Chaco Canyon camping is a great option when visiting Chaco Culture National Historic Park and the nearby attractions in northwest New Mexico – find out everything you need to know about the Gallo Campgrounds.
Where is Chaco Canyon?
Chaco Canyon is located inside Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
It’s about 3 hours (161 miles) northwest of Albuquerque, or 90 minutes (75 miles) southeast from Farmington. Please note that you will have to drive at least 10 miles of gravel road from either direction to reach the Visitor Center.
With such great distances and time between major cities, it makes sense to take advantage of Chaco Canyon camping and see other nearby remote attractions in northwest New Mexico.
The ‘nearest ones’ are:
- El Morro National Monument, 2.5 hours (130 miles) away
- Bisti Badlands, 40 miles away but takes 90 minutes due to gravel roads
For more road trip inspiration, pick up a New Mexico travel guide here.
Chaco Canyon Camping
We didn’t realize that camping was available at Chaco Canyon National Park. After visiting we drove up to Farmington for the night and then back down to Bisti Badlands the next morning. Save yourself a lot of time by spending the night in the Gallo Campgrounds.
Campsites may be reserved in advance from March through October at $15 each.
Simply visit Recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777 to make a reservation. November through February is on a first come, first served basis.
The Gallo Campgrounds are closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and day, and New Year’s Eve and day.
There are a total of 48 campsites, 14 of which are exclusive to tents. The remaining 34 campsites can also accommodate RVs up to 35’. There is a maximum of 6 people, 2 tents, and 2 cars per campsite.
The limited facilities include toilets, picnic table, and fire grates. Drinking water is only available at the Chaco Culture National Historic Park Visitor Center, a mile away. Firewood and food need to be brought into the campground. The Gallo Campground has no shade throughout the year, and checkout time is 11 am.
If you don’t want to camp, the closest town to Chaco Culture National Park is Farmington. It’s a 1.5 hr / 90 mile drive north. There are around 37 hotel/motels there, ranging in price from around $35-115.
We stayed at Motel 6. We booked it on Expedia just before checking-in for $38 ($45.28 w/ tax). It’s located next to the main highway. Like most of the motels in New Mexico, it felt a bit sketchy but the price was right for a place to sleep for a night. There were some shady characters in the parking lot and the window didn’t lock properly in the room we were given, so we asked to switch. The room was clean and the bathroom was huge.
If you don’t mind paying more, the Comfort Inn and Best Western look like much nicer options.
Airbnb lists around 18 rentals from $20-130.
There are no hostels in Farmington though you could try staying with a local on Couchsurfing.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
The only real reason to go camping at Chaco Canyon is to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Although there are some hikes available, all the main attractions are within a short distance from the 9 mile Canyon Loop Drive.
These include Hungo Pavi, Chetro Ketl, Pueblo Bonito, and Pueblo del Arroyo. Kin Kletso is also worth a quick look if hiking to the Pueblo Bonito lookout. Plan on budgeting 3-4 hours at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Admission is $25 per vehicle, but we strongly suggest buying the America the Beautiful National Park annual pass for $80. It not only covers admission to per vehicle attractions, but up to 4 people at per person sites. We wish we had known about this earlier too as the pass investment can easily pay for itself with just a couple National Park visits.
You can purchase tickets at the visitor center, and enjoy the great introductory movie that explains Chaco Culture and what you will see on your journey through Chaco Canyon.
Although New Mexico and the US are relatively safe places to travel in, medical costs are high so we always recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip.
For more details check out our World Nomads review here.
Hungo Pavi is the first Chacoan great house you will come across on the Canyon Loop Drive. Here you can appreciate what the building looks like without excavation. The two memorable features are the kiva and rear wall. Make sure you take time to admire the excellent stone craftsmanship.
The next several attractions in Chaco Canyon are within walking distance of each other. Start with Chetro Ketl where you can continue to examine the Chacoan stonework up close. It is also possible to see the wood timbers that helped frame the structure.
Linking Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito is a small detour that takes you to a cemetery.
The largest and most impressive Chacoan great house is Pueblo Bonito. If you are short on time, this is the place to spend it. There are more kivas surrounding the main plaza than you can shake a stick at. The best part is the path winds through the site and offers various vantage points.
Kin Kletso and Pueblo Bonito Lookout
A short drive away is the trail to Pueblo Bonito Lookout with Kin Kletso at the base of the ascent. It is easy to tell that Kin Kletso was built at a later time where the walls were formed from larger stones and were less intricate.
Just behind Kin Kletso is the start of the Pueblo Bonito Lookout trail. Simply start climbing between the crevice until you reach the top. Follow the cairns back towards Pueblo Bonito until you reach the lookout. You then return the same way.
Pueblo del Arroyo
When you return to the parking lot, head over to Pueblo del Arroyo for one last glimpse of a Chacoan great house before calling it a day.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Chaco Culture, New Mexico is during the spring and fall when the temperature is milder. We visited in mid-October for the Albuequerque Balloon Festival and found it pleasant during the day, but cold at night.
The elevation is over 6,200 feet so plan on warm camping gear, especially in the winter. Another concern are sudden storms so keep up-to-date with weather forecasts.
Driving in New Mexico
The only practical way of visiting Chaco Culture (or outside of larger cities) is by car.
If you flew into Albuquerque like us, then your best option is Budget Car Rental. One of the key benefits was that they were one of the few companies open until 1 am, which worked with our late flight from New York City.
We were surprised to find that Sheena was able to rent a car much cheaper as an Australian than I was as an American. If you’re an international visitor, keep that in mind during your online research, you could save big $$$…
In order to drive in the US you need a valid driver’s license. Some states (not New Mexico) also required you to have an International Driving Permit, in addition.
To secure a rental, you’ll also need to provide a credit card as a form of security and a passport for ID. Some agencies will accept a debit card instead of a credit card. At airports you may also have to provide proof of a return flight.
Some of the main road rules in the US to be aware of are:
- Drive on the right side of the road
- Always wear your seatbelt
- Don’t drink & drive. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08
- Don’t use your cell phone while driving, including texting (though this is not illegal with a hands-free kit in most states)
The emergency services number is 911, however this is not to be used for roadside assistance or in minor circumstances.
Happy road tripping in Chaco Culture & New Mexico!
Know Before You Go
Hours: May through October – 8 am to 5 pm; November through April – 8 am to 4 pm; Trails and Archaeological Sites 7 am to 4 pm
Fees: $25 per car
Duration: 3-4 hours
Camping: 48 camp sites reserved March through October; first come, first served November through February; $15
Nearest Large City: Albuquerque at 3 hours by car; Farmington at 90 minutes by car
Phone Number: (505) 786-7014
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Visited in October 2018