  It's a very small county designed around the Lab and the residential areas to the north of it.

First off, we have a brand new RV site in the town of White Rock that is attached to a beautiful new visitor's center.  The visitor center serves as a pickup/drop-off site for bus rides to the nearby Bandelier National Monument, where you can walk among interesting ancient indian peoples ruins that lie in the walls of a deep canyon. White Rock has 16 sites with electric connections and a small fenced dog exercise area. They don't take reservations.  These electric spots are currently $20 a night paid by credit card at an ATM like box at the site. Location: 35.8280141,-106.2109577.

Directly across the street from this new RV site is a good pizza restaurant with a salad bar and a sit down Mexican/American food restaurant, as well as a nice Smith's Grocery store and a small hardware store that also sells propane. There is a free dump/water station at this RV site. A new walking trail starts behind the Pizza restaurant across the street.  A county bus service will take you into Los Alamos for museums and more.  There is a new specialty restaurant in White Rock: The Rosebud Cafe(now Pig + Fig), that is within walking distance from the RV park.  It is generally open at 7:00 am. It's located at 35 Rover Blvd. Suite G, phone: 505.603.7912.  I would call before I went to be sure of hours.  There is also a mediocre Chinese Restaurant within walking distance. You will have to ask a local about this one.

New black top RV sites at the new White Rock Visitors Center.

Dump Station at the visitors center in White Rock.

RV Rules
Updated rules?

At the entrance to Los Alamos County, we have a parking area known as the East Gate Park (or officially "Kiwanis Entrance Park") that is a basic black top surface with heated bathrooms [35.876045,-106.254212]. (UPDATE 2/9/2017:  This park is now named : MAIN GATE PARK. Kiwanis has turned the park over to the county. You can read a story about what they have done there here.

Self-contained RV camping is allowed in this parking lot. This site has a RV dump station. This site is located within a short walk of a well stocked Co-operative Grocery Market that has fresh organic vegetables, and other healthy foods. It includes a very nice deli for sandwiches and other deli dishes.  Near the Co-op, is an entrance to a very pleasant paved walking/bike riding trail that takes you further into town. There is also hiking access into nearby canyons. The views are outstanding.

This RV spot is somewhat of a secret in our "secret city" as it was sort of intended for lab contractors and other workers to stay for periods of time while they worked on projects in Los Alamos. It is not well advertised, but it is available to the public. There is a fee to stay here ($10 I believe). Contact the County for information: Los Alamos County Parks Division 505-662-8159.

East Gate self-contained RV site. Heated bathrooms on the right. There is a free dump/water station here also.

The entrance park dump station

Covered picnic tables near dump station.

Possibly updated rules?

More rules.

Up on nearby Pajarito Mountain, at our amazingly good local downhill ski area (another state secret), there is a nice tree lined camping area called Camp May.  It's in a bowl near the top of the mountain.  There is a short and a bit steep dirt road to get to it.  I've seen rigs up there but not really large ones.  The county says 25' max, but I think you could go slightly bigger in two or three spots.  There are campfire pits, picnic tables and pit toilet bathrooms. Camp May location: 35.8967751,-106.3977454.

I would drive up and check it out before trying to get a large RV in there. The area was recently refurbished. Closed in the winter.  There is a small section at the beginning of Camp May road this is quite steep.  It might be difficult to get your rig up this section if you are underpowered.  The last bit of road to the Camp May campground at the top is a bit steep and packed dirt. Again, it could be slow going at this section - just to warn you.

One of the larger site that can fit an RV at Camp May.

The largest site for the RV at Camp May among many aspen trees.

One of the new pit toilets in the Camp May camping area.

Camp May Rules

A view of the Lab, Los Alamos, Espanola Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from Pajarito Mountain near Camp May.
Along the road up to Camp May there is Forest Service land.  I am assuming you could boondock off of one of the little dirt roads in this area.  I have seen trailers up there from time to time.  I have heard that summer students and post-graduate students have camped up there while doing summer work for the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  I will give the contact information for the Espanola Forest Service ranger district at the bottom of this post so you can get the scoop on boondocking.  Area where I have seen RVs: 35.8773583,-106.3483339.  UPDATE 9/2017: THIS AREA (KNOWN AS LOS ALAMOS OVERLOOK) IS NOW POSTED WITH "NO CAMPING" SIGNS BY THE SANTA FE NATIONAL FOREST RANGER DISTRICT.

[Update: Tim & Amanda of the WatsonsWander stayed here on the forest service land for a week along the canyon edge in September 2014.  Here is the post from their stay. [POST]

Update (April 2015): Our area is surrounded by forest service land. One cool area that I've seen more RVs at is off the roads at this location that is a little high up the into the Jemez Mtns: 35.834356, -106.375650 ]  UPDATE 9/2017 - THIS AREA APPEARS TO BE STILL LEGAL FOR RVs.

Up the Camp May road there are large flat parking areas that are used for ski area parking in the winter.  It's just east of Camp May.  I've seen RVs in those lots, it may be possible to park there short term in the summer.  I would call the ski area to see if self-contained overnight RV parking is possible.  The ski area has a cafe that is usually open much of the year for lunch.

There are three loops of camping sites at Bandelier National Monument.  The loop farthest in is called "Coyote" loop and has the largest sites for RVs and nice tall trees.  It's our favorite of the three loops. We have camped here with my parents and had a great time. (No hookups, nice heated flush toilet bathrooms.)  There is a two mile hike (four round trip) that starts in the campground and goes down steeply into the main canyon where the visitor's center is located.  It's a good hike if you want to get  a lot of exercise and enjoy spectacular views. If you can get someone to pick you up at the bottom and bring you back up, that would make it a lot easier.  In the summer there is a shuttle bus that can bring you out of the canyon.  Check with the park on that option.  Best Bandelier camping area: 35.7961569,-106.2831541

Don't miss the Tsankawi unit that is a separate area from the main Bandelier park.  It has a loop trial past many petroglyphs, ruins that you can crawl into and cool ladders that at part of the trail.  It's our favorite part of the park and not as well known. The views there are also amazing.  Tsankawi entrance location: 35.8601594,-106.2241293

One of the nice spots for an RV at Bandelier National Monument.

Another good RV spot at Bandelier National Monument.  An RV in a pull through spot can be seen on the far side.

There is a modular home community near the Laboratory that now allows RVs to hookup (full hookups).  We visited the sites and they look pretty nice with great views on one side.  The community is called Royal Crest.  It's going to be the most expensive of the options for RVs in the area, but if you would like full hookups, it looks like a good choice.  Royal Crest RV area: 35.8731861,-106.3050841

Full Hookup RV Sites are Royal Crest.

Full Hookup RV sites at Royal Crest. The canyon drops off quickly just to the left of the sites. You can see the Lab facilities across the canyon.
Also in our area, there are campgrounds up in the nearby Jemez mountains.  We have camped up there many times and the campgrounds are nice.  They are forest service campgrounds.  There is one campground my parents are very fond of called "San Antonio" that has electric hookups.

Driver's should be aware that they are likely going to be driving through secure Lab federal property on their way up to the Jemez mountains.  Don't worry, we do it all the time.  They will look at your driver's license at the gate and then you can drive on through.  It's fun!  How many other times can you drive through a super-high security nuclear weapons lab?  They randomly search vehicles from time to time.  It's no big deal.  I'm guessing they might want to take a closer look at a large RV, mostly because the guards are very bored.  Also, don't take photos on Lab property, they really hate that!

If you want to bypass the Lab security gates, it is possible. They road to bypass starts at the Los Alamos Medical Center (Hospital): 35.882527, -106.320180

Down in the valley, outside the county, there is a casino in Pojoaque that has an RV park.  It's basically a large flat gravel rock area with no trees.  It has full-hookups.  It recently became a Good Sam Club site. Nearby is bowling, buffets and gambling. There is a good breakfast restaurant we like called the "Gold Dust" on the Cities of Gold Casino property.  Also, just down the road is one of our very favorite restaurants, "Gabriels," that has great Mexican dishes. The made-at-your-table guacamole and chips are to die for! We are also partial to the well stocked and tasty buffet at nearby Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino.

There are many Indian Pueblos that surround our area.  If you have a chance to go to a pueblo on one of the feast or dance days, you can catch one of their ceremonial dances.  They are amazingly colorful and very spiritual.  Do not take photos, they also really hate that!

There is a small company called Buffalo Tours in Los Alamos that can give you a great driving tour of the historic areas of town.  They also do historic site walking tours.  They pickup for tours at 1:30 PM in front of the Bradbury Science Museum (call the Bradbury Museum for more info.)

A little ways away is one of my parent's favorite RV camping places.  It's the US Army Corps of Engineers Riana campground on Abiquiu Reservoir. It has Electric sites, a dump station and great views. There are not a lot of trees, so it is more of a spring/fall type place.

There is also an Elks club in downtown Los Alamos that allows rigs and I believe has a couple electric hookups. (Must be a Elks member to use.)

Ghost Ranch, which is near Abiquiu Reservoir, has RV camping available. Ghost Ranch is a totally cool place with amazing views, fantastic hikes and a museum. George O'Keeffe had a place there and did a lot of her famous painting there. The ranch is very much worth a visit.

There is a HUGE amount of exploring to do in our area, and there are a surprising number of RV sites here too - more than I first suspected.

The county's motto is, "Discover Our Secrets."  I'm guessing that many cities and counties have lots of nearly "secret" RV sites known mostly to locals. Well now you know what this local knows about the "secret" RV spots in our area! Come and enjoy them before they are discovered!

If you do come up to Los Alamos, give us a holler and maybe we can come over for a hike, a quick look at your rig and a short visit.

Green Reserved Bus and RV Parking behind the Bradbury Museum on Iris Street at 35.882106, -106.298223
Could you overnight in the reserved Bus / RV parking downtown behind the Bradbury Museum? Seem like it should be OK, but I'm not totally sure. [35.882073, -106.298541]

Links to more information:

Bandelier National Monument
Los Alamos County - Outdoor Rental Facilities (including camping spots)
Los Alamos County Trail Network
Los Alamos County "Atomic" Transit Routes and Schedules
Espanola Ranger District
Jemez Ranger District
Cities of Gold RV Park
Royal Crest Manufactured Home Community (& RV sites)
Visit Los Alamos Online Visitor Guide
Los Alamos - Wikitravel Guide
Bradbury Science Museum - Your Window Into Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos Historical Society and Historical Museum
Fuller Lodge Art Center
Valles Caldera National Preserve
Gabriel's Restaurant Information
New Mexico Pueblo Dances and Feast Days
Abiquiu Lake US Army Corps of Engineers Riana Campground
Buffalo Tours of Los Alamos
Restaurants in Los Alamos area

Here is another blog from an RVer who recently visited Los Alamos:

Update: I just discovered some really nice boondocking sites further up in the Jemez mountains but not all that far from Los Alamos.  They are on the edge of a canyon.  The road to them is a ruff dirt road that might be tough for a standard car.  Click HERE to view the area on a Google Map


  1. We want to come back to this area in the future and will certainly be using this excellent information. I will Pin it.

  2. Thanks for this, and for sending me the link! I see ideas for me and Spud, and things to pass on for bigger rigs. I do like Los Alamos, but I've never camped there. I've always mooched an indoor bed.


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