Camping at El Morro

El Morro National Monument Camping & Hiking for Free

In Hiking, New Mexico, North America, Places of Worship & Ruins, United States by ErikLeave a Comment

El Morro National Monument camping is a great base to explore hiking trails that highlight the history linking a waterhole, mesa top ruins, and rock inscriptions. Find out everything you need to know for your visit!

El Morro National Monument Camping

Sheena and I actually made the 7 hour epic drive from Carlsbad Caverns National Park to the El Morro National Monument campground in one night to allow us to see all the top attractions in New Mexico in 9 days.

There are 9 camp sites at El Morro National Monument that are on a first come first, served basis. The below amenities are free, making El Morro one of the top campgrounds in New Mexico.

El Morro national monument
We couldn’t get enough of the awesome views at El Morro.

El Morro National Monument camping amenities include water during warmer months, bathrooms, a gravel pad for tents, picnic bench, ground grill, and can accommodate up to 27’ long RVs.

If you’re not a camper there are several properties listed on Airbnb that are within the vicinity of the national park entrance. No matter where you choose to stay, keep reading to find out what to do in El Morro National Monument.

El Morro National Monument Hiking Trails

There are only two hiking trails at El Morro. These are the Inscription Trail and the Headland Trail. Luckily, they can be combined into a nice loop.

Inscription Trail

The paved Inscription Trail is just ½ mile long, and takes no more than an hour if you are in a rush. The main attractions are the waterhole, and inscriptions on the sandstone bluff.

El Morro National Monument
El Morro Inscription Trail waterhole

There aren’t many signs, so don’t forget to grab the trail guide at the El Morro National Monument Visitor Center. The trail guide gives you a brief description of the highlights along the Inscription and Headland Trails.

Visitor center at El Morro
Stop in the Visitor Center before hiking

Headland Trail

Provided you have at least 2 hours to spend at El Morro, tacking on the Headland Trail to the Inscription Trail is a good decision. Not only do you get great views over the surrounding landscape, but you can see the mesa top ruin, Atsinna.

El Morro ruins
Enjoying the views & ruins from the top of El Morro

Atsinna was occupied during the 13th and 14th centuries, of which a portion has been excavated for viewing as you follow the path that winds between the buildings. The location was very strategic from a defensive position, but also due to the waterhole located at the base.

El Morro ruins
With ruins like this, El Morro is the best free attraction in the region

Along the Headland Trail you will climb 250 feet in elevation and cover 2 miles. Once you get to the top, the Headland Trail snakes around the sandstone bluff with notched stairs and a worn path until you make your way back down to the visitor center.

Hiking at El Morro Headland Trail
Amazing views along the Headland Trail

El Morro National Monument History

Visiting El Morro, well before it became a national monument and a national park, was a frequent occurrence by travelers. People came from far and wide to the reliable waterhole tucked at an inside corner of the sandstone bluff.

It was due to all these travelers, most notably the Spaniards, that there are so many “Paso por aqui” (I pass through here) inscriptions carved on the rock faces. Mixed in are English engravings and pre-historical petroglyphs.

El Morro petroglyphs
You’ll see carvings like this all along the Inscription Trail

When to Visit El Morro National Monument

The best time to visit El Morro National Monument is during the summer due to warmer and longer days. We visited in mid-October for the Albuquerque Balloon Festival and found it just as enjoyable.

The elevation is over 7,000 feet so plan on warm camping gear, especially in the off-season. We don’t recommend visiting from December to mid-May when snow will close the Headland Trail and maybe the Inscription Trail.

New Mexico Hikes
Fall is the perfect, yet chilly, time to visit

Nearby Attractions

The nearest attraction if you want to spend a weekend camping at El Morro is El Malpais National Monument. Here you can explore another sandstone bluff, but the main attraction is the volcanic remnants.

You can see lava fields above ground, or explore lava tubes beneath the surface with the proper equipment. Other attractions include watching bats fly out of a cave at night, hiking El Calderon Cinder Cone, and going inside a private year-round ice cave ($12).

We experienced a lot of these environments in Mexico and Central America so we decided not to visit ourselves. Instead, we chose to travel north to enjoy Chaco Canyon camping and the Bisti Badlands.

Join us on our tour of northwestern New Mexico by clicking the links above. Please keep in mind that El Morro National Monument trails do not open until 9 am so you have to move fast to see one or both attractions in the same day. We were only able to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Find more inspiration in one of the New Mexico guide books below!

Travel Insurance

Although the US is a relatively safe country to travel in, medical costs are high so we always recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip. We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.

For more details check out our World Nomads review here.

Get a quote for travel insurance now

Know Before you Go

  • Hours: Memorial Day thru Labor Day – 9 am to 6 pm; Remainder of Year – 9 am to 5 pm; Trails close 1 hour earlier
  • Fees: Free!
  • Duration: 1-3 hours hiking
  • Camping: 9 camp sites on a first come, first served basis for free
  • Nearest Large City: Albuquerque at 2 hours by car
  • Website: National Park Service
  • Phone Number: (505) 783-4226 ext. 801
El Morro National Monument

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means that we receive a small commission if you click on a link & purchase something that we’ve recommended, at no extra cost to you.

Visited in October 2018
Updated July 2019

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