The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, or Bisti Badlands, is an incredible stretch of wild land in northwestern New Mexico.

The Bisti Badlands is like being on Mars.

There’s no other way to describe it.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area BLM sign
Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area sign

(Bisti is pronounced “Bis-Tie.”)

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

National Geographic Traveler named it as one of their must-visit adventure destinations and it is definitely worth the trip.

Hoodoos in the Bisti Badlands
Bisti hoodoos

It’s a photographer’s dream land. It is difficult to describe the scenery in words, so instead I’ve included some of the photos I took during this adventure.

I didn’t bring a tripod with me for photos with my phone, but I wish I had. The sky presents some amazing opportunities for stunning photos as the sun sets or rises.

There’s another fabulous photographer dreamland in Arizona on BLM land called White Pocket. It’s full of swirled colors in sandstone and just another amazing place to visit.

See below for detailed directions to the location, parking, hiking, and options for RV and tent camping at the Bisti Badlands.

De-Na-Zin Wilderness hoodoos
Unusual sandstone formations in Bisti Badlands

Bisti Badlands History

This out-of-the-way wilderness spot shows off a bizarre, alien-like landscape made by lots of erosion over millions of years.

Historically, the land was once a river delta near the edge of an ancient sea during the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago.

Hiking areas in the Bisti Badlands
Hiking in the Bisti Badlands

Over time, water and wind shaped the layers of sediment from back then into the unique hoodoos, spires, and mushroom-shaped rocks that wow people today.

Cultural Significance for Navajo People

Navajo Nation logo

The Bisti Badlands a part of the Navajo ancestral lands, and the area is important in Navajo culture.

The word “Bisti” in Navajo means “a huge area of shale hills,” and “De-Na-Zin” translates to “cranes.”

If you’re planning to visit, respect the Navajo culture and try to leave the Badlands as untouched as possible.

Bisti Badlands Landscape

The Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a desert fantasy land covering over 45,000 acres. The Bisti Badlands area covers about 4,000 acres of this 45,000 acre total.

Stunning hoodoos in the Bisti Badlands
More hoodoos in Bisti

It is comprised of strange colorful rock formations shaped over time by nature.

Formations in the badlands
Formations in the Bisti Wilderness area
De-Na-Zin Wilderness area
Bisti Badlands formations

The landscape is made of sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt.

Over time, the sandstone weathered into hoodoos, pinnacles, spires, natural arches, and various other unusual shapes.

Landscape at Bisti badlands and wilderness area
Bisti Wilderness landscape
Sandstone terrain at Bisti
Bisti Badlands

There’s also petrified wood among the Bisti hoodoos.

Dating back millions of years, a dense, river-fed forest swathed the area. This ancient petrified wood is an example of its lush, prehistoric past.

Over eons, sediment buried fallen trees, and mineral-rich water gradually replaced the organic material with silica, quartz, and other minerals, turning wood into stone.

High desert and Bisti Badlands in NM
The Bisti Badlands are on BLM land

Today you can see these petrified logs and pieces sticking out of the ground, all colorful and patterned, which is like a direct line back to the ancient history of the earth.

Having petrified wood scattered among the weird, alien-like shapes of the badlands just makes this unreal landscape even more fascinating.

Large hoodoo at De-Na-Zin Wilderness
A large hoodoo in the Bisti Badlands
Stacked rocks at De-Na-Zin Wilderness
Bisti rock formations

Bisti Wilderness Location

This unusual scenery is in northwestern New Mexico on BLM land in the middle of the high desert.

Trail in Bisti Badlands
Bisti Badlands area

It’s located about 40 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico, near the eastern border of Navajo Nation land and the Four Corners region.

See the Google Map below for the exact location.

How to Get to the Bisti Badlands

Most people approach Bisti coming from Farmington. Farmington is a large city that has all types of big box stores and grocery stores where you can stock up on supplies.

Other worldly view of hoodoos in Bisti Wilderness area
More hoodoos in the Bisti Badlands

The map above provides the location of the parking lot where you can access the badlands and camp.

Be sure that you have a full tank of gas leaving the Farmington area as there are no other gas stations along the way to Bisti or anywhere in the general vicinity of Bisti. It is in a very remote area, so plan accordingly.

Gravel road into bisti badlands
Gravel Road 7297 into the Bisti Wilderness area

Follow New Mexico Highway 371 south about 40 miles from Farmington to Road 7297.

There is a sign on Highway 371 directing you to the Bisti Badlands at this intersection.

You’ll drive on a relatively flat gravel road for about two miles to a T-intersection where you’ll turn left and proceed for about a mile to the main parking lot.

It is well marked and not difficult to find. Any type of RV or passenger car will be fine driving on this road.

Bisti Badlands Access Parking Area

You will come to a large parking lot, where you can park or turn around. There are also several smaller parking areas along this road.

Parking lot at bisti
Bisti Wilderness area parking lot

There were several smaller RVs, including a truck camper and campervan parked in this main gravel lot area.

If this lot is full, continue up the road and there is another parking lot on the right.

Facilities at Bisti

There are no facilities at the Bisti Wilderness area other than vault toilets and a covered pavilion.

You will need to bring everything you need with you.

Most importantly, make sure you have lots of water. There is no water available at Bisti and it can be a very hot and dry location. Be sure to also bring a lot of water with you on your hike into the Bisti Badlands.

A sun hat and sunscreen are also very important!

Vault toilets at parking area
Vault toilets at the Bisti Badlands

Finding the Bisti Hoodoos from the Parking Lot Area

The satellite image below shows the terrain of the Bisti Badlands.

From the parking lot area in red, you head northeast to see the hoodoos and other rock formations. Some of these, including the egg hatchery, Bisti rock garden, and three wings landmarks are identified in blue on the map.

Bisti Badlands satellite image
Satellite image of Bisti Badlands

Once you park your RV or car in the parking lot, you will see a covered pavilion with picnic tables. This is the only shade you’ll see for a while!

Pavilion at Bisti Badlands
Pavilion at Bisti Badlands

Behind the pavilion you’ll see a Bisti Wilderness information sign and a gate beyond that. Follow the gate into the Bisti Wilderness area.

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness sign
Bisti Wilderness information sign

You will see the hoodoos and other strange rock formations off in the distance. You’ll need to walk for a while before you come to the interesting geology.

(Did you know that increased physical activity is one of 14 health benefits of RV camping identified by science? 50+ research studies on the relationship between camping and health back this up!)

View of Bisti hoodoos in the distance
Bisti rock formations off in the distance

Keep walking and the formations will get closer.

Start of some of the formations in De-Na-Zin Wilderness
The start of some of the formations in the Bisti Wilderness area

There isn’t a set path or trail to take throughout the Bisti Badlands. Most people wander around or use a downloaded trail app to see the various sights.

Be careful to track your location as it is very easy to lose your sense of direction among the hoodoos.

Bisti badlands rocks
Bisti Wilderness area

Hiking in the Bisti Badlands

Hiking in the Bisti Badlands is an experience unlike any other.

Eroded terrain of bisti with white dog
Walking among the Bisti formations

Without designated trails or markers, getting lost can be really easy. Be sure to download a map or use an app such as AllTrails before arriving, since you likely will not have cell service at this location.

This terrain provides a plethora of natural landmarks that you should be sure to pay attention to, from spire-like hoodoos to wingspan-sized petrified wood.

colorful bisti formations
Colorful Bisti formations

The Bisti Badlands is pretty out there, with no water around, so you need to come prepared. Bring plenty of water, wear clothes you can layer up or down because the desert temps change a lot, and make sure your compass or GPS won’t let you down.

Hiking here is best in spring and fall when the weather’s not too hot or too cold, so you can really take in all the cool stuff the Badlands have to offer without melting in the summer heat or freezing in the winter.

Bisti landscape
Bisti landscape

Heading out for a hike early in the morning or later in the afternoon is pretty magical. The low sun lights up the rock formations in a way that throws awesome shadows and brings out a whole bunch of colors.

Hiking with Dogs in Bisti

Dogs are allowed in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, including the Bisti Badlands, but they must be under control at all times.

Dog on hoodoo in the Bisti Badlands
My dog enjoying the view on a hoodoo in the Bisti Badlands

If you’re bringing your dog along to places like this, it’s really important to be a responsible pet owner. That means keeping your dog on a leash or making sure they listen to voice commands really well. (My dog is well-trained and responds reliably to voice commands, which is why she is off leash.)

Always clean up after your dog and make sure they have plenty of water, especially since it’s so dry and far from everything out here.

Horse Riding in Bisti Badlands

Horses are also allowed in the Bisti Badlands and we saw a few people on horses during our hike.

Camping at the Bisti Wilderness Area

To preserve its delicate ecosystem, camping within the Bisti Badlands is not permitted, but nearby camping options provide camping spots.

Both RVs and tent campers are permitted to camp overnight at Bisti. This is BLM land, so it is mostly open to campers.

Airstream and tent campers on BLM land
An Airstream and tent campers at the BLM Bisti Wilderness area

When camping near the Bisti Badlands, be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles. This means packing out all trash, minimizing campfire impacts, and respecting wildlife.

We also camped at a location about 2 1/2 hours north of here called Cedar Springs Campground in the Carson National Forest. If you’re interested in finding US National Forest land for dispersed camping, check out our tutorial on using free US Forest Service maps to find locations.

Camping in the Bisti Parking Area

It’s on BLM land, so you are allowed to camp at this location. There is no charge for camping and access to the Badlands is also free.

RV Camping

Truck camper parked in gravel parking lot
A truck camper and campervan parked in the Bisti parking lot

Several parking lots are available, including a main lot suitable for RV parking.

These lots feature gravel surfaces and are level, accommodating RVs of any size without difficulty.

For those looking to camp in an RV, the Bisti access parking area is the nearest option.

Additionally, along the gravel road leading to this area, there are a few spacious spots where RVs can also be parked comfortably.

Tent Camping

When planning to pitch a tent near the Bisti Badlands, note that camping within the wilderness area itself is not permitted in order to protect its delicate ecosystem.

Tents pitched at Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area
Tent camping at Bisti

While you aren’t allowed to camp directly in the hoodoos, you can pitch a tent near the entrance in several private areas.

Tent campers will find some great locations to pitch a tent. Just be sure to bring everything you need, as there aren’t any facilities around this area.

Dispersed Camping in the Surrounding Areas

There are also numerous BLM, USFS, and state-managed lands in the surrounding northwestern NM area that allow dispersed camping.

Final Words about the Bisti Wilderness Area

The Bisti Wilderness Area is an amazingly scenic spot to view unique geological formations.

It is worth the drive to visit this mystical land and walk among the hoodoos and other structures. The sights are truly unique and amazing to see in person.