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Top 50 Campsites in Arizona

By George Stocking - August 3rd, 2000

Some of the places listed in this compilation are modern, organized campgrounds with picnic tables, RV hookups and even showers. Others are backcountry campsites without amenities; a couple are simply clearings on the side of the road. Many are chosen for the sheer beauty of the site itself. Some, while not beautiful per se, are listed for their proximity to beautiful locations. From the depths of the Grand Canyon to the alpine highlands of the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona is a wondrous and tremendously diversified state. These are my favorite places to camp.

1. Lockett Meadow
San Francisco Peaks
I can't help but consider Lockett Meadow, perched on the side of the San Francisco Peaks, to be the number one location in Arizona to put up a tent. It's a grassy meadow as wide as a football field, surrounded by vibrant stands of quaking aspen. Elk, deer and an occasional bear or skunk make nightly visits to the tanks constructed years ago for grazing sheep.
Located at 7,000 feet, it provides hiking access into the Inner Basin and to the highest point in Arizona, Mt. Humphreys (12,633 feet). I never tire of hiking (or mountain biking) the trails through the largest aspen stand in the state.
Don't miss it: During the first two weeks of October, the meadow transforms as the aspen leaves change color. The warm, gold and red hues of fall displace the cool, greens and blues of summer.
Directions: Just north of Flagstaff, turn west off SR 89 onto FR 552. After about a mile, turn right at the sign. The road that winds up the mountain provides breathtaking views of Sunset Crater and the Painted Desert before dead-ending at the meadow.
More info: Coconino National Forest, 520-527-3600

2. Catalina State Park
Tucson
The Santa Catalina Mountains, thrust up from the floor of the Sonoran desert, culminate on Mt. Lemon at 9,157 feet. You can hike all the way to the top on trails originating at Catalina State Park. Stately saguaro cactus line the hillsides of the draws and washes, while the fabulous Santa Catalina range provides a constant backdrop. Many hiking trails provide a never-ending source of entertainment, while wildlife appears often enough to keep you alert. Awash in mountainous beauty, Catalina State Park is one of the state's premier campgrounds.
Don't miss it: Appearances of big horned sheep, deer and a vast assortment of birds are all possibilities. On many nights, coyotes close in and serenade campers with their yips and howls.
Directions: The park is on SR 77, about 10 minutes outside the City of Tucson.
More info: Catalina State Park, 520-628-5798

3. Toroweap (backcountry)
Grand Canyon National Park
This is a campground with a view! While located within the borders of the Grand Canyon National Park, its extremely remote location keeps crowds away. Breathtaking views of the Colorado River are unequaled anywhere else in the park. Those willing to go the extra mile to the backcountry campground at Toroweap will forever treasure the memory.
Don't miss it: Set up your tent on the edge of the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River is only 30 seconds away -- a 30-second, 1,200-foot freefall, that is! Explore massive ledge boulders and discover new views of the Canyon.
Directions: Take SR 389 west out of Fredonia, turning left onto Mt. Trumbell Road. Follow the signs for Toroweap. Although this 60-mile-long route is dirt, it's easily passable by car except in wet weather.
More info: Grand Canyon National Park, 520-638-7888

4. Camino El Diablo
Southern Arizona
One of the last great stretches of uninhabited wilderness remaining in the continental United States, Camino del Diablo (or Highway of the Devil) takes a minimum of two days to traverse. A four-wheel drive vehicle is required by the rangers, although the road is easily passable in a two-wheel drive with high ground clearance. There are no campgrounds and few signs of people, but camping is permitted at any point along the highway.
Don't miss it: On the last trip I made across Camino El Diablo, I didn't see another person, car or airplane for four days. The scenery is tremendous; the isolation absolute.
Directions: The highway stretches for 127 miles across the deserts of Southern Arizona.
More info: Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, 520-387-6438

5. East Rim Overlook
Kaibab National Forest
I am perched high on the edge of the cliff; the vague shadow of Marble Canyon is barely visible in the distance. A goshawk swirls above me on the strong updraft rising from the lower elevations. A single bird strays unknowingly into the goshawk's vision; I hold my breath as the hawk dives, striking its prey. From a cloud of feathers, the hawk flies into the forest to partake of his dinner.
Don't miss it: Goshawks live in old growth ponderosa pine, and there are plenty of pines at East Rim Overlook. The spacious, natural, campsites are situated right on the edge of Marble Canyon. This is a great place to avoid the crowds at the Grand Canyon, without settling for a view less than fantastic.
Directions: Take SR 67 south from Jacobs Lake; turn left at the sign for the East Rim View. Turn left at FR 610, then turn right on FR 611 until it deadends at East Rim.
More info: N. Kaibab Ranger District, 520-643-7395

6. Marble Canyon
Sitting back in my seat, I wait for a bison to cross the road. I never realize how large these creatures are until I get next to one. I marvel at its deep brown coat and note the scars on its side. I am crossing House Rock Buffalo Ranch on my way to one of the most isolated and least-known campsites in the state. The road deadends at the edge of Marble Canyon, the gorge that eventually turns into the Grand Canyon. Primitive campsites are perched on the lip of the chasm.
I explore the ledges of the canyon for hours without hearing a car or seeing a jet. The isolation is absolute; the scenery magnificent. The Colorado River far below carries a group of rafters downstream toward the adventure of their lives. They have no idea that far above, I am having an adventure of my own.
Directions: Take SR 89A west over Marble Canyon Bridge until you see the sign for Buffalo Ranch. Turn south and continue to follow the signs to the ranch. Instead of going to the headquarters, continue south on FR 445 until the road reaches the Marble Canyon overlooks.
More info: Arizona Strip District Office BLM, 801-673-3545

7. Bonita Canyon at the Chiricahua National Monument
Southeastern Arizona
"The Land of Standing Rocks" is what the Indians called the Chiricahua Mountains. Here, almost legendary hiking trails wind through a maze of massive columns and balancing rocks. The campground rests in a thick wood at the base of the canyon. Intelligently planned, the sites are widely spaced so noise pollution from neighbors is kept to a minimum. Hiking the monument's numerous trails is one of my favorite pastimes, and I enjoy returning to this elegant campground at the end of a hard day.
Rhyolite columns on distant canyon walls peek through a canopy of oak trees, while an Arizona sunset fades in the sky. A cardinal may flit through the trees, or a deer might wander fearlessly through the site as I light the evening fire. At Chiricahua National Monument anything is possible. The ambiance of this campground is as rewarding as the landscape surrounding it.
Directions: Reach the monument by taking SR 181 east from SR 186.
More info: Chiricahua National Monument, 520-824-3560

8. Lees Ferry
Grand Canyon area
Lees Ferry provides still-water access to the Colorado River. Rafters depart on trips down the Grand Canyon; fishermen head upstream in search of trophy trout. The road into the campground winds alongside the colorful Vermilion Cliffs. A bright red escarpment that glows pink in the early morning sun, the cliffs provide a brilliant backdrop for house-sized boulders strewn across a barren landscape. Some of the campsites offer views of the Colorado River.
Don't miss it: Photographing the massive balancing boulders is my favorite pastime at the ferry, but you might be attracted by a hike up scenic Paria Canyon or by exploring the historic buildings preserved at the site.
Directions: Turn right from SR 89A onto Lees Ferry Road just west of the bridge spanning Marble Canyon.
More info: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, 520-608-6404


9. Woods Canyon Lake
I crave Woods Canyon Lake when sweltering through one of those legendary Arizona summers. This small mountain lake, surrounded by tall ponderosa pines, shines like a jewel on the edge of an escarpment known as Mogollon Rim. The shady campground is spacious and situated near the cool lake water -- very important on a hot summer day. Paddling around the still-placid waters in a canoe or inflatable zodiac is a perfect way to escape the desert heat.
Don't miss it: Tie a hammock between a couple of trees and sway gently in the mountain breeze. It doesn't get any better!
Directions: To access the lake, turn west from SR 260 onto FR 300 and follow the signs.
More info: Tonto Basin Ranger District, 520-467-3200

10. Bluffs overlooking Lake Roosevelt
Sierra Ancha Wilderness
Adventure-seekers with a desire to take the path less-traveled need look no further: The Sierra Ancha Wilderness offers deep canyons and unparalleled desert vistas. High on the bluffs north of Lake Roosevelt are many natural campsites that border some of the steepest canyons imaginable. The road is rough and requires high ground clearance, but is effective in keeping tourists at bay.
Don't miss it: This is one of my favorite places to sit out one of those fierce Arizona monsoons (summer rains). The wind and rain pummel the bluffs unmercifully, usually leaving a trail of rainbows in their wake.
Directions: Take SR 88 from Globe, turning north when you encounter SR 288. Turn left at the junction of FR 488 just after climbing up from the desert floor.
More info: Tonto Basin Ranger District, 520-467-3200

11. Workman Creek
Sierra Ancha Wilderness
The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is one of the least known and visited areas of Arizona. Workman Creek is a beautiful stream that flows year-round through a tall, stately, ponderosa pine forest. In this idyllic paradise, the absence of an organized campground is an attraction. Natural campsites are widely interspersed along the bubbling brook. One of my favorite summer pastimes is reading a long book while watching hummingbirds work the flowers lining the sides of the meandering creek.
Don't miss it: A short hike upstream brings you to Workman Creek Falls, which plunges off a sheer precipice on a 100-foot journey to the valley below.
Directions: Take FR 487 west from SR 288 (Globe-Young Highway) to reach the creek.
More info: Pleasant Valley Ranger District, 520-462-3311

12. Burro Creek
Just northwest of the Joshua Tree Forest on SR 93, a modern suspension bridge spans a deep chasm called Burro Creek. As you might have surmised from the name, it's a likely location to encounter a feral burro. The sturdy pack animals were introduced to the area around 1860 when mining commenced on Big Sandy River and Burro Creek. Those accidentally released from servitude found an environment suitable for survival. I find that over the years, many things at Burro Creek are unchanged. The campground is generally full of modern-day miners, or "rockhounds," who comb the sides of the canyon searching for bentonite, an absorbent whitish clay composed of aluminum silicate. Burro Creek is also a favorite hunting ground for opals, agate and Apache tears. Standing on the side of the stream, I hear the distant braying of a feral burro. Minerals and burros: At Burro Creek, some things never change.
Directions: Take SR 93 south out of Wickiup until you see the sign for the campground.
More info: Kingman Area Resource Office, BLM 520-757-3161

13. Temple Bar
Lake Mead
While the ecological laments concerning the damming of the Colorado River seem to be continually voiced, one cannot argue about the impact of the resulting desert lakes. Beautiful blue water contrasts with red-rock canyon walls to create a mesmerizing visual statement. The impact of mile after mile of cool water on the local population of a desert community cannot be underestimated. The campground at Temple Bar on Lake Mead allows desert dwellers to play in the chilly water, surrounded by spectacular canyon grandeur. Boating, swimming, jet skiing, sailing -- all the usual water activities abound. The campground is situated conveniently close to the boat ramp, allowing us to worship at one of the premier shrines to aquatic sports in the country.
Directions: Take SR 93 north from Kingman, then turn right on Temple Bar Road.
More info: Lake Mead National Recreation Headquarters, 702-293-8990

14. North Rim
Grand Canyon National Park
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park has some distinct advantages over the South Rim; one is a higher elevation. At 8,200 feet, the edge of the rim is lined with aspen trees, scrub oak and maple. Summertime temperatures are much cooler than those encountered at the South Rim. Deer graze in lush, open meadows bordered by giant blue spruce. The campground is central to all the usual activities, such as hiking, sightseeing and photographing the spectacular mile-deep chasm. Available services include a gas station, grocery store, showers and laundry.
Directions: Take SR 67 out of Jacob Lake south until you reach the park.
More info: Grand Canyon National Park, 520-638-7888

15. East Fork of the Black River
A group of five mule deer stand midstream. Momentarily halting the movement of my fly rod, I stop to watch. They look straight at me, then lower their heads to drink. After a leisurely respite in the stream, they wander up through the grass on the opposite bank, then enter the tall ponderosa pine forest. Returning my gaze to the bubbling stream, I see the furtive movements of foot-long trout below the surface. While the fish are worthy opponents, persistence is usually rewarded along the banks of the Black River. Behind me, my daughter calls lazily from her hammock for someone to retrieve a cold drink from the ice chest. Some distance upstream, I see a camper reading a book while dangling her feet in the icy water. Almost all of the campsites are streamside -- there is no better place to spend a summer day.
Directions: Take SR 191 north from Alpine and turn east on FR 249. Drive for five miles to the junction of FR 276. Turn south and follow 276 to the campground.
More info: Alpine Ranger District, 520-339-4384

16. Alamo Lake State Park
A northern harrier swoops down along the shore, looking for dinner. American coots swimming peacefully on the placid lake now are aware danger is near. They take evasive action by swimming frantically to a cove filled with partially submerged trees. I train my binoculars on the almost-hovering harrier as he bobs up and down, attempting to nab a coot. As the raptor nears, the coots escape by diving underwater. I watch this hypnotic dance of life and death for nearly two minutes until a tired coot is greeted by a steel-taloned embrace on his return to the surface. The victorious harrier heads to the shore carrying his hard-earned meal. I find Alamo Lake to be one of the premier wildlife viewing locations in the state. Bald eagles, coyotes, feral burros, egrets, herons -- the number of resident and migratory species is too large to list. The campground is large and the facilities are complete with showers.
Don't miss it: As with all desert lakes, fishing is a prime attraction.
Directions: Take SR 60 to Wenden and turn north on Alamo Dam Road. Continue for 38 miles until you reach the park entrance.
More info: Alamo Lake State Park, 520-669-2088

17. Alamo Canyon (backcountry)
Organ Pipe National Monument
This is the sole backcountry campground inside the National Monument and contains only four campsites. It is also one of the most dramatic locations to pitch a tent in the Sonoran Desert. The hike from nearby Alamo Canyon has left me exhausted and hungry. As I gaze with wonder at the lush beauty of the surrounding desert, I realize how fortunate I am to be one of the few campers to enjoy the coming twilight.
Don't miss it: The rubescent hues of sunset paint the steep walls of the Ajo Range a startling, almost garish shade of red. The spines covering the long arms of the organ pipe cacti seem to be afire.
Directions: Take SR 85 south from Gila Bend. Inquire at the Organ Pipe Visitor Center about the backcountry campsites at Alamo Canyon.
More info: Organ Pipe National Monument, 520-387-6849

18. Hannagan Meadow
White Mountains
Blazing yellow aspen leaves spiral around me in a slow dance of the fall season. Melodic chords carry through the forest on a frosty wind. The elk are bugling; their beautiful song comes from all directions. Hannagan Meadow, set high in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, is one of the premier alpine settings in the state. The campground is spacious and located in the midst of a thick stand of pines. While my favorite time to visit is the fall, the meadow is an ideal summer beat-the-heat destination.
Don't miss it: For the patient visitor, wildlife watching can be rewarding. In addition to elk and deer, wild turkeys and an occasional bear can be spotted.
Directions: Take SR 191 south from Alpine until you reach the campground.
More info: Alpine Ranger District, 520-339-4384

19. Bonita Creek
Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
My breath crystallizes in the frozen air as I wind through a dense thicket of prickly pear on my way to the edge of the bluff. Midstream, a single blue heron stands motionless, suspended over the water on a single leg. A golden mist rises from the water, backlit as the first rays of sunlight illuminate the canyon. I stand transfixed, until the heron drops its leg, slowly spreads its wings and lifts off in slow, deliberate flight.
The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area was created to protect Bonita Creek and the fragile riparian habitats of the Gila and San Francisco rivers. Bonita Creek offers many pristine, natural campsites beneath towering sycamores and massive cottonwoods.
Don't miss it: An isolated location makes Gila Box and Bonita Creek prime locations for viewing wildlife. Bears and big horned sheep are just a few of the species to be seen.
Directions: Take SR 60 to Globe; from there take Highway 70 to Safford. From Safford follow 191 east, turning left on Sanchez Road near Solomon. Sanchez Road turns briefly to dirt as it crosses the bridge on the Gila River. Continue on Sanchez Road until you see the sign indicating the left turn to Gila Box.
More info: Safford Ranger District, 520-428-4040

20. Cochise Stronghold
Dragoon Mountains in southern Arizona
A "stronghold," as defined by the Chiricahua Apaches of Cochise's time, was a mountainous area where the Indians could both hide and be able to see the approach of intruders from any direction. At the heart of the Dragoon Mountains in southern Arizona are two geographically opposed strongholds: the West Stronghold, and to the east, the Cochise Stronghold, named for the famed Apache chief. On his deathbed, Cochise requested he be taken to the rugged and rocky terrain that that had afforded frequent sanctuary. A sign at the entrance to the campground commemorates his death in 1874. Heavily wooded campsites offer protection from the Arizona heat, while trails lead into the heart of the stronghold. Birdwatching is a popular activity at the campground.
Don't miss it: Inspiring views of the Dragoons from the top of the stronghold.
Directions: Take SR 191 south from Interstate 10, then turn right on Ironwood Road. Continue for about eight miles to the campground.
More info: Douglas Ranger District, 520-364-3468

21. Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Cottonwood
Smack in the middle of the town of Cottonwood is a centrally located campground that offers numerous activities. Nestled under stands of massive cottonwood trees on the edges of the Verde River, this modern camping facility is an oasis in the midst of one of Arizona's fastest-growing communities. The park's lagoon offers catfish, bass and trout fishing; other anglers prefer the solitude along the river. The park also provides hiking, interpretive and equestrian trails. Access to the blazing red rock of Sedona, the Sinaguan Indian ruins at Tuzigoot, and the ghost town of Jerome, make this campground a popular year-round destination.
Directions: From the junction of SR 89A and SR 260, head northwest on 89A to milepost 353 and turn left onto Main Street. Turn right onto N. 10th Street from Main to reach the park entrance.
More info: Dead Horse Ranch State Park, 520-634-5283

22. Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Unlimited shoreline camping make Lake Pleasant a popular year-round destination. As with all desert lakes, it is alive with the sounds of aquatic sports during the summer season. Jet skiing, fishing, boating, swimming and sailing rank as favorites. The fishing can be quite stimulating, as the lake holds the state record for white bass; for avid fishermen, bass tournaments are held on Wednesdays and weekends. Wildlife viewing is another favored activity, with lucky visitors catching a glimpse of a bald eagle.
Don't miss it: Find a secluded spot on the shoreline for a late afternoon swim and early evening barbecue while soaking up the finer points of an Arizona sunset.
Directions: Take the Lake Pleasant exit on Interstate 17 and drive west 15 miles to reach the park.
More info: Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department, 602-780-9875


23. Cave Springs
Oak Creek Canyon
Oak Creek Canyon has a well-deserved reputation for its vast wealth of scenic beauty -- and the Cave Springs Campground offers one of the finest Oak Creek experiences possible. Many of the sites border the creek itself, but don't worry if you can't snag one of those for yourself. There are many things to do to keep you busy. My personal favorite is a leisurely hike up maple-lined West Fork. Take a thrilling ride down the moss-covered chute at Slide Rock State Park or ride your mountain bike up (and down) infamous Submarine Rock. Grasshopper Point affords relaxation under massive sycamore trees. The possibilities are endless.
Directions: Take SR 89 south out of Flagstaff. Cave Springs is about one mile south of the Pine Flat Campground.
More info: Sedona Ranger District, 520-282-4119

24. Grapevine (group campground)
Lake Roosevelt
Notorious as one of the nation's premier inland states, Arizona has long boasted the largest per-capita boat ownership in the country. On a broiling summer day, one glance at the blue waters of Roosevelt may convince you they're all on the lake at one time. Not to worry, the vast waters are large enough to provide wet relief for everyone. Jet and water skiing, sailing, swimming or fishing, there is something for everybody. The spacious campground at Grapevine provides large groups of campers with modern facilities. Boat ramps are about five miles away at Windy Hill.
Directions: Take SR 288 out of Globe and turn right onto FR 84 to get to the campground.
More info: Tonto Basin Ranger District, 520-467-3200

25. Tortilla Flats on the Apache Trail
I call Tortilla the "in-between campground": It's located between the Four Peaks and Superstition Wilderness areas, and between Canyon and Apache Lakes. Take a short walk up to the tourist attractions at Tortilla Flat. Stop into the Old West saloon for a drink or take a fascinating look into a box of live rattlesnakes. Nearby Canyon Lake is the most scenic of the desert lakes along Apache Trail, and offers the best wildlife watching opportunities. Big horned sheep and mountain lions have been seen on the steep cliffs bordering the blue waters. The Apache Trail offers travelers views of a lifetime -- and smack in the middle is the "in-between campground" at Tortilla.
Don't miss it: One of my favorite activities in the area is to hike into the Superstition Wilderness at Fish Creek. Rugged and steep, Fish Creek is a maze of boulders immersed in a tangle of sycamore and cottonwoods.
Directions: Take SR 88 out of Apache Junction past Canyon Lake to reach the campground.
More info: Mesa Ranger District, 602-379-644

26. Peppersauce Canyon on Mt. Lemmon
The passageway ahead appears awfully narrow, but I've watched three people squeeze through. Just as I pull my hips free from the constricting corridor, my flashlight dies. Alone in the absolute, jet black, not-able-to-see-my-hand-in-front-of-my-face darkness, panic begins to snowball and threatens to become a full-fledged avalanche. I smack the light against the wall and it pops back on. As my pulse slows, I remember I have two back-up lights in my fanny pack. Feeling foolish, I scramble to catch up with my companions. Maybe spelunking is not an appropriate activity for a mild claustrophobe like myself.
Peppersauce Cave stretches for miles beneath the bulk of Mt. Lemmon, and the wooded campground at Peppersauce Canyon provides adventurous spelunkers with a beautiful base of operations. (Caution: Never enter a cave without proper equipment and an experienced guide.)
Directions: Take FR 38 out of the town of Oracle to reach the campsite.
More info: Santa Catalina Ranger District, 520-749-8700

27. Havasu Canyon (backcountry)
Grand Canyon National Park
Turquoise water splashes over countless travertine terraces. The roaring stream beside me plunges off 75-foot precipices as it thunders to a wide pool. The rock on the perpendicular canyon wall mimics the water; it seems frozen in mid-wave. Walking slowly onto the sandy beach at waters edge, I plop down on a towel. The roar of Havasu Falls lulls me toward sleep; maybe I'll climb down to Mooney Falls tomorrow.
The campground at Havasu can be reached only after negotiating a 10-mile trail through the Grand Canyon and the scenic Indian village at Supai. The sites are small, but you won't want to spend much time there anyway. Havasu Creek cascades over five unique and picturesque waterfalls as it courses to the Colorado River. Three of them, Navajo, Havasu and Mooney, fall within the jurisdiction of the Havasupai tribe. Exploring the creek through a virtual paradise is the backpack trip of a lifetime.
Directions: Contact the tribe at the number below for information and reservations
More info: Havasupai Tourist Enterprises, 520-448-2121

28. Granite Basin
Prescott
Just outside the city of Prescott is an outdoor paradise offering a cornucopia of activities. If angling is your sport, cast a line into the sheltered enclave of Granite Lake. Technical rock climbers are fascinated by the endless routes (with all degrees of difficulty) traversing the steep inclines of Granite Mountain. Hikers can be alone with their thoughts in the Granite Mountain Wilderness. The campground at Granite Basin is located at 5,600 feet in the heart of this outdoor Garden of Eden.
Directions: In Prescott, take Gurley Street west to Grove Avenue. Follow Grove to Iron Springs Road and turn left. From Iron Springs, turn left onto FR 374 and follow it for four miles until you reach the campground.
More info: Bradshaw Ranger District, 520-445-7253

29. Sheep's Crossing
Tonto National Forest
In 1943, the Flagstaff Sheep Company fabricated Red Point Sheep Bridge to minimize losses when herds crossed the unpredictable Verde River. After years of use by local cowboys and sheep ranchers, it was declared a safety hazard and disassembled. The state of Arizona, noting the suspension bridge's historical significance, later had it reassembled, creating a bizarre backcountry destination. Although the camping facilities are undeveloped, many beautiful, natural campsites can be found along the Verde River.
Don't miss it: Relax in the bubbling, natural hot springs found on the northwestern side of the river.
Directions: Take FR 24 north out of the Cave Creek area for 33 miles until you reach the Bloody Basin junction. Turn east on FR 269. This road is not maintained and requires a vehicle with high ground clearance, but fantastic desert scenery makes the bumps less noticeable.
More info: Cave Creek Ranger District, 602-488-3441

30. Seven Springs
Tonto National Forest
A perennial, crystal clear stream, towering sycamore and cottonwood trees are all ingredients that lend themselves to form a pristine summer getaway for desert dwellers. The stream is too shallow to present a danger to children above the age of toddler, so the sound of laughing and splashing along the shores of Cave Creek is a constant serenade. Several short trails originate from the campground.
Don't miss it: A small and secluded sandy beach about a half mile upstream is one of my favorite spot to while away a sunny afternoon. Tying up a hammock in the heavily wooded campground and reading a good book is another attractive alternative.
Directions: From Carefree, take Cave Creek Road north for 24 miles to reach the campground.
More info: Cave Creek Ranger District 602-488-3441

31. Bright Angel Campground
Grand Canyon backcountry
For a while the spectacular ever-changing views compensate for the pounding my legs an knees take as I descend the long trail. As the miles roll by, the pack on my back seems heavier, and my quadriceps begin to burn. To me, hiking continually downhill always seems more taxing than the uphill journey. At the end of the 18 miles trail, the campground at Bright Angel awaits, shining in the growing dark like a beacon to my weary and battered body. This is certainly one of those situations where the destination is as rewarding as the journey. Located in the amazing inner gorge, Bright Angel is one of the most incredible backpacking campsites in the world.
Don't miss it: The canyon walls glow deep, glorious shades of reds as twilight slowly encroaches on the day.
Directions: Bright Angel can be reached from the south rim on the Bright Angel trail, or the from the north rim via the Kaibab trail.
More info:Grand Canyon NP 520-638-7875


32. Horseshoe Reservoir
Cave Creek
Boaters, fishermen, birdwatchers, and hikers are all attracted by the recreational opportunities available at Horseshoe Reservoir. Although this is a wonderful place to do some quiet fishing, my favorite activity is bird watching. Bald and golden eagles are often sighted in the tops of the tall sycamores. I have spent many an hour leaning back in a lawn chair watching an eagle's activity with binoculars. The spacious campground is located in a thick and lush mesquite thicket. So bring your boat, fishing rod, hiking boots and binoculars; Horseshoe has got it all.
Don't miss it: Across the dam is some of the wildest and isolated country in the state; determined bushwhackers may be rewarded by a fleeting glimpse of a lion or bobcat.
Directions: Take Cave Creek Road from carefree and turn right on FR 19. Turn left on FR 205 and drive to the junction of FR 205A. Turn right to reach the campground.
More info:Cave Creek Ranger District 602-488-3441

33. Upper Canyon Creek
Pleasant Valley
The wind gusting through the tall ponderosa pines whispers something I can't quite make out. The leaves caught in the current of the bubbling creek make lazy circles in the eddy below. Just beneath the surface, silent shadows of elusive brown trout periodically catch my eye. Canyon Creek lies in the shadow of the Mogollon Rim, offering solitude and peace (and an occasional trout) to those who seek to escape the beaten path. The backcountry campsites are dispersed along the creek.
Miss it: Intermittent visits from the local bruin population require the usual precautions. (After all, this isn't Jellystone and that large black bear pawing through my food box isn't Yogi.)
Directions: Take FR512 toward Young from SR260. Turn left onto FR33 to reach the campground.
More info:Pleasant Valley ranger District 520-462-3311

34. Cutthroat at Big Lake
White Mountains
There is a place where ponderosa pine and quaking aspen trees surround the azure water of a wide and gentle lake. Deer and elk come down to drink the clear water and the fish, well, they jump right into your boat. No, this place isn't in Colorado or even Wyoming, but is high in the White Mountains of Arizona at Big Lake. And while at Big Lake, I prefer to avoid the cavalcade of RVs by camping in the "tents only" campground at Cutthroat. Facilities at Cutthroat are modern and the visitor center offers scheduled programs. For alpine camping and fishing, it is hard to beat Big Lake. (Oh, by the way. I was just kidding about the fish jumping right into your boat; you actually have to fish for them.)
Don't miss it: My favorite activity is floating around the lake in a rented boat, while my daughter prefers renting a horse for a leisurely ride through the green aspens.
Directions: Take SR260 from Eager, turning south at the junction of SR 261. Follow the signs for Big Lake.
More info: Springerville Ranger District 520-333-4372

35. Picacho Peak State Park
South of Phoenix A field of golden desert poppies carpets the desert floor, swirling in a slight breeze. The blue bells of desert lupine are interspersed amongst the undulating yellow cover of flowers. Pale, pink mountain mallow glisten sporadically in the washes. Saguaro cactus and green palo verde trees rise up from the bajada ahead. Towering over the entire scene, solitary and majestic, is Picacho Peak. Located on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, the campground offers a convenient spot for travel weary visitors to rest and enjoy a spectacular desert vista. More adventurous travelers may want to hike to the top of the peak.
Don't miss it: The desert in springtime is an inspiring sight, and the one the best places to view it is at Picacho Peak State Park.
Directions: Look for the Picacho Peak exit on I-10 about 40 miles south of Phoenix.
More info: Picacho Peak Sate Park 520-446-3183

36. Lost Dutchman State Park
Superstition Mountains The name Jacob Walz, known as the "Lost Dutchman," is one of the most famous in Arizona lore. His mythical gold mine, buried deep in the aptly named Superstition Mountains, still fascinates treasure-seekers today. Geologists and park rangers insist there is no gold to be found in the Superstitions, but this doesn't stop scores of professional and amateur prospectors from scouring the hillsides and draws in search of the lost mine. The campground at the base of the mountains offers a fantastic view of the legendary mountain range, as well as a perfect starting point for hikes through scenic desert vistas.
Don't miss it: My favorite hike is the Siphon Draw Trail that climbs to the top of the mountain range, affording awe-inspiring views of the surrounding wilderness.
Directions: Take the Apache Trail (SR 88) out of Apache Junction and turn right at the sign for the park.
More info: Lost Dutchman State Park, 602-982-4485

37. Bog Spring
Madera Canyon
Serious birdwatchers flock to southern Arizona from all over the country to add to their life-lists. Fabulous Madera Canyon is one of their most popular destinations, as the lush canyon attracts a variety of species. Watch as a vermilion flycatcher does his bat imitation in the pursuit of airborne insects. Listen as a pyrrhuloxia (also known as a gray cardinal) announces your presence with a loud alarm. Monsoon rains in late summer sometimes precede an explosion of colorful butterflies in this mountain oasis. The canyon also offers hikers many choices with over 65 miles of trails. The cool, wooded campground proffers shaded campsites and a nature trail.
Directions: Take the Madera Canyon exit east from Interstate 19. Follow the signs to the campground.
More info: Nogales Ranger District, 520-281-2296

38. Patagonia Lake State Park
Southern Arizona
Moderate year-round temperatures and wooded, lakeside campsites are the attractions. A swimming beach and paved boat ramp are available, and nearby Sonoita Creek Trail offers recreation for hikers. As with all state parks, the modern facilities include showers.
Don't miss it: My favorite activity is floating around the placid waters in a rented boat -- while pretending to fish.
Directions: Take SR 82 from Nogales. At milepost 12, turn west onto a paved access road until you reach the park.
More info: Patagonia Lake State Park, 520-287-6965

39. Hawley Lake
East of McNary
First light barely penetrates the tent fly. I roll out of my sleeping bag, crawl through the door and grab my rod 'n' reel. I hear the faint cries of distant coyotes carried on the still morning air as I barefoot gingerly down to the shore. The smooth surface of the lake reflects the rich reds of sunrise as I rear back and send out a near-perfect cast. My fly sends out a series of small ripples when it alights on the water. A trout rises up and takes the fly almost immediately. Ah, breakfast on the hook. Where can you fish right out of your front door? You guessed it, here at Hawley Lake. The campsites are arranged around its edge, giving campers a feeling of near-isolation even when the campground is full. Gotta go; the frying pan is hot!
Directions: Take SR 260 east from McNary. Turn right on Route 473 and drive until you get to the campground.
More info: White Mountain Apache Reservation, 520-338-4385

40. Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
Southern Arizona
It sometimes seems more liquid than flora: When the wind gusts, the grass ebbs and flows around my knees like the tide. Moving in, then sucking out. I watch a single gust of wind sweep across the grass like a wave in a turbulent sea. Radiating a golden luminescence in the fading sun, the rolling grasslands cascade against the distant mountains. I'm standing on dry land in the middle of an ocean at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, while obviously a place to observe a plethora of wildlife, offers a pristine camping experience in the savannahs of southern Arizona. All camping is backcountry and is permitted only at designated sites. A multitude of roads crisscross the deserted countryside, allowing travelers to find complete isolation.
Directions: Take SR 86 from Interstate 19; turn south on SR 286. Continue until you reach the sign for the refuge.
More info: Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, 520-823-4251

41. West Stronghold
Dragoon Mountains in southeastern Arizona
It's easy to see why Apache chieftain Cochise chose to hide in the Dragoon Mountains while waging his personal war on white settlers. The Dragoons are a veritable maze of granite spires, yawning crevices and abrupt precipices. Balancing rocks and boulders, the size of small houses, are sprinkled across steep hillsides. Cochise successfully evaded the U.S. Army and lived comfortably off the land while holed up in the friendly confines of the West Stronghold for years.
When I think about it, I realize I like the Stronghold for the same reasons. I can disappear from the maddening crowds, and although I don't exactly live off the land, I enjoy camping here. There is no organized campground, but there is an abundance of natural campsites. Hole up next to the stream, surrounded by massive sycamores and barren canyon walls. Or withdraw to the wide, rolling grasslands that seem to cascade against the mountains. In the West Stronghold, the choices are abundant.
Directions: Take Middle March Road east from SR 80 just north of Tombstone. Turn left onto FR 687 and follow the signs.
More info: Douglas Ranger District, 520-364-3468

42. Idlewild
Chiricahua Mountains in southern Arizona
The Chiricahua Mountains are one of the most famous of the "sky islands" in southern Arizona, rising from the desert floor to elevations up to 9,600 feet. Components of the Sonoran Desert, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madres come together to create a unique combination of flora and fauna that has captivated the scientific community for decades. Every spring, the Cave Creek section comes under scrutiny as birders descend into this ecological melting pot attempting to catch a glimpse of the elegant trogon. With a spectacular red breast and green metallic feathers on its upper parts, the trogon is one of the few tropical species in the continental United States.
Other rare species also are known to inhabit the Cave Creek area. Idlewild's close proximity to the Southwest Research Center (managed by the Museum of Natural History in New York) makes it an excellent base of operations for birdwatchers.
Directions: Take SR 80 south from Interstate 10, then turn west to Portal. From Portal, take FR 42 west for two miles to the campground.
More info: Douglas Ranger District, 520-364-3468

43. Cattail Cove State Park
Lake Havasu
On a lake where rambunctious boat parties are common, this park offers one of the quieter camping experiences. Nice views of Lake Havasu are afforded by most of the somewhat smallish campsites. But visitors come for the boating and swimming, which are easily facilitated by a boat ramp, jetty and dock. After all, with the lake adding humidity to one of the state's hottest temperature zones, hanging around the campground is the last thing you'll want to do. The facilities are superb, with showers, a horseshoe pit and a playground for children.
Directions: Take SR 95 south from Lake Havasu City. Turn right at the sign for the park. Campsites can be accessed from any of the boat ramps on Lake Havasu, or from the boat ramp in the park.
More info: Cattail Cove State Park, 520-855-1223

44. Cattail Cove Boat-In
Lake Havasu
My friend Bob is riding the wake of the boat on a pair of water skis. The cool breeze washes over me as we skim the calm waters of Lake Havasu. I'm searching the shoreline for a secluded cove in which to set up camp. Spotting a likely location, I yell back toward Bob and point. Swerving toward the shore, Bob releases the line and coasts in. The east shore of Lake Havasu is your oyster -- if you have a boat and camping supplies. The 140 campsites that can be accessed only by boat are spread over 15 miles of shoreline and offer a unique camping experience. Bob and I set up camp and return to the water for more skiing. Tonight, we'll watch the stars come out and wait for the moon while pork chops sizzle on the barbecue.
Directions: Take SR 95 south from Lake Havasu City. Turn right at the sign for the park.
More info: Cattail Cove State Park, 520-855-1223

45. Potato Patch on Mingus Mountain
Jerome
Without a doubt, ghost towning is one of the most popular activities in the state; abandoned mining camps are spread across the entire territory. Many were literal flashes-in-the-pan: A quick strike quickly played out and the residents disappeared. Where precious metals were found in larger quantities, more enduring towns were established.Jerome, on Mingus Mountain, is one the most picturesque of these mining communities. Built directly on the steep mountainsides, some of the ramshackle buildings slide a few feet down the hillside every year. Much of the town has been restored and thrives as an artist's colony and one of the state's top tourist attractions.
Potato Patch is the closest campground to the bustling town. It rests high on the mountain, offering tall ponderosa pines as shelter to those seeking rest after a day of shopping in old Jerome. Hiking in nearby Woodchute Wilderness is another popular pastime.
Don't miss it: Spend an evening waiting for Elvis or Jimmy Hoffa to appear while nursing a beer in the Spirit Room (one of my favorite haunts in Jerome). Then watch the stars twinkle through the pine boughs while stretched out on the ground at Potato Patch.
Directions: Take SR 89 west out of Jerome until you see the sign for the campground.
More info: Verde Ranger District, 520-567-4121

46. Lynx Lake
Prescott
Striking it rich: Thoughts of wealth fill my mind as I strain for a flash of gold in the swirling muddy water and gravel of a handheld pan. Although my labors are in vain this day, there's something hypnotic about the whirlpooling vortex. I'm outside the popular retirement community of Prescott, at the forested retreat of Lynx Lake. Golden morning sunlight streams through tall ponderosa pines lining the lake's edges. Fishermen in boats appear silently suspended in the morning mist. While gold panning is a popular diversion, fishing is the main attraction at this destination.
Directions: Take the Walker Road turn-off about five miles outside Prescott. Follow Walker Road to the campground.
More info: Bradshaw Ranger District, 520-445-7253

47. Pinery Canyon
Chiricahua National Monument
So, the Bonita Campground at the Chiricahua National Monument is full and you had your heart set on spending the weekend hiking the monument's numerous trails? There's an easy and beautiful solution: Pinery Canyon. It's cool and spacious, without the crowd of RVs that populate the monument. Located in towering pines, you have a great opportunity to see wildlife after returning from a hard day of hiking. Bears are known to roam Pinery Canyon, so appropriate precautions must be taken. (For me, a visit from the local bruins adds excitement to a pristine camping experience.) You'll find it's not necessary to go to the monument to find superior trails. Ida Peak and Pinery Horsefall are just two of the excellent hiking opportunities.
Directions: Take SR 196 south to its junction with SR 181. Turn left on SR 186 until you see the sign for Pinery Canyon (FR 42), just outside the entrance to the monument. Take FR 42 up to the campground.
More info: Douglas Ranger District, 520-364-3468

48. Honeymoon
It's not necessary to be newly married to stay at the Honeymoon Campground. But now that I think about it, maybe a honeymoon in this wooded paradise is a good idea. (The name originates from the time a ranger brought his new bride to Eagle Creek.) The real attraction here is the remote location and a plethora of wildlife viewing opportunities. Over several years and visits, I've viewed javelina, turkeys, coyotes and bobcats in the surrounding wilderness. Hiking on East Eagle Creek and Robinson Mesa trails offers entertaining diversions. Oh, a bit of advice: Be sure your bride wasn't expecting Hawaii before you decide to honeymoon at the campground.
Directions: Head north on SR 191 from Clifton. Take FR 217 for 21 miles to reach the campground.
More info: Clifton Ranger Station, 520-687-1301

49. Burnt Corral at Apache Lake
Arizonians love their desert lakes, and one the most spectacular is Apache Lake along the Apache Trail. The long, narrow body of water allows boaters access to remote desert wilderness. The Burnt Corral Campground offers aquatic sports enthusiasts the opportunity to moor their boat right at campsite, as the sites line the eastern shore of the lake. Shade from the sweltering summer sun is at a minimum, but the cool lake water is only a few feet away.
Don't miss it: The drive up Apache Trail is one of the most scenic and breathtaking in Arizona.
Directions: Take SR 88 north from Apache Junction to reach the campsite.
More info: Tonto Basin Ranger District, 520-467-3200

50. Bonito
I look upward and marvel at the profile of the multi-storied structure as it embraces the clear, azure sky. Built entirely of red sandstone, the Wukoki Ruin at Wupatki seems to be on fire as the rising sun envelops more and more of the building. You don't have to be an anthropologist to be fascinated by the ruins of ancient Indian cultures. Here at Wupatki, you can observe the remains of the Anasazi and Sinagua architecture constructed almost 900 years ago. Bonito is the closest campground to pitch a tent while exploring the ruins. It has all the amenities, such as paved roads and an auditorium for campfire programs.
Directions: Take SR 89 north from Flagstaff for 12 miles. Turn east on FR 545 to reach the campground.
More info: Peaks Ranger Station, 520-526-0866


Comments

Dispersed Camping near Bullhead City Arizona

I was there abt 18 years ago, walked over hwy 163 from Laughlin to Bullhead and stayed at this place by a muddy creek, near the airport. Does anyone know where it is? Thanks

Posted on July 18, 2012 - 11:36am
by Donna

Safe Tent Camping

Are there grounds in AZ where you can pitch a tent and have enough nearby bathrooms/showers? Nice climate...How about electricity and water at each site? Security? If so, let me know. Are you laughing by now?

Posted on April 23, 2011 - 8:39am
by NoRuffStuff4Me

Safe Tent Camping

There are numerous parks and private camp stops (KOA etc) for bathrooms, showers, etc. You'll just have to do your research. Security depends on where in Arizona you're at. I live in Tempe and travel to all parts of the state on motorcycle with trailer and dog. I've never yet encountered a dangerous person, excepting police, who one can never tell what they'll be like here. If you are a person of color, notably brown, its best to stay away from Maricopa County, where the Sheriff is well-known for his race based raids and traffic stops. Other than that, Arizona folks are pretty friendly and helpful. In Arizona, never count on water, always carry your own. Make a shower from a one-gallon $10.00 bug sprayer (Lowes or the other guy); add hot/cold water, pump it up and spray yourself. Works like a charm. Bring shade and a GPS, a Cell Phone and let people know where you're traveling. People die here in the desert.

Posted on September 2, 2011 - 2:44pm
by Visitor

Best Fall Camping

I was hoping to camp at Lockett Meadow the first week or two in October, but it's closed for the season and also because of the Schultz fire.

Can anyone tell me another good place to camp to see fall colors, in a fairly isolated area. Preferably not hiking in too far since we have some babies with us. Just want a nice spot to pitch a tent and see some good color. Thanks!

Posted on September 27, 2010 - 11:10am
by Magnum

Best camping in So AZ in February?

We are avid campers and backpackers and are looking for places to car camp anywhere near Tuscon in February. Any favorites for that time of year?

Posted on November 29, 2009 - 2:12pm
by Visitor

MARBLE CANYON

the lees ferry/ marble canyon campgrounds are so peaceful and relaxing, i grew up on the reservation near there and have explored many of the canyons down to the river and there are also some terrific hike in camp spots, but 2 years ago the Boy Scouts of America totally trashed the old Wagon Trail across lees ferry, after a week long camping fishing trip during spring break. the old wagon trail is located on the navajo reservation and if you have a vehicle with high clearance and preferably 4x4 its a good campground and fishing spot. but please clean up after yourselves and call rangers asap if you see the Tuba City Mormon chapter Boy Scouts there! they should be banned for life! or anyone trashing any beautiful place!

happy camping

Posted on November 18, 2009 - 11:19am
by Rezrunner

Overrun

I realize this website was last updated in 2000, but it is postings like these that ruin it for the ones of us that know where, or should I say...used to know where all these pristine spots were located. I also realize that some "good" people were just trying to spread the word for all good people....but unfortunately that is not the case.....most fo the above sites have been closed because of peoples' bad habits....garbage, litter, refuse, and of course the all destructing ATV....

One Sad Nature lover......

Posted on October 1, 2009 - 5:50pm
by Visitor

dispersed camping rules

Camping is ONLY permitted at established campgrounds in the Rims Lake Recreation Area, including Woods Canyon Lake. Additionaly, established sites are VERY popular on holiday weekends, it can be tricky to get an established spot without a reservation on holiday weekends during the summer. What I recommend is following the "dispersed camping" guidelines and camp roadside along the old rim road - you need to drive about 20 to 45 min. away from woods canyon lake to find the "free" spots. Old Rim Road has absolutely gorgeous scenery and the part near woods canyon lake is well maintained and suitable for passenger cars. Some of the old rim road further on is NOT suitable for passenger cars, especially if it has recently rained so plan accordingly and turn around if it is getting too rough for you! There are detailed maps and information from the ranger station just before the turnoff for woods canyon lake if you want additional details about dispersed camping rules.

Posted on August 26, 2008 - 12:11pm
by Visitor

Woods Canyon Lake

Some of the best camping I have ever done was the dispersed camping past Woods Canyon. We found a spot near another lake that is hike in only. Very private. And it is FREE!!

Posted on June 5, 2009 - 2:48pm
by Rich

Lake Near Woods Canyon

Would you be referring to Bear Canyon Lake...U can drive through an old abandoned quarry and reach the East end of Bear Canyon lake, before you get the "official" turnoff....it is nice and very quiet...at least until more people find out about it....last time I was there...we had to leave at 11:00 pm, because someone was doing target practice with a high powered rifle...and of course shooting toward the road....must have been all the budweiser cans, shall we say, that strayed his judgement of safe and prudent....

Good Luck

Posted on October 1, 2009 - 5:53pm
by Visitor

Woods Canyon Lake

I am not a huge camper. My brother and I want to take out family's camping next weekend and I am not sure where I can go without having to make reservations and without paying a lot of money just to set up a tent.
I would like to go to Woods Canyon Lake. Do you have to pay money just to set up a tent somewhere around the lake???

Thanks for your time,
James Fitzpatrick

Posted on August 23, 2008 - 8:19am
by Visitor

no you do not have to pay at

no you do not have to pay at all, one of the few places left you dont have to pay, i am also going up that way this weekend

Posted on August 30, 2010 - 7:40pm
by jarod

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