Elephant Butte Lake Elephant Butte State Park New Mexico

Where is Elephant Butte Lake State Park

101 Hwy 195 Elephant Butte, NM 87935 

Elephant Butte is the largest artificial lake in New Mexico and one of the most visited parks in the state. It is located in a fairly remote location, along the Rio Grande in southeast New Mexico. The park is two hours south of Albuquerque and two hours north of El Paso. Even though it’s quite a distance from major cities, it’s easily accessible by car or recreational vehicle, as it is located a few miles off of Interstate 25. The small town of Truth or Consequences, named after the popular game show “Truth or Consequences”, is just a few miles south of the park. 

How Big is Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Not only does the park surround the state’s largest reservoir, Elephant Butte Lake, but it’s also the biggest state park in all of New Mexico. Elephant Butte US State Park contains 40,000 acres, which was formed by a concrete dam across the Rio Grande. There are over 200 miles of shoreline and 40 miles of the river valley, including a marshland that extends several miles upstream towards Bosque del Apache. Most visitors head to a five-mile section along the southwest shore that hosts marinas, boat launches, campsites, and beaches. The park’s elevation reaches 4,527 feet.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park Weather

Elephant Butte State Park has fairly mild weather year-round, making each season a popular time to visit. Summers are usually hot and partly cloudy, while winters are short, dry, and mostly clear. The end of May to early September are the hottest months of the year, with an average daily high temperature of 86°F. The coldest months of the year lasts from the end of November to mid-February. Daily highs are around 60°F, with an average low of 31°F. Cloudiness varies significantly from season-to-season. The clearest part of the year in Elephant Butte beings in early September and lasts until the end of November. The cloudy season lasts for the remaining months. There is a low chance of rain throughout the year; the wetter season lasts from July to September, with an average 19% chance of rain.  

When did Elephant Butte Lake become a State Park

Elephant Butte State Park is managed by the state under an agreement with the United States Bureau of Reclamation. Construction for the Elephant Butte Dam occurred between 1911 and 1916 and is still known as a major engineering accomplishment in the state. The construction of the reservoir was part of the Rio Grande project, which provided power and irrigation to southern parts of New Mexico and west Texas. Then in 1964, the New Mexico State Parks Division officially declared it a state park.

View of Rock Formation Elephant Butte State Park New Mexico

Things to do in Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Elephant Butte is great for those who love being outdoors. Between the large reservoir, sandy beaches, and vast acreage, there is no shortage of activities in the park. Here, our State Park Visitors Guide outlines the main sites and things to do in Elephant Butte Lake State Park.


The parks has 173 campsites available for visitors, including beach camping and boat-in camping. Some of the most popular campgrounds are South Monticello, Quail Run, Lions Beach, Desert Cove, and Lower Ridge Road. Almost all of the campgrounds have both first-come, first-serve options, as well as reserved spots. 


There are many different types of fish that call Elephant Butte home and some fantastic opportunities to catch them all throughout the lake. Anglers can enjoy a day of fishing from a boat or from the fishing pier located inside the park. Largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, bluegill, bass, and catfish are all possible catches in this warm water fishery. 


With over 200 miles of shoreline, Elephant Butte Lake State Park offers countless swimming opportunities. Many visitors head to the park is escape the summer heat and cool off in the park’s refreshing water. Additionally, the sandy beaches provide a stunning contrast between the lake and surrounding scenery. 

Mountain Biking

Visitors can opt to see the vast acreage of the park on two wheels instead of two feet. Gear up the mountain bike and head through the numerous winding trails at Elephant Butte. The most popular trail, The West Lakeshore Trail, offers 6-feet wide gravel paths, with sections of uneven surfaces and deep sand. It is the longest trail in the park offered to mountain bikers. 


If walking is more up your alley, Elephant Butte Lake State Park has plenty of trails for hikers.

There are over fifteen miles of trailhead that wind through the desert hills above the lake. Many offer panoramic views of the park and wildlife sightings. Jackrabbits, lizards, and exotic wildflowers are just some of the stellar things to see along the trial.  

Ice Fishing

Fishing at Elephant Butte isn’t strictly a summer activity, but rather can be enjoyed year-round. The lake is known for its record-sized bass, striped and largemouth. However, the winter leans more toward a tiger muskellunge or crappie catch. Make sure the lake’s ice is sufficiently thick before heading out. 


With a large lake along the Rio Grande, many take advantage of the great boating opportunities in Elephant Butte. The park has many boat ramps, three marinas, and several boat rentals. Boaters can use motorized or non-motorized watercraft, though sailboats and motorboats are most popular year-round. Many visitors will take part in water sports, like wakeboarding or water skiing, out on the lake. 


There are plenty of picnic tables and barbeque pits throughout various areas of the park. For bigger parties, visitors can reserve a picnic shelter group area, located at the southern end of the park on Ridge Road. This section provides larger picnic tables and a great view of the lake. 

Bird Watching

Elephant Butte is full of opportunities to see unique wildlife, bird species especially. There are American white pelicans, terns, gulls, waders, shorebirds, loons and more. The best bird watching areas are near the marinas at Three Sisters Point, Long Point, and South Monticello Point. 

Horseback Riding

Surrounding ranches offer horse, donkey, mule, and wagon rides. Rides usually take visitors through ponderosa forests, up onto mountains, and down into deep canyons along rugged cliffs. All levels of experience are welcome and will be given a curated route. 

Boats and Docks on Elephant Butte Lake Elephant Butte State Park New Mexico

When to go to Elephant Butte Lake State Park

The mild climate makes Elephant Butte Lake State Park a popular destination year-round. Most visitors head to the park in warmer weather, from mid-May through early October. Although, the winters do not last long and have relatively mild temperatures. Many will go mountain biking, hiking, birding, and ice fishing in the off-season and fishing, swimming, boating, and picnicking in high season. Regardless of the season, there is always something to do in Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Visitors should plan their stay based off their interests and which activities are most appealing to them. Overall, the park is open Thursday-Sunday, from 6 AM-8 PM. Those that have a campsite locked in are permitted to stay overnight. 

Must-Have things to bring to Elephant Butte Lake State Park

There are various items to bring along on your visit to Elephant Butte Lake State Park. To help avoid an uh-oh moment, List of Parks covers all of the necessary items to bring below. 

Ice Fishing Gear

If you plan to visit the park in the winter, ice fishing is a popular activity to take part in. Before heading out on the ice, you’ll need to bring a shanty, tent, cooler, rod, ice pick, bait, and something to sit on. Don’t forget about the added weight on the surface of the ice; make sure it’s at least eight inches thick.

First Aid Kit

Sometimes an accident is unavoidable and can result in a mild to serious injury. It’s important to be prepared for any kind of situation like that. Keep proper medical items nearby to help subside anything from a minor incident to a major accident.


Accessible drinking water is an absolute essential for any outdoor activity. Plan to bring enough water bottles for a full-day excursion. There is a water line that connects to the park’s drinking water system, so there are areas available to refill your bottle.


Whether boating, hiking, fishing, or relaxing on the beach, you may want snacks throughout the day. Prepare ahead by packing enough food for your entire party. Sandwiches, protein bars, nuts, and crackers are all good options.


Protecting your skin from the sun is very important. While exploring the park, you can get lost in the beauty and forget to apply. When planning your day outdoors, especially if you’re planning to go out on the water, apply sunscreen. Use a mineral sunscreen that is at least SPF 30. 

Bug Spray

Bug spray is an essential. The last thing you want is to leave the park with a million and one bug bites. Bug spray or a citronella bracelet can protect against this. The mosquitos get worse in the warmer weather and during sunset.


Elephant Butte has many photo-worthy moments between the extensive shoreline, marshlands, and river valleys. Capture this scenic beauty with an iPhone camera or something more professional. Either option works perfectly fine. 

Proper Clothing

Temperatures vary throughout the seasons. This will affect what you should wear and how many layers to bring along. In the warmer weather, something breathable and comfortable is perfect. And, don’t forget your bathing suit. In the winter, bring layers and a quality winter coat. It can get chilly by the lake.

Proper Footwear

This one depends on what you plan to do in the park. For hiking, supportive sneakers or hiking boots will work. For boating, something a bit more waterproof is sufficient. For the beach, flip flops or sandals are both perfect. 


As mentioned earlier, there are some great opportunities to see unique bird species and other wildlife in Elephant Butte. Binoculars will help you get better look. 

View of Elephant Rock Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock Mountains Elephant Butte State Park New Mexico

Where to stay in Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Most visitors camp in Elephant Butte Lake State Park, as there are many campgrounds and major cities are a few hours away. The South Monticello Campground, located in the far northern area of the park, is one of the primitive camping sites. The Quail Run Campground, next to the Desert Cove Campground, offers 20- to 30- amp electric hookups and can accommodate rigs up to 73 feet in length. Some sites have amazing views of the lake. The Lions Beach Campground features water and 30-amp electric hookups. The campground has stunning views of the lake, with a table canopy and fire ring available. Other popular campsites include Desert Cove Campground and Lower Ridge Road Campground.

Food Nearby Elephant Butte Lake State Park

There are a few restaurants just outside of the park, including Bigfoot, Casa Taco, The Grapevine Bistro, and Sierra Grande. Many of them are located in the surrounding town of Truth or Consequences, offering a wide variety of cuisine options. A quick drive from the park will get you there.

Horses Near Elephant Butte Rock Elephant Butte State Park

Airports near Elephant Butte Lake State Park

There are a few major airports near the park. The closest one being El Paso International Airport in Texas, which is 103 miles from Elephant Butte. 134 miles north of the park is Albuquerque International Sunport Airport. Finally, Roswell International Air Center in New Mexico is 150 miles east of the park.

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