Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico, USA

Also known as:  The Butte, Elephant Butte Reservoir

Welcome to the ultimate guide to Elephant Butte Lake — things to do, where to stay, fun facts, history, stats and more. Let’s dive in!

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All About Elephant Butte Lake

With limited lake options in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake is a popular destination for water enthusiasts and nature lovers alike in the Land of Enchantment. Nearly 40-miles long, it is a reservoir lake made from the damming of the Rio Grande River. Often referred to as The Butte, the reservoir has over 200 miles of shoreline when at full capacity, making it the largest lake in the state. The lake is named for a rock formation that resembles an elephant. The formation is an island in the lake near the dam and is actually the eroded core of an ancient volcano.

This high desert lake has somewhat of an hourglass shape with an upper and lower section and fluctuating water levels. The shallow upper basin has an average depth of about 20 feet, while the deeper lower basin averages nearly 80 feet and is where most of the lake’s facilities are located. The average width of Elephant Butte Lake is 1.5 miles. The sections are connected by a four-mile stretch of the Rio Grande called The Narrows. The varied water levels are due in part to the fact that Elephant Butte Lake serves as a hydroelectric reservoir on the Rio Grande River and was constructed to provide power and irrigation to south-central New Mexico and west Texas. According to numerous sources, it was the largest manmade reservoir of its time when it was completed in 1916.

Over the years, Elephant Butte Reservoir has become a haven for boating, fishing, water skiing, windsurfing, canoeing, swimming, scuba diving, bird watching, camping and hiking. The lake is part of Elephant Butte Lake State Park and has more than 200 developed campsites and 150 RV hook-up sites along with three full-service marinas to provide support for watercraft of all types. The lake’s well-stocked waters offer fishing enthusiasts a wide variety of fish including bluegill, walleye, crappie, and catfish as well as largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass and white bass.

Concerts, fishing tournaments and drag boat races throughout the year along with several annual events keep Elephant Butte Lake busy as well. They include:
* Fly Freedom’s Flag Parade – A relatively new event held Memorial Day Weekend to honor men and women in the armed services. Includes official military services, Air Force fly-by, and a parade of boats.
* 4th of July Fireworks – Includes concerts and one of the largest fireworks displays in the state, noted for the beautiful reflections off the water.
* Balloon Regatta – Usually the second week of September, this event combines the beauty of the lake with that of colorful hot air balloons.
* Floating Lights Parade & Luminaria Walk – A holiday treat in early December that includes a parade of boats decked out in lights along with thousands of luminarias lining the shoreline.

At full pool elevation of 4,407 feet above sea level, Elephant Butte Reservoir covers about 36,500 acres with a storage capacity of over two million acre-feet. The Upper Rio Grande Basin received plentiful water during the 1980s and 1990s, so water levels remained high. However, severe drought conditions over the last decade in the Upper Rio Grande Basin lowered water levels at the reservoir to a 40-year low in 2013. Water levels have risen slowly since 2013 but are still low. During the first quarter of 2015, the reservoir covered about 10,500 acres at an elevation of 4,328 feet with storage of 350,000 acre-feet of water. Due to prolonged drought, New Mexico State Parks assisted concessionaires by moving facilities closer to the shoreline.

Elephant Butte Lake is located in the southern part of the state, five miles north of the small town of Truth or Consequences and can be seen just off I-25. For out-of-state visitors flying in, the lake is about a two-hour drive from either Albuquerque, NM or El Paso, TX. With a mild climate year-round, a full roster of events and activities, plus majestic views everywhere you look, Elephant Butte Lake is a wonderful destination any time of year.

Things to Do at Elephant Butte Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Water Skiing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Birding
  • State Park

Fish Species Found at Elephant Butte Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Striped Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Find Places to Stay at Elephant Butte Lake

If you’re considering a Elephant Butte Lake lake house rental or hotel, we’ve made it super easy to find the best rates and compare vacation accommodations at a glance. Save time using this interactive map below.

Recommended Sites to Book a Elephant Butte Lake Vacation

If you want to take a deeper dive to find waterfront lake cabins, cottages, condos, hotels or resorts, check out our favorite Elephant Butte Lake lodging partners.

  • VRBO – Use VRBO to find the perfect lake rental home, condo, cabin, cottage or other vacation property.
  • Booking.com – One of the world’s leading digital travel companies, Booking.com connects travelers to everything from cozy B&Bs to luxury resorts.
  • Expedia – Expedia is a popular online travel agency with more than 140,000 lodging properties worldwide.
  • Hotels.com – With more than 325,000 hotels in 19,000-plus locations, Hotels.com is an industry leader in online accommodations.
  • TripAdvisor – Read traveler reviews and compare prices on hotels, vacation rentals and more at TripAdvisor.
  • Trivago – Trivago helps travelers compare deals for hotels and other accommodations from a variety of booking sites.
  • KAYAK – KAYAK scours hundreds of other travel websites at once to find the best deals on hotels and other travel-related services.
  • RVshare –RVshare connects travelers interested in renting a motorhome with owners who have RVs to rent.
  • CampSpot – Campspot offers premier RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins and glamping options across North America.

Note: These are affiliate links so we may earn a small commission if you book through them. While there is no extra cost to you, it helps provide resources to keep our site running (thank you)! You can read our full disclosure policy here.

Elephant Butte Lake Statistics & Helpful Links


Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Surface Area: 36,500 acres

Shoreline Length: 200 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,407 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 4,414 feet

Water Volume: 2,065,010 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1916

Drainage Area: 28,900 sq. miles

We strive to keep the information on LakeLubbers as accurate as possible. However, if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you! Please fill out our Content Correction form.

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