Joe Skeen Campground

El Malpais National Conservation Area

Bureau of Land Management

Free Camping at El Malpais National Conservation Area

Joe Skeen Campground, situated in the heart of El Malpais National Conservation Area, and only minutes away from Grants, NM, stands as a hidden gem in the heart of the American Southwest. Nestled amid its rugged beauty and protected wilderness, the campground offers an opportunity to immerse oneself in the natural wonders of the region. Known for its stunning scenery, serene ambiance, and clean facilities, Joe Skeen Campground places you right in the middle of a panoramic, 360-degree, stage of natural rock formations, sure to capture your heart and mind. With limited amenities and road challenges, it’s a destination that beckons outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers looking to escape the ordinary.


El Malpais National Conservation Area

Bureau of Land Management

Rio Puerco Field Office

Tel: (505) 761-8700


GPS: 34.9441, -107.8209

Reservations: First come, first served

Camping Fee: None

Permit: None

Max Stay: 7 days per month

Amenities: fire rings, covered picnic tables, vault toilets

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Joe Skeen Campground, El Malpais NCA

This high desert campground is set back from highway 117. Each of the 10 free campsites (no reservation system/first come, first served basis) has a covered picnic table, fire grill, and tent space. There are two vault toilets. Some of the sites have pull through parking ideal for total lengths up to 50 feet. There is a steep arroyo at the entrance and drivers should inspect it before entering. The road is graveled and passable in most conditions, though visitors should wait for water in the arroyo to dissipate before attempting to cross.

There is a maximum of fifteen people and two vehicles per campsite. Stay is limited to 7 days per month in the campground and total stay in the NCA is limited to 14 days per month. Quiet hours are from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. No livestock or horses are permitted in the campground. Collection of firewood and any other natural or historic object is prohibited. Check with local authorities for open fire regulations for each day. No fireworks or firearms can be discharged in the campground. Hunting is prohibited within ½ mile of the campground and other developed recreation sites.

El Malpais National Conservation Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, while El Malpais National Monument is operated by the National Park Service. The two are located adjacent to each other. Joe Skeen Campground is part of the NCA.

Scenery: Joe Skeen Campground offers a stunning natural backdrop of granite columns and limestone canyons. Breathtaking landscapes, with its picturesque views of the surrounding area, stone arches, lava flows, and the peaceful atmosphere, all contribute to the camping experience.

Cleanliness: For being a free campground, it’s actually pretty clean. The vault toilets are what they are… public poop houses, but at least the BLM keeps them maintained. The campsites are not trashy at all, the campground overall looks tidy.

Peace & Quiet: Weekends can get more noisy, but mostly Joe Skeen Campground stay pretty peaceful and tranquil. There’s a serene atmosphere that blankets the campground, even when it’s fully occupied, and makes for a calm respite from the Interstate.

Amenities: The campground offers basic amenities. Each site is equipped with a covered picnic table, fire ring, and a concrete pad. Vault toilets are available. Trails and trailheads are plentiful. The information kiosk gives you information about the area. Otherwise, Joe Skeen Campground is primitive.

Cellular Signal: Verizon service comes in relative good on most days. Albeit, the campground is nestled inside granite walls and mountains, so signal is going to be spotty at times. There are other places along Highway 117 where signal disappears completely.

Crowdedness: Joe Skeen Campground has a limited number of sites, which means it can fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons. You must arrive before sundown, even during the week. If you don’t think you can make it there before sundown, then just find a place to overnight, and try again the next day.

Road Difficulty: Highway 117 is paved. The road into the campground starts with deep arroyo, and often water is running through it. But lots of people with RVs and trailers are able to make it across. For travelers with tents, vans, or shorter trailers, the road appears to be more manageable.

Wildlife: The campground’s location within El Malpais National Conservation Area provides opportunities for wildlife sightings. Mule deer, elk, hawks and eagles are abound. Coyotes are often heard at night.

Bugs and Pests: Joe Skeen Campground largely remains free of mosquitoes and gnats. The usual house flies are always there. Ants have not been a problem here.

Download Related Documents

Narrows Rim, El Malpais National Conservation Area - BLM, Rio Puerco Field Office, 2018

The Dittert Site, El Malpais National Conservation Area - BLM, Rio Puerco Field Office, 2018

West Malpais & Hole-in-the-Wall - BLM, Rio Puerco Field Office, 2018

El Malpais National Conservation Area Map - BLM, Rio Puerco Field Office, 2016

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