Iron Gate

No short text A small, clean campground with excellent access to the Pecos Wilderness such as Iron Gate to the Rio Mora. This campground is one of the highest-elevation campgrounds in the state, making it a nice refuge from the heat in the summer.

Campground data:

Controlling agency: Santa Fe National Forest; Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District
Official URL:Forest service campground web page
Region: North-central; Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
CG elevation: 9360ft; 2853m
Campsite count: 14.
Visual density: 11.00. You can see most of the campsites from most campsites.
Fee: $4.00.
Season: April 01 to November 30. The actual season depends heavily on the weather.
Dogs: Yes. on leash
Horses: Yes. Corrals at the campground.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General tent notes: No tent pads, but there are many good tent locations. A few of the campsites are walk-in.
RV max length: 29ft; 9m
RV parking surface: dirt
RV pull-through spaces? No.
RV parking notes: Few of the parking areas are level. Some have a substantial slant.
General RV notes: RVs are not recommended due to the steep, narrow, rough road to the campground.
General notes: In 2016, most of the campsite number posts were missing.

There is a lot of traffic into the wilderness.

Due to the horses that are often taken into the wilderness, there are lots of flies, especially near the corrals.

Campground facilities: trash can(s), vault toilet(s), cooking grill.
Campground attractions: hiking, wilderness access, wildlife, wildflowers, 4wd.

When we visited it:

Date: 2000-09-23 2016-06-24
Cleanliness: 8. 7. Water bottle, candy wrappers, bottle tops, and car window glass (was someone broken into?)
General notes: The toilets were smelly and had not been cleaned recently. They were also low on toilet paper; bringing your own might be a good idea.


Waypoint Type Description
IRNGTCampgroundIron Gate campground


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N from Amazon (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Pecos Wilderness, Santa Fe and Carson National Forests US Forest Service 2004 1:54000 Y from Amazon (purchase)
Santa Fe BLM 1996 1:100000 Y from Amazon (purchase)
Santa Fe USGS 1954 1:250000 Y from (free)
Santa Fe National Forest US Forest Service 2004 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) East half
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the campground:

From I-25, take exit 299: Glorieta/Pecos. Follow the signs to Pecos. At the stop sign, turn left. A sign here indicates the turn will take you to Colwes and Terrero.

Follow the winding road through part of the town of Pecos. Mind the speed limit or add to the village revenue. Continue up through the Pecos River Valley. This road will take while to drive; don't be in a hurry. It can easily take most of an hour to get to the campground.

After the Terrero General Store, the road deteriorates some. You continue for several miles, then watch for a sign for Forest Road 233 and Iron Gate. Take this road. The sign says that this is a limited use road: not suitable for low-clearance vehicles. They are correct. I would not recommend taking a low-clearance car up this road.

Beware summer thunderstorms. Besides the danger of lightning strikes, heavy rains can make the road impassable.

Follow the road about 5 miles to the Iron Gate campground.

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About the campground:

Site 2
This campground is used by many people who enter the Pecos Wilderness at the trailhead here. Many bring their horses with them; the campground has a corral. A photo of our friend Michael Wester in site 14 is to the left. You can see an overview of the campground in this photo.

Sites 2 and 5 looked like the nicest to stay in. Here is site 2. It is somewhat separate from the rest. As a result, it has more trees around it. Somebody obviously appreciated this, as they had set up their tent there.

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Site 5 is in the island formed by the loop road. However, it also has many trees around it and looks like a pleasant site to stay in.

Plants we saw around the campground:

Reader comments about this campground:

On Wed Jun 11 01:46:31 2003 dale white from fort worth said:
Trust them on the low clearance vehicle bit. Over the course of the summer the dirt road becomes washed out so to say. Runoff from rainwater creates trenches that are unpassable unless you are in a vehicle with a good amount of ground clearance. Don't rush; take your time once you venture off the paved roads. After all you are on vacation!

On Mon Jul 14 16:38:13 2003 Andrew from Somewhere said:
The campground was nice but was ruined for us by a group of loud drunks at another campground who played very loud music whooped and hollered despite our repeated three times requests that they keep it down and let the rest of us enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest. This is not the first time I have encountered this kind of situation while camping in New Mexico. What a drag!

On Wed Jul 6 22:25:14 2005 Todd Kristy from Albuquerque, NM said:
We camped at Iron Gate 7/1/2005 - 7/3/2005 at site 7 and we really enjoyed the campground. The stars come out at night like I've never seen before and it was fairly warm at night, maybe getting down to 50 or so. It was _very_ quite at night with just the sound of the wind and the trees. It was easy to find wood in the area to burn in the fire pit but the bench is awefully close to the fire pit, I assume to encourage smaller fires. There is no water available but there are vault toilets and trash bins. We found the dirt road to be very bumpy and rutted and about 5 miles long. Even on July 4 weekend, the campground had sites available both nights we stayed there. There were lots of backpackers who started here and headed up into the mountains. The trail that leads to Hamilton Mesa and the Mora Flats are much flatter than the trail that leads to Jacks camp which is all downhill on the way out. I would imagine backpacking at Hamilton Mesa for a night would be an incredible experience. All in all, we really enjoyed our time here and will definitely be back.

On Mon Apr 30 14:46:37 2007 Knut from Santa Fe said:
Iron Gate is hard to get to. If you attempt it in a passenger car, you will probably regret it. You will find a mixture of bored teens and wanna be cowboys up here. The smell and noise from the horses will be high, unless you choose the middle of the week. Expect to have a crowd of rowdies arrive at anytime during weekends to liven up your time with boomboxes playing a mixture of salsa and rap.

On Tue Jul 10 14:22:54 2007 Jen from Albuquerque, NM said:
We visited July 6-8, 2007. What a wonderful experience we had! We were afraid that the weekend after the 4th of July would make it hard to find a campsite so we decided to start out at the furthest campground on the map. We ended up at Iron gate and there was only 1 other site occupied when we got there but it filled up on Saturday. We were at site 5 which has a couple of nice spots for tents. It sure was nice not having RVs around! No annoying generator noise, just the birds and wind through the trees.

Bring your own fire wood (or a good ax). The forest was picked pretty clean. The only thing the campground is missing is water (river or creek) access. But it's well worth the 5 mile bumpy road to have some seclusion away from the hoards of people who plop down tents at any spot they can find next to the Pecos river!

On Sun Jul 13 20:42:53 2008 Shawn from Albuquerque, NM said:
Went to Iron Gate on June 27-30, 2008. I found the sites too close together and very little shade on the sites outside the loop. I could hear every word the people at the campsites next to us saying. Thankfully, the people were quiet. It was very difficult to get too (which I liked) but it was not worth the rough drive. The vaults were some of the worst ones I have seen (or smelt). However, there was lots of firewood and the hike to the Rio Mora was wonderful. Overall it was a good experience, but if you are going camping to get away from people.... not the place to go.

On Sat May 16 19:19:25 2009 Steve from Albuquerque, NM said:
We had intended to stay at Jack's Creek the weekend of May 2nd to discover it was closed. Decided to try Iron Gate not realizing the road was as bad as it was. We still managed to pull our tent camper, with a 4x4 truck, up and spent a wonderful quiet night. Very clean well maintained campground. Even knowing the road condition we plan to return to camp here again. If you are adventurous and take your time this campground is well worth the hazardous road. We saw several deer and a herd of about 20 elk on the drive up.

On Sun Aug 30 13:54:10 2009 Anonymous from Albuquerque, NM said:
We went the last weekend (Saturday night) in August; although every other site north of Pecos seemed packed, mostly with RVs, there were only two other campsites occupied at Iron Gate. Lots of cars from wilderness users, but very little traffic coming and going. Great fire rings, great picnic tables, good toilets (for a wilderness site). There was plentiful wood, but most was damp from recent rains. The drive is fearsome, but the payoff is seclusion and few fellow campers. The only problem we had was the obnoxious family of three that showed up, thankfully only for dinner. Apparently no amount of seclusion and rough road will protect you from morons.

On Sun Jul 18 20:05:33 2010 Dan from Mississippi said:
We camped at Iron Gate on July 11 and 12, 2010 (Sunday & Monday). Tales of the last 4.5 miles of access road being not suitable for low-clearance vehicles worried us, but we decided to at least give it a try in our Honda Odyssey mini-van. The road was rocky, potholed, filled with deep mudpuddles (after a day of rain), sometimes deeply rutted on one side or the other, but with slow and careful navigating we got through with only occasional bottom-scrapes. (Several side roads go off to private ranches and get-aways; the one marked “Iron Gate Ln” with a Dead End sign does not go to the campground.)

There were 14 sites, some close together in a middle island, the others around the outside of the loop, a few with corrals, a few with views through the trees of rocky mountain peaks. One pair of vault toilets was at the campground entrance, with another, roomier, set at the top of the loop, at the trailhead. Toilet paper was gone at the lower pair and running low at the trailhead pair. The toilets were not cleaned, nor the trash cans emptied, during the time we were there (or, apparently, the weekend before), but we think we passed the cleanup truck while leaving Tuesday. No bears disturbed the (two raised-lid) trash cans. There was no water.

We were hoping for a quiet camping experience, and on both days the day users and backpackers had departed by dusk, and we had the campground to ourselves. Very nice. We day-hiked to the Hamilton Mesa, where (after an hour of gentle but continual elevation gain through a forest) we reached the long, level, grassy mesa, with splendid views of mountain crags in the distance. There were cows and chipmunks, and a nice variety of butterflies and wildflowers, but not a lot of birds, and no other mammals to be seen. That trail hooks up to a network in the Pecos Wilderness. A couple of other forested hikes lead from the trailhead; one along the Mora River gives tame views across its valley, and one switchbacks down to the Pecos River.

On Sat Aug 7 13:04:13 2010 jakkrabbitt from Albuquerque, NM said:
Stayed at the Iron Gate campground on June 24, 2010. The only negative is that none of the sites are near water. Positives...seems to get little use. Sites were still available despited the hords of campers at all other sites and along the road. The road to the campground keeps r.v.s away. We found plenty of firewood around the campsites. The trail to Mora Flats will take you to the Mora River and is about 8 fairly easy miles round trip. Because the trail follows the ridgeline for some distance, watch for afternoon thunderstorms. Great place to get into the Pecos and get away from other campers.

On Sun Aug 8 15:26:38 2010 Donna from Albuquerque said:
Great place to start off camping. My boyfriend took me here for my first backpacking/camping trip. We do not recommend taking small vehicles on this road, terribly bumpy! We backpacked a few miles to the Mora Flats from the Iron Gate, and stayed by a lovely stream/river. It was quiet, all other campers were respectful. Did see a few horses but I had a wonderful 3 day trip ! I recommend this place to starters, but not families with babies. I didnt bring my son on this trip and I am glad I didn't. Maybe when he is potty trained. But this was a beautiful place!

On Fri Oct 1 10:48:35 2010 Greg Molecke from Albuquerque NM said:
We stayed in the Mora campground, which is on the way to this campground and drove up to check this campground out. The campground is nice, with trees and open space for kids to play. Not a lot of privacy/seperation between spaces. The main problem is that the dirt road you turn onto to get to this campground is both very long and in very bad disrepair. It will take you noticeably longer to get to this campground than the other campgrounds in this area, and it is not really better for the extra driving time invested.

On Thu Jan 26 11:09:41 2017 Steve from Little Rock, AR said:
HEED THE WARNINGS! THE ROAD IS _BAD_! Don't even think about bringing an RV up the road. You have been warned! There was one deep mudhole that almost swallowed the truck. No kidding. The editor is correct about it taking an hour to drive here from Pecos. That being said, the campground is more remote than most in the area and is a great jumping-off spot for a couple of trails into the Pecos Wilderness Area. The campground is nice enough, no frills, plenty of shade. There was no one else there (Monday, first week of August, 2015) when many other campgrounds were full of folks getting in their end of summer camping trips before a new school year. There is a small corral in the middle of the campground. The restroom was not in a good state of repair when we were there.

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