Water Canyon

One of the water canyon campground campsites
Water canyon is a popular camping area; in March when it was still cold, we were one of three groups camping here. Nearby are several hikes, and the area is popular with mountain bikers. Birders also enjoy the avian life in the canyon.

Campground data:

Controlling agency: Cibola National Forest; Magdalena Ranger District
Region: Central; Magdalena Mountains.
CG elevation: 6916ft; 2108m
Campsite count: 12.
Visual density: 5.67. The visual densities of the three campsites I checked were 4, 6, and 7.
Fee: $0.00.
Season: March 26 to November 01. The season varies with the weather and funding.
Dogs: Yes.
Horses: Unknown. No corrals.
Handicapped accessible: Yes.
General tent notes: A good campground for tents. Some campsites have tent pads. Some (but not all) others have good tent locations.
RV parking surface: gravel
RV pull-through spaces? No.
General RV notes: No hookups.
General notes: Despite the name, there is no water available in the campground.
Campground facilities: trash can(s), vault toilet(s) (One set built in 2000), cooking grill, fire pit, tent pads (Only in some campsites).
Campground attractions: hiking, wildlife.

When we visited it:

Date: 2003-03-29 2011-04-09
Cleanliness: 4. We filled two shopping bags with litter that we picked up. 7. Most sites had small pieces of litter. One site had lots of litter, including a water bottle, two beer cans, and a dirty diaper.
General notes: We put out the campfire of the people before us. They had poured a cooler of ice on it, but this was not sufficient to put it out. It appeared as if someone had come through destroying signs, as many were broken, and pieces of signs were common in campsites.


Waypoint Type Description
Water Cyn CGCampgroundWater Canyon campground


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Gila National Forest US Forest Service 1997 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) North half. Includes part of the Apache National Forest.
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

Support this site:

By purchasing your camping gear through these links, you will support this web site and it won't cost you anything more.

Camping gear at Amazon

Save 40% on Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot & More + Free Shipping over $75! Click to Save.

25% off $150 or 30% off $200 at Sierra Trading Post. Use code: ALMAY2. Valid to 6.6.2012

Getting to the campground:

From Socorro, head west on US 60 toward Magdalena till you are west of milepost 124. A sign on 60 indicates the left (south) turn, and then after about 4.6 miles you arrive at a junction where a sign says the campground is to the right. There is no place to turn right, but if you go straight, you will get to the campground. The picnic area and the road to the crest of the mountains is to your left.
The Water Canyon campground entrance sign

About the campground:

Campsites 3 and 4
This is looking across site 3 to site 4 where our truck is parked.
Site 8 is a typical site. You can see the gravel parking area. This campsite also has a tent pad.
a campsite with a tent pad
A picnic table, parking area, fire pit, and large rock
Here is site 11, one without a tent pad. Note the close proximity of the piñon and juniper. The large number of wildflower stems makes me think that at the right time of year (and assuming sufficient precipitation), the wildflowers here might be quite nice.

Plants we saw around the campground:

Reader comments about this campground:

On Thu Oct 12 09:08:17 2006, Paul M. from Houston, TX said:

A buddy and I were traveling through the Socorro area last month, and consulting our GPS thought Water Canyon CG might make a good camping spot for the night. Unfortunately, when we got there it was posted as being closed for maintenance. Since we had some time to kill, we walked around and explored a bit. It should be reopened by now and I would highly recommend it for campers/RVer/scasual hikers as its small, secluded, well-maintained and its in a very beautiful setting.

On Tue Mar 20 14:25:40 2007, Anonymous from Abilene, TX said:

My wife and I were there 03/13/07 (spring Break). Construction is underway for new campgrounds and facilities because of the construction of a new observatory on top of the mountain.

Once the forest service gets an approval on the new sites there will be bigger camping and picnicing areas plus better personal facilities.

On Wed Mar 21 13:20:20 2007 Amy T from Austin, TX said:
Please note that the only way to find out in advance whether or not the park is open is by contacting the ranger station. The New Mexico parks and US Forest Service web sites do not mention that the park is closed to camping for construction. It is still open for day use.

Contact information for the Magdalena Ranger District:

Cibola National Forest
2113 Osuna Road, NE, Suite A
Albuquerque, NM 87113
Phone: (505) 346-3900
Fax: (505) 346-3901

On Wed Mar 21 13:24:31 2007 Amy T. from Somewhere said:
The current (as of 3/21/07) district ranger is Dennis Aldridge:
P.O. Box 45
Magdalena, New Mexico
(505) 854-2281 [voice]
(505) 854-2332 [fax]

On Mon May 21 09:12:13 2007 Anonymous from Los Lunas,NM said:
On 5/21/07 I contacted the ranger with a e-mail, asking if this campground was open due to the recent comments that I had read online about some ongoing construction. The reply that I got said that the campground was open. I will send another e-mail ask him what kind of changes were made from the contrstuction and when I go to the campsite in a couple of days I'll take some new pictures for the website.

On Fri May 25 13:34:21 2007 KD5NTL from Los Lunas said:
Just got back from this campground and what a great place. when we arrived all 12 campsites had some wood by the fire pits. The only trash that we found was 1 broken beer bottle that we picked up. There are rest rooms located at the entrance of the family camp and another one located between 11 and 12. There was no graffiti in eihter of the restrooms. I did notice that there is little or no shade in the family camps until the sun starts to set about 7:25 in May. We had a tarp and made our little shelter. We also noted that at this time there is no fee to camp here. But, at the entrance we notice that they have installed a pay box. So sometime in the future there will be a fee.

On Wed Apr 23 13:19:42 2008 ajm from abq, nm said:
very nice campground. i was the only one there. spent the entire day and only saw two cars. road up to the campground did rip the starter off my car though, so proceed with caution. excellent place. recommended.

On Mon Sep 29 20:35:49 2008 Thomas C and Tim E from ABQ, NM said:
We went September 28th 2008 and camped two nights. The scenery was beautiful and the campground facilities were nice. There was a lot of litter, but the two pit toilettes were very clean. The surprise was that Pinon nuts were in season, we ended up picking up several bags full! Unfortunately there were a lot of locals out there picking nuts, but once evening fell or you traveled off on a trail you soon broke away from the crowd.

On Mon Mar 30 11:53:32 2009 Brandon C. from Albuquerque, NM said:
We visited this campground on March 26th/27th, 2009. Unfortunately the weather was not in our favor and we were snowed on...but otherwise we enjoyed our trip. Things to note about this campsite:

- Easy to get to (we drive a minivan)

- very clean

- Beautiful views within the canyon from campsites. I was surprised that it was such a nice area!

- several restrooms in campground area, were fairly clean and look almost new

- camp sites are very close to each other, and there is little to separate you from neighbors (trees, etc)

- 75% of the sites looked like they would only be for pop-up trailers/ 25% had a tent pad in addition to the parking space and table area

- Tent pads (where available) are about 16' x 16'

- fire rings are very nice and include a grill that can be over the fire or off to the side

- Not crowded at this time of year (still pretty cold)

- Firewood could be collected away from the campground area, but close proximity firewood is almost non-existent

On Mon May 4 08:05:08 2009 Shari T. from Albuquerque, NM said:
Pretty nice place--nicer than we expected. The mountain kind of pops up in the middle of some grassy plains, so you can see why I was surprised. Pretty, but very dry this time of year--all of the streams were dry. Finding firewood wasn't too difficult. Toilet fairly clean. Nice, easy hiking available. We saw some cows way up on our hike. Lots of squirrels, some lizards. If you live in Albuquerque it's a nice close place.

On Thu Jul 23 14:13:27 2009 KatrinaRadia from Albuquerque, NM said:
We stayed at Water Canyon Campground July 10 -12 2009. It is nestled in the hills, 5 miles up the canyon, south off Highway 60, and east of Magdalena. After crossing the cattle guard from private land, (which is obviously part of a cattle ranch), into Cibola National Forest we were surprised to have a coyote cross the road just 10 feet in front of our 4 runner. There are piñon trees, oak brush, juniper trees and pine trees, not the ponderosa variety however. As a native of New Mexico, the expectation that “Water Canyon” would have water never crossed my mind….. The canyon probably runs fast and treacherous during one of the violent thunderstorms that NM gets during the monsoon season, but other times of the year expect it to be dry…. It is after all, high desert.

Speaking of thunder storms take heed…. it is good to remember that- “ …the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research was built in 1963 near the summit of 10,783-ft South Baldy Peak to provide a base for the study of cloud processes that produce lightning, hail, and rain. The Magdalena Mountains offer favorable conditions for the study of storms because many occur there during the summer, and often the storms are isolated, stationary, and relatively small.” (Langmuir Lab link) ... and so..... If you do get caught in a storm, whatever you do…. don’t stand under a tree! I saw one tree trunk that bore the mark of a lightning strike burn, right next to the campsite.

You reach the area by climbing a few switchbacks on the (now) - dirt road that climbs fairly steeply into the foot hills of the Magdalena “Mountains”. We went hoping for first come first served, as you only make reservations for the group camps site, (which is locked when not reserved) … so we were tickled to have our pick of the sites. Only one other family was there settled into the first camp site near one of the two vault toilet areas, nice and close for kids. That site accommodates two families with adjoining picnic tables. It is nice for those that want to camp together; a couple of small campers and a tent would fit under the shade of the tree. Our space #6 was very close to #5 which remained vacant, other than that, most of the other designated areas, 12 in all, are fairly spaced, and all can accommodate anything from a tent to a small RV. Fortunately the 7 other overnight groups that came and went over the weekend selected various other sites scattered around, giving all of us plenty of elbow room. We backed our pop-up trailer in so our awning and door faced the unshaded picnic table and very sturdy fire pit which made for a nice cozy fire that evening. As the sun descended in the west we were a bit more shaded than most sites near a piñon tree, but we were definitely happy to have our awning as it was very hot (85+) during the afternoon, decidedly a good time for a siesta in the shade. East of us was a magnificent cliff wall towering into the turquoise blue sky. It reflected the sun with all the beautiful shades of red imaginable playing over the face of the rocks as Sol set over the mountain and the starry breathtaking night sky grew to its apex. If the evening is clear you will enjoy having a chair that lets you recline to do some star gazing. A telescope would be wonderful too!

We saw squirrels, many varieties of birds, including an eagle, lizards, and a bunch of ants…. Oh well we were camping after all! We had a visit from a big red stray dog I expect was from the nearby ranch. He came both mornings early before the other campers were awake, but he left when we asked him to.

If you are unfamiliar to the area, you may want to take time to visit a world famous facility, not too far down the road the VLA (Very Large Array), remember the huge satellite dishes in the movie “Contact”?? Yep those are the ones! (VLA link)

On Sat Nov 7 17:22:13 2009 Anonymous from Albuquerque, NM said:
There is a gate to the individual campsite area, and it was locked today. We did see a golden eagle on the way in, so it was worth the trip for a picnic in the no camping area.

Add your comments about the Water Canyon campground.

Copyright © 1997-2018 Kenneth Ingham Consulting, LLC.

For details about the copyright, see the full Copyright statement.

Unhappy? Thinking of suing us? Read this disclaimer.

You can read our privacy statement.

Comments? Send them via the suggestion form.