More than a million people each year visit Elephant Butte Lake State Park, whose 36,500-acre lake is New Mexico's largest. A world-class competition lake for bass fishing, it also offers catfish, pike, and crappie fishing year-round. Boaters come here in droves, and when the wind picks up so do the windsurfers. Special events include an April balloon festival and July drag-boat racing. The lake, known as Elephant Butte Reservoir, was created in 1916 by Elephant Butte Dam, a concrete structure 306 feet high and 1,674 feet long. The stretch of the Rio Grande below the dam is stocked with trout during colder months; these fish attract anglers as well as many species of waterfowl, including raptors. The lake level is dependent on the water conditions in the state, which fluctuate wildly, and it's worth noting that there are no trees around this lake—making the hot months a challenging time to camp. It's best to check the conditions before you plan a vacation around the lake.
state park straddles Elephant Butte Lake and the Rio Grande east of I–25 for about 50 mi (from south of Fort Craig to just north of Truth or Consequences). To take a scenic drive from Truth or Consequences, head east on NM 51, turn north at NM 179 for about 2 mi, head southeast on NM 195, and take a loop drive of about 5 mi to Elephant Butte Dam. At the end of the dam turn north for overlooks of the lake and a view of the rocky elephant-shape island formation that inspired the name of the reservoir. To visit the Dam Site Recreation Area turn west on NM 177, where you'll find a terraced picnic area with striking views and tall shade trees. A private concessionaire operates a restaurant, lounge, marina, and cabins.