New Mexico free camping – Cattlemen Trail boondocking

posted in: New Mexico | 4

New Mexico free camping –
Cattlemen Trail boondocking

When southern Arizona hit 115 degrees, I decided to take my home on wheels and head for the hills! 😊 The Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico was calling. The mountains here aren’t on the scale of the Rockies, but they’re high enough to put the temperatures in a much more enjoyable bracket, and I wanted to check out the Cattlemen Trail boondocking spot I’d read about.

So it’s off to the mountains!

Welcome center in Lordsburg

Leaving Tucson at midnight in order to avoid the worst of the heat, I stopped to crash for a couple of hours at the reliable New Mexico welcome center in Lordsburg. The parking lot here makes a perfectly good asphalt campsite, and its location just across the New Mexico border means it’s often a welcome stop on the way from Tucson to places east.

The welcome center has some picnic tables and visitor information, and they’ve even got running water and flush toilets, open day and night. It can be noisy here due to the nearby interstate and people coming and going at all hours, so bring your earplugs.

Welcome Center in Lordsburg, New Mexico
Welcome Center in Lordsburg, NM – Always a welcome sight! πŸ™‚

But that was just a quick stopover to grab a little shuteye, and soon I headed on to my campsite for the night, the Cattlemen Trail boondocking spot in the southern portion of the Gila National Forest.

Cattlemen Trail boondocking

Most of the Gila forest is north of Silver City, the biggest town in the area, but there’s a little piece to the south, too, in the Big Burro Mountains. Driving along highway 90 from Lordsburg to Silver City, just about where you cross the summit at the Continental Divide, there’s a turnoff to the left, which takes you to this boondocking area.

Cattlemen Trail is not an official campground, but you’ll see stone fire rings left by previous campers, a sure sign of a decent spot. There are a bunch of these campsites scattered about a large area, so find one that suits you.

Campsite at Cattlemen Trail
Yay! Back in the mountains, camped on dirt again

The road in is a good gravel road, and you don’t need to go far from the highway to find some spots. There is a bit of sound from the traffic, but it’s not bad, and it was very quiet at night.

The landscape here is dotted with junipers and scrub oaks, so you can take your pick of spaces with dappled shade, or choose sun for the solar. When I camped here, there was one other vehicle parked here, but it was quite a distance from me, and I couldn’t even see them through the trees.

Big boondocking sites at Cattlemen Trail
Cattlemen Trail has a ton of space for boondocking campsites

Since it’s a boondocking campsite, there are no facilities, and there’s no water. There is plenty of downed wood lying around if you feel like putting one of those fire rings to use. Also, I had fast LTE service with T-Mobile most of the time here.

At about 6,400 ft elevation, this had the cooler temperatures I was looking for. No more 100+ degrees! It felt heavenly. πŸ™‚ In the afternoon, massive dark monsoon clouds gathered, and eventually delivered the driving downpour they promised. The temperature dropped below 60 degrees while it rained, and I had to put on a sweater for the first time in months!

Dark clouds bring monsoon rains
Forbidding clouds – Could monsoon rains be far behind?

There’s a trailhead here for the Continental Divide Trail, which runs right by the camping area. If you’re into hiking, you can follow this trail either north or south, as far as your heart desires. It runs near the crest of the hills, so you’ll get nice views over the valley below.

Hiking the trail near Cattlemen Trail
Hiking up the Continental Divide Trail

If you’re planning to stay here for awhile, another plus is that it’s only about 20 miles to Silver City, where it’s easy to get any supplies you might need. This also makes a good stopover if you’re heading up towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and don’t want to drive that twisty mountain road in the dark.

The one downside of this place? Cows! Perhaps that should be expected with a name like Cattlemen Trail… πŸ˜‰ A few moms with youngsters wandered right through my campsite. (I’m sure they thought the place was theirs, and I was the intruder!) There were also quite a few cattle grazing in flat spots along the hiking trail. On my hike I saw about 37 cows and 0 people.

Cows! The visitors while boondocking Cattlemen Trail
What would you expect when camping at “Cattlemen Trail”?

All in all, it’s a pleasant place! It was peaceful, cool, private, quiet, and free — a great way to start my Summer Chill-Out trip! πŸ™‚

Cattlemen Trail – Gila National Forest
Boondocking site. Large area with scattered trees, easy access via a good gravel road. Near trailhead for the Continental Divide Trail. No facilities, decent cell service, and cows.

Rating: 3***
Altitude: 6,381 ft
GPS: 32.549447, -108.426998
Price: Free

Questions? Comments?

Do you have any favorite boondocking camping spots in southern New Mexico? I’d love to hear about them in the Reply section below! And thanks for sharing!

PHOTO CREDITS: Deanna Keahey

Deanna sunset

Hi! I’m Deanna, creator of Uphill Zen. I’m currently yondering around North America with my 1986 Toyota motorhome, Zennie. What makes my heart sing is travel, adventure, and the awe-inspiring wonders of nature. Finding ways to share that joyous spirit is what this is all about.

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4 Responses

  1. Jeanne

    I found your site today and am curious about you and what you are doing. I live on an acreage and love to stay busy. I also love RVing, but usually travel with my sister and our dogs. This winter I would like to try 4-6 weeks of boon docking in New Mexico. First, have you been at some free sites farther south that are easy to get a 25′ TT into? What do you do at a site? I am concerned that I will get bored without stuff to do, and even though I do love to hike, this will be done with my two Great Pyrenees pups, age 9 month and 17 months. As the breed goes, and their age, I must keep them leashed while walking as they tend to wander. I am interested in hearing more from you. Thanks.

    • Deanna

      Hi Jeanne –
      Thanks for your message! My favorite area in southern NM is the Gila. Altitudes there vary, so for winter some parts of it could be chilly. One place I stayed recently would be super simple to get your camper into — Apache Creek free camping.

      As for what to do, that really depends. Personally, I don’t usually stay in one place for weeks at a time, though I know many people do. I usually stop in a place for a few days, then move on. I’ll go hiking, explore whatever the local sights are to see, work on my blog, do some project work on my camper as needed, then move on.

      If you’re going to stay somewhere for a longer period of time, then you’ll need to pay more attention to things like where to find groceries, water, and dump stations. A lot of people stop in one popular place like Quartzite, AZ, for the winter season. They’ll get to know other campers, and there’s some socializing rather than being all on your own.

      Also, the time limits will depend on where you are. Most National Forest and BLM lands have a 14-day limit. Some places (like around Quartzite) have designated long term stay areas, where you pay a modest fee, and can then stay for months.

      It’s exciting to take that step! πŸ™‚ I hope you have a lot of fun and rewarding times with it! – Deanna.

  2. Burt

    Thanks for posting. This is a bunch of valuable information and YOU provided it.
    Good job!

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