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New San Juan River campground will let visitors pitch tents on banks of state’s top fishery

A new campground is in the works for a stretch of the San Juan. Karl Moffatt / For the Journal

Campers will soon have a new place to pitch a tent on the banks of the San Juan River at Navajo Lake State Park.

“We’ve got some of the best fly-fishing in the Southwest and lots of visitors asking for tent sites, so we’re excited to finally be able provide them some right on the river,” said Chris Smith, superintendent at Navajo Lake State Park.

The state park in northwestern New Mexico features the state’s top trout fishery in the river below Navajo Dam. The reservoir above is regarded by many as the state’s best smallmouth bass fishery.

The park had over a half-million visitors in fiscal year 2018, with about half of them visiting the five miles of river within the park, Smith said.

The park offers campsites on the river at Cottonwood Campground, where the availability of a dump station and full hookups of water and electricity at all 48 sites draws many visitors with travel trailers or motor homes.

But the persistent demand for tent sites resulted in plans to build a new “dry” campground on 66 acres of state owned land on the south side of the river just upstream from the Crusher Hole day use area.

The new campground, scheduled to be completed by 2021, will feature two vault toilets and 20 pull-through sites, each with a shelter, campfire ring and picnic table.

Native shade trees and other vegetation will be planted throughout the campground, Smith said. A new pump house and acequia have been constructed on the site to draw water from the river for irrigation.

The cost of building the campground is estimated at $1.1 million, with much of the money coming from a grant through the recently reenacted federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling are earmarked for the fund, which provides grants to purchase land for outdoor recreation and other public benefit.

The San Juan River has long been a top trout fishing destination for anglers due to a huge population of large trout of and many miles of public access. The river brings in an estimated $30 million to $40 million annually to the state’s economy, with much of that generated from of out-of-state anglers, according to economic and other published studies.

Karl Moffatt is a longtime New Mexico journalist and avid outdoorsman who posts regularly on his blog at