The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.
Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.
There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.
Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.
It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.
On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!
I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.
I took all these photos in this post.
This spot looks positively idyllic! It made me want to hop in the car and drive away from here. (I’m in Northern California.) Thank you for sharing your spot, I’m going to save this for future reference. Happy camping!
It is a really nice spot, Lynda. I hope you get to visit it some day.
Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment.
This is so beautiful. One of my favorite areas. Glad you found a nice spot to camp. On the weekends I have noticed it is nearly impossible to find an empty place. Have you ever seen large animals there while camping? Like a deer or a bear? Just curious. Thanks. I have never seen any myself.
Yes, lovenature, it can be very difficult to find a camping spot along the Rio Hondo on summer weekends. If one is not tied to the pit toilets, it is a bit easier. The Man and I like to be away from people if possible because the dog likes to bark if he thinks strangers are too close to camp. We tend to go out as far as we can and find a little spot to tuck in.
I saw my first bear across the street from the Rio Hondo is 2013 or 2014. Here’s a link to that story: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/04/15/my-first-bear/.
Whoa… I just read your article about seeing a bear!! So cool and scary at the same time. Good to know as I too am in these free campsites several times a year. Thank you for your interesting blog!
Glad you like the blog, Cindy. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement!
Be careful out in bearland!
Good to know! Thanks! I do like Arroyo Seco, too.
I hope you get to camp there some day!