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Out-of-this-world campgrounds: The best places to spot UFOs and enjoy the great outdoors 

From mysterious dancing lights to the darkest night skies, here are some must-visit immersive campsites for fans of the unexplained

El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas. | Photo: Steve Alberts

Our modern-day fascination with visitors from outer space probably began in 1938 with Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Or, maybe it was in 1947, when (depending on who you ask) either an alien spacecraft or a weather balloon crashed just outside of Roswell, New Mexico. Despite its origins, UFOs and other extraterrestrial phenomena continue to trigger the curiosities of people worldwide who just want to believe. 

Whether you’re searching for a true sighting of something unexplained or just an immersive UFO cultural experience, here are a few campgrounds perfect for otherworldly exploration.

A white yurt with a red door and deck sits in Marfa, Texas
A yurt at El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas. | Photo: Karuna Eberl

Marfa, Texas

The Marfa Lights are like the Old Faithful of unexplained phenomena. While they aren’t visible every night, they happen frequently enough that there’s an official viewing area for them in the West Texas hills. And sightings of the dancing, colored lights are not just reserved for paranormal hopefuls—many skeptics say they’ve seen them as well.

The viewing area is located along U.S. Route 90 about 9 miles east of the town of Marfa. It has a concrete patio, benches, vault toilets, and fixed binoculars (but you might want to bring your own). Hanging out and socializing at the viewing center is worth the stop, even in the daytime, but you’re most likely to see the lights after 9 p.m. on a clear night. Visit in the fall for the town’s Marfa Lights Festival.

Marfa is also known for its art and music scene, and its Instagram-famous art installation, Prada Marfa, described by the artist as “a critique of the luxury goods industry.”

Where to Camp

While there is technically dry overnight parking allowed at the viewing station, a trip to Marfa should include staying at the Bohemian glampground El Cosmico. You can tent camp in its grassy park or rent teepees, Mongolian-style yurts, classic trailers, and other glamping accommodations. If the campground is not too crowded, they’ll also let you stay in your campervan or RV in the main parking lot, though there are no hookups or dump stations on-site.

Staying at El Cosmico is also a social adventure. There’s an inside common area with coffee, couches, and an array of artistic clothing and wares for sale. There are hammock areas around the grounds, numerous bathroom and shower facilities, a common kitchen area with a fridge, wood-fired hot tubs, and a central stage for musical performances. Make sure to try a breakfast burrito from Marfa Burrito, which is within walking distance. Dogs are welcome and reservations are recommended if there’s an event in town.

Evening begins to wash over the San Luis Valley and the UFO Watchtower.
Evening begins to wash over the San Luis Valley and the UFO Watchtower. | Photo: Joe Rogers

San Luis Valley, Colorado

This rural valley in south-central Colorado sits at 7,500 feet, making its expansive dark skies a haven for UFO seekers. There are certainly a lot of weird goings-on in the area, including alligators who live through the frigid winters in geothermal ponds. On the paranormal side, its most concrete attraction is the UFO Watchtower, where hundreds of people have claimed to witness UFOs, many in broad daylight.  

The watchtower is on Colorado Highway 17, which has been unofficially dubbed the Cosmic Highway. Not far from there, Great Sand Dunes National Park is another hot spot for UFO sightings. There’s also the towering 14,351-foot Blanca Massif mountain where some Diné (Navajo) histories tell of “star people” on flying pods. More recently, others have been speculating that there is actually a secret alien ship, or possibly a government base, housed deep within the mountain. 

Related It started as a joke, but Colorado’s UFO Watchtower is now a hotspot for mysterious sightings

Where to Camp

The UFO Watchtower has a dry campground. Campfires and dogs are allowed and no reservations are needed. There are also a number of other campgrounds in the area with better ambiance, some on public lands and others privately-owned. The best view of the valley is at the Zapata Falls Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground, up on the flank of Blanca Peak. Reservations are recommended at this dog-friendly campground. There are vault toilets on-site but this is not a suitable camping spot for larger RVs. 

On the valley floor, the San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area offers partial-hookup campsites. Dogs are allowed and sites are first come, first served. The privately-owned and pet-friendly Ramble at Great Sand Dunes provides campers with more amenities like a restroom and shower facilities, a dump station, outdoor kitchen areas, and more. Plus, you’ll have unobstructed views in all directions. For those looking for full amenities, including peaceful riverside campsites, the Woods and River Campground in Del Norte is big rig friendly and offers full hookups. 

A green alien statue holds a sign that reads 'Welcome Earthlings' In front of a blue and white inn
Photo courtesy of Travel Nevada

Rachel, Nevada

Rachel, Nevada, is the historical jump-off point for those wanting to catch a glimpse of Area 51, the Air Force facility that allegedly stores top secret, otherworldly goods like UFOs the government is using to reverse engineer anti-gravity tech. If you don’t luck into a UFO sighting, you may at least see a fighter jet soaring through the sky, as it’s next to the Nevada Test and Training Range.

The town of Rachel sits along State Route 375, also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, which runs between Las Vegas and Tonopah. UFO-themed sites along the way include the Little A’Le’Inn restaurant and bar, the Alien Research Center and gift shop, and the E.T. Fresh Jerky outlet. 

Related The top things to do on an Extraterrestrial Highway road trip

If you’re up for a hike, the Tikaboo Peak trailhead (four-wheel-drive recommended) is about 2 hours from Rachel. The summit of Tikaboo is the only legal place to catch a view of structures on the base, including the Homey Airport runway which is also known as Groom Lake.  

Where to Camp

There are water- and electric-hookup sites by the Little A’Le’Inn restaurant, or you can dry camp there for free. There are also some basic motel-style rooms and good WiFi, but no RV dump. This is an isolated area and gas stations are few and far between, so plan your visit accordingly. No reservations are needed and pets are allowed.

The restaurant doubles as a museum and gift shop, with alien-themed photos plastering the walls. It’s a fun place to socialize with the owners and other guests. Be sure to try the World Famous Alien Burger with Alien sauce (available with beef or garden burger patties). There are also several dispersed campsites along Route 375 for those who would rather converse with the aliens covertly.

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