Free Sunset Reef Campground Near Carlsbad Caverns Review

We camped at Sunset Reef Campground Near Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico in October 2021

Our previous stop: Lake Van RV Park Near Roswell New Mexico Camping Review

Campground Info

Location: 32.119311, -104.424687
Cost: Free
Camping Limit: 5 Day
Amenities: Vault Toilet, Garbage Cans, Shade Structure, Picnic Table, Fire Pit, Grill

Related: Save 50% On Campgrounds All Over The United States With Passport America

Essentials Nearby

Town: Whites City, NM – 5 miles
Gas Station: White’s City Fuel 5 miles
Dump Station & Potable Water: Recommend Staying A Night At Whites City RV Park – 5 miles or Use Free Dump Station In Carlsbad, NM (No Potable Water) – 26 miles
Grocery Store: Walmart – 25 miles

Cell Phone Service

Verizon – Good
AT&T – Good

Nearby Attractions

Black River Recreation Area – 4 miles
Carlsbad Caverns National Park – 8 miles
Guadalupe Mountains National Park – 27 miles
White Sands National Park – 188 miles
Big Bend National Park – 242 miles

Sunset Reef Campground Camping Info

This is a new BLM campground that’s free to anyone who wants to use it. In October 2021 there were no road signs directing campers to this campground so you are going to have to follow GPS.

If you’re driving down the US-62 highway you will see signs for a place called “Washington Ranch” you turn west and cross a cattle guard onto a paved road. The road leading to the Sunset Reef Campground is the first right after the cattle guard.

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This dirt road is about 1 mile long so if you are just looking for a place to sleep for a few hours I recommend the Chosa Campground instead. The road isn’t bad though, you just have to take it slow.

The campground is the only thing at the end of the road so it’s hard to miss. It’s a fenced in square with some pull through campsites and some tent sites as well.

pull through campsite at the sunset reef campground near carlsbad caverns national park in new mexico
Pull-through RV campsite at the Sunset Reef Campground, New Mexico.

There are about 5 large pull-through campsites at the Sunset Reef Campground. All of them have a large cement pad with a shade structure over it and a picnic table. There’s also a garbage can, grill, and fire pit.

Each RV campsite had a fence between them as well which was nice. There’s plenty of room for any size of camper and multiple vehicles.

RV and tent campsites at the sunset reef campground near carlsbad caverns national park new mexico
Tent campsites with some campers parked beside them behind the RV spots at the Sunset Reef Campground.

There are about 6 campsites that have a sign outside them that says they are for tents but it’s unclear if you are allowed to park there with an RV or not. If you have a small camper it’s probably ok so long as you don’t block the exit road on the south side of the campground.

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You can see in the photo above there is a pop-up camper and a Class A RV parked by the tent campsites.

The tent campsites also have a cement pad, shade structure, picnic table, grill, fire pit, and garbage can.

vault toilet at the sunset reef campground near carlsbad caverns national park new mexico
Vault toilet on the far side of the Sunset Reef Campground.

 There is only one vault toilet for the entire campground. It was clean when we were there and it’s located near the tent campsites.

rules for the sunset reef campground near carlsbad caverns nationa park new mexico
Rules at the Sunset Reef Campground.

The rules at the Sunset Reef Campground were a little different than what you normally find in free BLM campgrounds. There’s a 5 night camping limit and you have to camp at least 25 miles away for 28 consecutive days before you are allowed to return.

Of course, we never saw any rangers while we were there but it was a very popular spot and the nice thing to do is just spend a few nights to allow other campers the opportunity to use this amazing free campground.

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Quiet hours are from 10 pm to 7 am, no fireworks are allowed, and other general rules you normally find in campgrounds.

One interesting thing is the sign says camping is only allowed in designated campsites. The thing about this rule is there is a very limited number of RV campsites. There were a lot of trailers, RVs, and even vans parked along the fence line.

travel trailer and van camped along the fence at the sunset reef campground near carlsbad caverns national park new mexico
Travel trailer and van camped along the fence at the Sunset Reef Campground.

They were all out of the way and it seems like it’s fine to do this but you are technically breaking the rules. Just something to be mindful of if you get there and all of the RV sites are taken.


Entrance to Sunset Reef Campground near Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico
Entrance to the Sunset Reef Campground.

Sunset Reef Campground Camping Review

As far as free campgrounds go the Sunset Reef Campground is one of the best we’ve ever been to. It was very well made, spacious, clean, and had tons of nice things that all campers need and enjoy.

The location is amazing too because you’re less than 10 miles from the Carlsbad Caverns National Park visitors center.

The only slight downsides are the limited number of RV sites and the mile long dirt road you have to creep down.

There’s also not a ton to do in the campground itself. There are no roads or trails nearby and you are still fairly close to the highway and can hear some noise at night.

It’s also like many free camping areas near a national park in the sense that it’s pretty much always filled with people and there are lots of vehicles and campers driving in and out, especially early in the morning and towards the evening time.

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The upside to the number of people is it feels really safe to camp there.

The area is beautiful though and you can watch the sunset behind the Guadalupe Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert.

We had ok cell phone service on both Verizon and AT&T but data speeds were a little slow.

We would definitely camp there again.

Have any questions about camping in the Sunset Reef Campground near Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico? Leave a comment below. 

by Jenni
Jenni grew up in a small town in Idaho. With a family that loves camping, she has been towing trailers since a very young age.

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