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Review:  Cochiti Recreation Area

Review: Cochiti Recreation Area

avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 10/13/2018
Posted On 12/13/2018 16:48:05

Camping | New Mexico | Sandoval County | Cochiti Lake | RV Camping in New Mexico | Corps of Engineers Camping in New Mexico | RV Sites near Albuquerque | Camping near Santa Fe

Being late to the game for reserving a campsite in Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the 2018 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, we searched for a site in some nearby cities. Although Cochiti Recreation Area is just over an hour outside of the city, we can confirm that the drive is not too difficult - even late at night or early in the morning.

If you are in search of a location to camp in New Mexico near either Albuquerque or Santa Fe, continue reading this post for a review of our three night stay. We'll let you know what amenities to expect at the park and provide you with an overview of the campsites including our favorites.

Campground Amenities at Cochiti Recreation Area

Located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, Cochiti Recreation Area is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground with 80 campsites plus a group camping loop. In addition to camping, this year- round facility on the west side of Cochiti Lake offers a variety of recreational activities to campers as well as day use guests between April 15 and October 15. (Although we did not have the time to visit, Tetilla Peak Recreation Area is located on the east side of the lake. Open from April to October, this sister property also offers camping along with slightly more limited recreational activities for guests.)

Entrance to Cochiti Recreation Area

Entrance to Cochiti Recreation Area

For visitors who enjoy water sports, the no-wake lake has a swim beach, a multi-lane boat ramp and a variety of fish for those hoping to catch their dinner. In addition to motor and sailboating, the lake is suitable for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, sailboarding and windsurfing. (Wearing a life jacket is required for anyone using an inflatable device of any kind.) Catfish, crappie, pike, trout and more are reportedly caught in the waters of Cochiti Lake (state fishing license required).

For those preferring land based activities, Cochiti Recreation Area has covered picnic tables in the day use area. There are opportunities for viewing the variety of plants and animals who call the area home including those living on or near the nature trail which begins at the nearby Cochiti Lake Visitor Center. Between the Park Headquarters / Visitor Center and the Recreation Area is an overlook providing some great views of the water and mountains surrounding the area.

Cochiti Lake from Overlook

Cochiti Lake from Overlook

Cochiti Lake Recreation Area Camping from Overlook

Cochiti Lake Recreation Area Camping from Overlook

Although at or very near capacity during our visit, the Recreation Area was clean during our three day stay. There are dumpsters located throughout the park as well as bathhouses in or near each of the camping loops. As the bathhouse in our area was closed during our stay, we did not have the time to go inside any of the toilet or shower facilities to comment on their cleanliness or need for any maintenance.

The total cost for our three night stay in Juniper Loop was $60.00. While day-use only guests are assessed a fee of $5.00 per vehicle, there is no additional daily use fee for those camping in the campground.

Campsite Amenities at Cochiti Recreation Area

After turning off Highway 22 toward Cochiti Recreation Area, visitors quickly approach a Visitor Center and Administration Office. As there is no signage indicating whether check-in for campers is located in this building or elsewhere, Scott pulled in and waited while I went inside. After talking to a very nice employee, it was quite obvious that he had been approached by many others wondering the same thing. (Maybe some simple signage directing campers to the entrance station further up the road would eliminate the confusion!)

Advance online reservations and site selection is available for camping at Cochiti Recreation Area. The 80 campsites in the campground are situated around four camping loops:

  • Sites 1 - 34 located in Juniper Loop all have 30- and 50-amp electric hookups. As water is shared among sites in the loop, it is recommended that campers come equipped with a 100 foot hose to ensure the ability to reach a water spigot from their site.
  • While both Elk Run Loop (sites 35 - 50) and Ringtail Cat Loop (67 - 80) have shared water spigots, neither offer electricity for campers.
  • Buffalo Grove Loop is home to sites 51 - 66, the premier sites in the campground, with both on-site electric and water.
Although there are some trees in the campground, none are suitable for hanging hammocks. Dumpsters are located within each camping loop, and all loops share a trailer dump station located on the main road leading to all camping loops (near the Campground Host).

As instructed by the gentleman with whom I spoke, we continued down the road, passing the closed Camping Entrance Station and straight to Juniper Loop, the location of our reserved campsite. While all sites in the loop have on-site electric, the connections at some are very inconveniently located. All campsites in the loop were clean and each has either a grill or fire ring as well as at least one picnic table (some covered and others not). Each site has a paved parking area with some being significantly more level than others.

On a positive note, site 15 (which we had pre-reserved online) has both 30- and 50-amp electric, easy pull-through parking, two concrete picnic tables (uncovered), a grill and a relatively nice view. Although the site is sloped toward the front, it was fairly easy to level with our stabilizer jack. The downside is that our 33' long RV had to be parked at an angle with the trailer's rear hanging off of the pavement to reach the electric connection with a standard power cord. (The poorly located electric hook-up is on the opposite side of standard RV hook-ups and stands higher than the pavement on a small hill.)

As we didn't like the arrangement of the site features, we actually moved to a different site that was not labeled as being "reserved". Unfortunately when we reported our move to the Campground Host, we learned that the site had not been properly labeled and was indeed pre-reserved. As there were no other sites available for three nights, we quickly filled our water tank and returned to our original campsite - just moments before the family with the site reservation arrived!

Juniper Loop, Site 15 at Cochiti Recreation Area

Juniper Loop, Site 15 at Cochiti Recreation Area

Amenities and View from Juniper Loop Site 15 at Cochiti Recreation Area

Amenities and View from Juniper Loop Site 15 at Cochiti Recreation Area

We both had good phone and data service through our two cell phone carriers, Verizon and T- Mobile. Additionally, a good variety of broadcast television stations were available in the campground.

Favorite Campsites in Cochiti Recreation Area

The newest, most modern sites in the campground are all located in the well lit Buffalo Grove Loop. All sites have a newly paved level parking area, on-site electric and water, covered picnic tables and a grill. In our opinion, any site in this loop is preferable to sites in the other three loops. Should we have a choice of sites in this loop, our favorites include:
  • located on the outside of the loop, pull-through site 51 with a great view of the water; and
  • pull-through sites 52, 54, 55 and 56, all located in the middle of the loop.

Although less modern than sites in either Elk Run Loop or Ringtail Cat Loop, our second choice loop for camping would likely be Juniper Loop due to on-site electric. Sites located nearest the shared water spigots include sites 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 23, 26, 27, 29, 30, 32 and 34. While the location of the electric hook-up varies between the sites and a limited number of sites have covered tables, our favorite sites in order of preference are:

  • pull-through site 7;
  • back-in sites 6, 20 or 32;
  • pull-through site 10; and
  • back-in sites 11 or 27.
Additionally, although the amenities at site 34 are conveniently located, it is in a higher traffic area and parking at the site is shorter than at our other preferred sites.

All sites in both Elk Run Loop and Ringtail Cat Loop are new and modern with nicely paved level parking. The sites in Elk Run Loop have lights, grills and covered concrete picnic tables. Campsites located in Ringtail Cat Loop also have grills and covered concrete picnic tables with lantern hooks in place of the lights. As sites in both of these loops share water and no sites in either loop have on-site electric, none of the sites make our favorites list.

Site 46 in Elk Run Loop at Cochiti Recreation Area

Site 46 in Elk Run Loop at Cochiti Recreation Area

Hiking near Cochiti Recreation Area

Due to our time being spent visiting Santa Fe and attending both a morning and evening session of the Balloon Fiesta, we did not have time for hiking during our stay at Cochiti Recreation Area. In addition to the 2/3 mile Coyote Nature Trail which takes hikers from the Visitor Center to the Overlook or vice versa, the much longer "Nashroo" Trail is also located within the park.

Attractions near Cochiti Recreation Area

Cochiti Lake was named after the people living in the area for over 700 years, and the entire Cochiti Recreation Area is located within the boundaries of the Cochiti Pueblo. In addition to the cultural and historical exhibits located in the Visitor Center at the campground, there are some additional nearby attractions operated by the Cochiti including:
  • the grounds of Pueblo de Cochiti where members of the Cochiti still live today. (As some area Pueblo's allow visitors, we did attempt to visit the Pueblo, however finally turned around after the road conditions changed from paved to gravel to dirt.);

    Road Leading to Cochiti Pueblo

    Road Leading to Cochiti Pueblo

  • the Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course is a public course located just a short distance north of the Recreation Area; and
  • the highly recommended Tent Rocks, located a little further west of the campground, limits the number of individuals allowed into the site at one time. We attempted to enter so we could do some hiking and climbing, however upon our 1:00 PM arrival on October 12, the maximum capacity had been reached. With our planned afternoon trip to the Balloon Fiesta, we turned around as the estimated wait time to enter the natural area was one hour.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Cochiti Recreation Area is located about 50 miles from Albuquerque, the site of one of the biggest hot air balloon festivals in the world. If you are considering a trip to New Mexico to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, stop back soon to see our post titled Tips for a Visit to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. In addition to photos from our 2018 attendance at the Fiesta, you'll find helpful tips about tickets, parking and more, plus what to expect during morning and evening events.

Lodging for Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

In your opinion, where is the best place to stay (hotel, campground, RV park, etc.) during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta ... and when do you recommend making reservations in order to guarantee availability?

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Review:  Cochiti Recreation Area


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