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Camping sites in the South-West

I am trying to create a trip between Los Angeles CA and Austin, TX  that would involve stopping overnight at protected areas (reserves, national parks) with camping sites, or in cities. I am having a hard time finding camping sites and cities that are less than 6 hours driving in between. Is there a resource you recommend for this purpose? Are there any places I should avoid unless driving in a group?

9 Replies

@astarmu, sounds like an awesome adventure! Tagging a few REI folks who live/work along your route to see if they have suggestions!


At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Not knowing your route or break time, but if you are anywhere near Santa Fe, NM. Hyde park has some great camp sites.

Thanks! I definitely want to see Santa Fe.


Hi @astarmu. Sorry for being late to the party! I lived in both Arizona and New Mexico  for several years, and I love both. But it's hard to beat the beauty of the Sangre De Cristos in Santa Fe. There are a ton of spots in the Santa Fe National Forest, but one of the easiest and coolest is Big Tesuque Campground . It's very accessible, and feels like you are in the Rockies (technically you are!) A lot of restaurants might be closed there right now, but if you can get some New Mexican take-out, I would highly recommend!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hello @astarmu Not sure if the trip is still planned, postponed or if it's later in the year. I'm not familiar with New Mexico, but a good first stop would be Catalina State Park in Tucson, AZ. It's off I-10, should be about 6-8 hours from LA, and has great established campgrounds, which are family oriented. It's a nice park! Hope this helps.

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

One resource that will give you some options is the KOA.  They have a trip planner that will show the KOA campgrounds close to your chosen route.  While KOA campgrounds might not always be the first choice they are good to have as an option and provide some way to start planning. 

Another is the Route 66 rv campground list

Beyond that its a little harder to find information without pushing in locally to a particular city or section. 

Also it will depend on your route.  Do you want something fairly direct or do you have a bunch of time.  If so you might loop through Southern Utah where there are a number of Amazing National parks

Generally you can disperse camp for free on BLM land and in National Forests although there may be local restrictions.



One other resource that may make planning easier are the Benchmark Atlases and Maps.  These are available for the western states.  Seems REI only stocks the Maps and a limited selection of the atlases but you can get them elsewhere.

If you can't get the Benchmark atlases then DeLorme also publish atlases with similar detail although I did not find them as attractive and REI does not carry any for the western states.

These maps show all the public lands and attractions and provide a much better overview and local detail than any online resource I have found.  Paper maps do go out of date so pay attention to the published date and try to get the most recent.  However public lands generally don't change much and for planning purposes the goal is more to find likely places and then check the information. 

While traveling off the beaten path it is wise to have paper map in addition to GPS devices because there is not always signal and online maps are not that great at providing an overview with enough detail.


Although I live in San Diego, Austin will always be my home.  So great to hear you have an upcoming trip there.  

A few recommendations. 

Carlsbad Caverns NP is amazing!

Also, Guadalupe Mountains NP is awesome.

Interesting fact...Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest peak in Texas, is actually a Permian reef, so you can find marine fossils all along the trail.  Pretty amazing!

Both have camping and are great areas to explore.  Looks like the visitor centers are currently closed and the elevators at the caverns, but the parks seem to be open, as of now and great for exploring and camping.  

Hope you have a safe trip.  

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Picacho Peak State Park in Arizona.  Between Phoenix and Tucson.  Stayed there on a road trip once, the campground was nice and there was some decent hiking.