Caballo Lake, New Mexico, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Southwest - New Mexico - Southwest -

Also known as:  Caballo Reservoir

One of the little-known treasures in New Mexico’s Southwest region is Caballo Lake. This 11,000-acre reservoir along the Rio Grande River escapes the notice paid to its popular nearby neighbor Elephant Butte Lake, but offers all of the natural beauty, fishing and boating fun of its busier companion reservoir upstream. Constructed in 1938, Caballo Lake was designed to provide flood control and irrigation water to 160,000 acres of cropland. Crops irrigated are not only in New Mexico but also partially in Texas; the water provided is in fulfillment of a 1902 treaty with the former Republic of Texas. The name Caballo was derived from the Sierra del los Caballos, Spanish for ‘horse mountain”. These nearby mountains were named for the herds of wild horses, descendants of the horses brought here by the Spanish around 1540. Located about 60 miles north of Las Cruces and 20 miles south of Truth or Consequences, Caballo Lake is conveniently located a short distance east of highway I-25.

Caballo Lake remains somewhat isolated. There are no homes along the shoreline, which is owned by the US Bureau of Reclamation. Caballo Lake State Park, third largest state park in New Mexico, encompasses much of the lake’s 24-mile shoreline within its 5,300 acres. The remaining shore is controlled by the US Bureau of Land Management and offers limited access only by rugged-duty vehicles. The lake is popular among recreational boaters, who often arrive on weekends to offload their personal boats from one of the three public boat launch sites. Boaters enjoy power boating, sailing, water skiing, wind surfing, jet skiing, canoeing and kayaking. The long and narrow reservoir can receive dangerous winds on occasion, so a wind warning light is provided on the southeast shore. In summer, when the lake level drops due to irrigation, four shallow islands may appear near the south end of the lake. These are marked by warning buoys when lake levels are low enough that they can become a danger.

Although some commercial boat rentals state that there is a marina and boat rental at Caballo Lake, official publications show no fuel or concession on the lake. These publications then may reference the several marinas at Elephant Butte Lake 10 miles upstream which rent boats and may transport their rentals down to Caballo Lake. This lack of commercial development is what keeps Caballo Lake relatively quiet and somewhat deserted most week-days. Weekends see the highest numbers of visitors by a wide margin.

Fishing is one of the big draws at Caballo Lake; catfish, largemouth bass, walleye, white bass, crappie, bluegill, northern pike, sunfish, smallmouth bass and striped bass are all caught, with occasional rainbow trout and walleye surprising the lucky angler. Although there are no bait and supply facilities in the park, several fishing supply stores are located nearby. Annual events at the lake feature several fishing tournaments, including a youth fishing derby in late September. Kayaking and canoeing on the Rio Grande is a favorite pastime when timed to the water releases from Elephant Butte Dam. The 10 to 12-mile river run usually begins at Elephant Butte State Park and ends at Caballo Lake State Park.

Several campground facilities are operated at Caballo Lake, one of which can meet nearly every need. Some primitive boat camping is available on the east side of the lake for small, fishing-size boats. A beach camping area offering few amenities is located on the western shore north of the main campground. The majority of developed campsites sit on a bluff overlooking the lake near the dam. An additional camping area below the dam on the Rio Grande offers the only RV Rally site in the New Mexico state park system, with a large group shelter, huge barbecue grills, and a gated campground that can accommodate over 200 recreational vehicles. There is no marked swimming beach, but most swimmers utilize an area west of the dam, or another favored spot along the north edge of the main campground.

The small visitor center has displays of area archeology and historic photos from the construction of Caballo Dam. There are color photos of the birds, fish, and plants of the park to help with identification, and even a sandbox area in which to stamp various wildlife footprints for educational and identification purposes. Youth groups and schools are often hosted here for hands-on learning experiences. Several cactus and succulent gardens are maintained in the park where visitors may enjoy their colorful blooms in late March and early April. Yucca, agave, ocotillo, prickly pear, mesquite and other desert flora can be enjoyed from the many walking paths in the park. All of the park’s 5.5 miles of trails are considered ‘easy’ and are perfect for exploring the native plants and animals.

Mammals include rock squirrels and cottontail rabbits, coyotes, wolves, foxes, raccoons, mule deer, and an occasional black bear. There are also rattlesnakes, lizards, frogs and turtles. Bird watching is a favorite activity at Caballo Lake, with the reservoir noted for visiting bald eagles and golden eagles. In recent years a breeding pair of bald eagles calls Caballo Lake their winter home. In addition, double-crested cormorants, sandhill cranes, common loons, scaled quail, American white pelicans, northern goshawks, snowy egrets and roadrunners are often sighted. There are dozens of songbirds, several species of hummingbirds, and numerous geese and ducks seen daily. Some hunting for small game is permitted in the park during hunting season; park staff should be contacted for complete information.

Although real estate is not available directly along the shoreline, some real estate is occasionally available nearby, often in the mountains overlooking the lake. A few private owners offer their properties for rental by the week or month nearby. Conventional lodgings can be found in both Truth or Consequences or Las Cruces in the form of motels, hotels and condos. These cities offer every amenity desired for an extended vacation, including golf courses, theaters, restaurants and nightlife. A number of state parks and national forests nearby offer every type of terrain and outdoor recreation a visitor could want. A day or a week on the water at Caballo Lake is both accessible and secluded. Bring the binoculars, the fishing rods and the canoe and come to Caballo Lake. With only one visit, Caballo Lake will become your favorite New Mexico get-away spot.

Things to do at Caballo Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wind Surfing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Caballo Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Striped Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Caballo Lake Photo Gallery

Caballo Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Not Known

Water Level Control: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Surface Area: 11,500 acres

Shoreline Length: 24 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,204 feet

Average Depth: 23 feet

Water Volume: 346,985 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1938

Drainage Area: 1,300 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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