BLM Campground Review – Orilla Verde Recreation Area, Pilar, NM
A simple, but lovely BLM camping area set beautifully in the middle of the Rio Grande Gorge just south of Taos in NE New Mexico.
Link to campground here: Orilla Verde Recreation Area, NM
Link to map location here: Orilla Verde Recreation Area, NM
- Site Quality = 4/5
There are 7 separate campgrounds in the Orilla Verde Recreation Area all set along the Rio Grande. Since you are inside a gorge surrounded by cliffs all the campgrounds are small (typically ~9 sites each), fairly close to the road and sites fairly close together, but traffic and visitors are light. Only the first two have RV hookups (all pull-through, 50Amp & water) and these are probably the best suited to big rigs, with 9 RV sites in the first (Pilar) and 4 RV sites in the second (Rio Bravo). Both campgrounds have river access and very nice sites especially for BLM. They are long, dirt, nicely flat with picnic table, fire-pit and grill.
-> The first campground (Pilar) is mostly for RV’s, with no shade but pretty views of the canyon and generally very quiet. The arrangement is a single longish, narrow dirt road with pull-through RV sites on either side and a slightly sharp turn at each end of the loop, but overall decent access (we even saw a tag-axle get in here).
-> The second campground (Rio Bravo) has the advantage of shade trees but is a mix of tent/RV sites including a large group area so it does get more crowded/noisy.
Most of the remaining campgrounds have no shade or hookups and are better suited (in size) to smaller rigs. We saw a couple of big-rig-potential sites for the more adventurous -> one gorgeous water-view site in Arroyo Hondo, one back-in at Petaca (on the left with nose to the road) and a couple of nicely separated sites for those willing to drive into the primitive area at the end (do the drive in your toad and have a look before you pull-in the rig. There is space to turn around at the end of the right-hand spur in the primitive area, but the road getting in is narrow)
- Facilities = 3/5
Very decent facilities for a BLM area. There are flush toilets at Pilar, kept nicely clean and pay showers at Rio Bravo. Access to the river at all campgrounds and several day-spots along the road. No dump station (nearest dump in Taos at the private campground).
- Location = 5/5
This is a really superb location in our opinion. You are deep in the gorgeous Rio Grande Gorge with access to water activities and hiking, yet you are only ~16 miles from Taos with plenty of shopping, galleries, art and food. Lots to see and do in the surrounding area with wineries, mineral baths, Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and ski areas.
- Pet Friendliness = 5/5
Perfect area for doggie. Lots of hiking trails in the gorge including right from the campground, plus daily walks across the road to splash and play in the lovely Rio Grande River.
Overall Rating = 4.25
BONUS ALERT = Camp right by the water, deep inside the Rio Grande Gorge
Summary: The Orilla Verde Recreation Area is a simple, but gorgeous setting right inside the Rio Grande Gorge just SW of Taos, NM. There’s a single paved road going through the valley with 6 campgrounds set along the river and one primitive camping area in the back. The first two campgrounds have RV hookups (50Amp+water) and very nice sites with good “sitting areas” and decent access. The remaining campgrounds are more suited for smaller rigs, although we did see a couple of big-rig accessible sites for the more adventurous (see above). Since you’re in a gorge the campgrounds are small in size, fairly close to the road and sites closer together, but visitation and traffic is light. All campgrounds have easy access to the river. LOTS to do in the surrounding area including art, food and museums in Taos only ~16 miles away, mineral baths at Ojo Caliente, wineries in Dixon, and hiking/biking, rafting/kayaking and fly-fishing along the Rio Grande itself. Apart from Memorial Day Weekend the place was practically empty and we had lots of space to ourselves. We’re still here for a few more days and absolutely love the area and easy access to hiking and water. This is a spot to keep on the list.
Extra Info: No connectivity here with either Verizon smartphone or aircard BUT we were able to get a usable data signal using our external antenna/amp at Pilar Campground. Sites cost $15/night for 50Amp/water, $7/night for non hook-up, $5/night for designated primitive. All sites first-come-first-serve. NO dump station.
Note/ Since all our time was spent at Pilar campground most of my pics are of that area, but I’ve included “arial” photos of 2 other campgrounds just as an overview.
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Jim B says
Looks like you guys are really loving NM!!! What a great state!
OK so question….how often do you use your toad? If you did not have a toad how would that alter your travels?
You are providing great locations for us to check out next year!
You know I can’t imagine travelling without the toad. We use it almost daily
to see the area, go to hiking sites, go shopping etc. It’d be very hard, especially
with our RV size to live without one. There’s alot of basic grocery stores we
couldn’t even acess with “the beast”. I think if we were travelling without we’d
had to have a much smaller RV and take that around the area, but I
LOVE having a toad. It simply makes everything so accessible and means
we can set-up for a few weeks and not have to worry about moving
to see stuff.
Glad I’m giving you some ideas on where to go!
Nate Gray says
Great info here. We camp at the Rio Bravo site every year (about 50 of us). Wish you wouldn’t put so much good info on our little secret it New Mexico. Just kidding. Just want to add that the Rio Bravo site is a place where many great memories have been made and many more waiting to be made.
We absolutely loved this place and happy to hear you guys do too. Sorry about letting the secret out 🙂
Willie Gonzales says
I grew up in Dixon and used that route to go to Carson national forest for fire wood. I plan to take my camper and my family there this summer. Beautiful place. All the fruit stands between there and Velarde are excellent.
We loved the area! And totally enjoyed the BLM campground too.
Becky Shattuck says
Thanks for all this information! I’ve been doing searches online to find more information about these campgrounds. By chance, do you know if they’re open year round?
No idea. Best to call the BLM office and ask.
Thank you for the review, Nina. This is a beautiful area.
2016 update on cell service: Got a weak Verizon 3G signal from Pilar Campground with an amplifier and external directional antenna.
One tip for others: There is another road, NM 567, that enters the canyon from the north. However I recommend NOT bringing an RV down this road. It is gravel, very steep, narrow, and has a hairpin curve. Much better to come in from the south, off NM 68 then NM 570.
Cheers very much for the update David! So glad you enjoyed the campground!
Will Fraser says
I spent several days at the Aroyo Hondo campsite and liked it a lot. There are Canada geese in the river right now (late April 2018) and their honking and goings on add a lot to the overall atmosphere at the campgrounds.
I used a single person tent, cooked on charcoal and went downstream to the main campground to shower and clean up every day. Its a 30 minute run north into Taos and I had a dinner at The Gorge in the Taos Square one day. After several days here I went up to Wild Rivers Wilderness area and the Montoso campgrounds there near Questa NM> A mountain goat walked through my campground one morning and the campgrounds were totally deserted the three days I was there. A bit chilly but warm during the day . I hiked down the gorge on Little arsenic Springs trail to the river. 1.5 hours down and 1.5 hours back up. Very beautiful down in the gorge .
Overall, a remote, rugged and scenic site with low camper density. Great place for privacy.