Monday, December 16, 2019

Camping at Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Pine Springs Campground, the official campground for the southern end of the Guadalupe Mountains NP, sitting at slightly over 5800 feet,

The RV area is there in the top left of this image.

 is often described in reviews as a parking-lot, and that's a fair and accurate description.

Unless you are tent-camping that is. The tent camping area, all walk-in sites, is in the lower right of the image above and that is clearly not parking-lot-ish.

By the way, the campground is also the trailhead for many of the more popular trails around here so campers in the "parking-lot" are also sharing space with the parking-lot.

With the size and setup of The Van I have the flexibility to use the tent-only camping area in many campgrounds, but they are serious about this being "tent only" here in Guadalupe.

Even though there are some pretty nice tent-only slots that would work quite well for me, anything that remotely smacks of an "RV" is not allowed in here. Even those sleeping in their cars must use the RV section. And yes, patrols by the three different NP LEO's I saw while here are frequent.

So I was limited to the "parking-lot".

Which wasn't quite as bad as it sounds, at least for my diminutive little "RV".

There are three short, (20') single-wide sites at the north end of the "campground" that are just perfect for vans.

And if you can snag site 31 and pull in nose-first the view on the lounging side of the rig is all mountain.

But if none of those sites are available all is not lost.

There's another 5 back-in sites along the east side that will do as well. At 20' these are also short, but are double-wide so you can back a trailer along one side and still fit the tow-vehicle in along the other.

By parking The Van cattywampus in one of these sites I can turn my back on the majority of the parking lot.


But if you are in a large rig your choice of "campsite" is limited to the cheek-by-jowl "pull thru" slots, though, to be fair, these sites are wider than some I've seen in commercial campgrounds.

But seriously, when getting into the RV lifestyle you really need to decide if you are a resort and private campground traveler or a national parks and forests camper.

If you pick the latter then the smaller and more boondocky your rig the better.

It all depends on whether you just have to have air-conditioning, forced-air heat, walk-in shower, full-sized fridge, microwave, wine-cooler, and espresso machine and can't live without slideouts for that roomy, at home, McMansion feel and an outdoor entertainment center with 400 watt surround-sound system and satellite receiver. If you need that stuff and the power it takes to run it, to be comfortable then you might be better off sticking to the resorts and privates, which are also also very parking-lot-ish but have the advantage of longer sites, reservations, and partial or full hookups to keep all those systems operational.

And speaking of hookups, here at Guadalupe there are none. Nor is there a dump-station.

There is however, in addition to the pit toilets at the far end of the tent camping area, flush toilets at the southwest corner of the "parking lot", a dish-washing station adjacent to the flush toilets,  and a potable water spigot next to the self-pay station for filling jugs.

There are no reservations here. This is a FCFS facility which suited me, deliberately arriving on a Wednesday just fine. Even though I didn't realize it was the Wednesday before a holiday weekend - D'oh! My bad. . .

Because of the nature of the campground, many of the campsites have no table of their own, but there are a number of nicely placed picnic tables along the south side of the lot that are available to the first-comer.

The cost for a campsite, tent and parking-lot both, is $15 (half that with a geezer pass). If you pay at the self-pay-station you are limited to cash only, but you can also pay at the nearby visitor center (There's a foot-path from campground to visitor center that starts just to the right of the pit toilets at the end of the tent-camping area.) with a credit card between 0800 and 1630.

Just be aware that the line between the Central and Mountain time zones is very near by and the NP operates on Mountain time. (I found that my phone, when it had service at all, which was sporadic, kept switching between Central and Mountain time depending on what tower it managed to lock onto, so was unreliable for precise timing.)

And don't slack off on paying or overstay checkout time because windshield stubs are frequently checked.

So why put up with all this?

Well first off, as I said, it's really not as bad as it sounds, especially if you are out hiking for much of the day (And if not why are you here in the first place?) and secondly, other options are limited.

As this screen-shot of my Allstays app shows, you have to cross into New Mexico to get to the nearest BLM land, the blue/green dots where you can boondock. (And oilfield development has closed down that nearest dispersed camping site now) The closest private campground, the black dot, is in Whites City which is 35 miles away. (By the way, for cooler-campers that's also where the nearest available ice is.) Other options are private campgrounds at Carlsbad, 55 miles, and Van Horn, 65 miles.

The other NP campground, Dog Canyon, up there on the north end of the park, has 9 tent and 4 RV slots (23' max) but can only be reached from the New Mexico side by going up US-62 to CR-408 halfway between Whites City and  Carlsbad then traveling another 55 miles west and south, down through the Lincoln National Forest, on a road that ultimately dead-ends at the campground.

So, when viewed as a base-camp for hiking the southern end of the Guadalupes, Pine Spring Campground isn't all that bad.


  1. I'll file this post for future use. Thanks

    1. It's handy to have a little info before you get there isn't it?

      Especially when the place is a bit remote and 400 miles away. . . (You're actually closer to here than I am)