Outdoor Adventures

Arizona’s Secret Campsites

Where prospectors once sought gold in "them thar hills," today's adventurers find treasures of their own at Arizona's hidden-gem campgrounds.

In a state that ranges from sunny lowland deserts to snow-clad mountain peaks, there's hardly a day of the year that isn't perfect camping weather somewhere in Arizona. Whether you opt to park your RV or pitch your tent in a state park, a national monument or a national forest, you'll find plenty of campgrounds waiting to be discovered all across the state.

Escape the crowds in Central Arizona

For more than a century, adventurous prospectors have scoured the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix in search of the fabled Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. While the gold mine remains elusive, the Superstitions are now home to a hidden gem of a campground at Lost Dutchman State Park. In springtime, Mexican gold poppies and other wildflowers paint this park's hillsides with bold swaths of color.

In the heart of Arizona's fabled red-rock country, not far from Sedona but far from the often-full campsites of Oak Creek Canyon, you'll find Clear Creek Campground, where campers enjoy a fine summertime swimming hole and ample fishing spots.

The Grand Canyon may be the granddaddy of Arizona camping destinations, but the national park's main campgrounds are so popular that many people reserve campsites six months in advance.

For a Grand Canyon camping experience without the crowds, head to Lees Ferry Campground, roughly midway between the South Rim and the North Rim. This Colorado River camping spot, deep in a scenic canyon filled with strange balanced rocks, is known both for its trophy trout and as the put-in point for rafting trips through the Grand Canyon.

For stalwart adventurers with a sturdy SUV, Tuweep Campground at Toroweap (open seasonally) provides a unique and isolated cliff-edge camping experience within Grand Canyon National Park. The catch is you need to apply for a back-country permit prior to arriving, and you have to drive a 60-mile dirt road that is infamous for causing flat tires.

Camp where summer spends the winter

While the lower Colorado River region frequently posts the highest temperatures in the nation, Lake Havasu camping areas and campgrounds along the river are magnets for anglers and boaters both in winter and summer.

If you've got your own boat, there's no better place to camp than at one of Cattail Cove State Park's boat-in sites on the shores of Lake Havasu. Of the park's 32 boat-in sites, the Three Dunes Campground, with its giant sand dunes, offers the perfect combination of sand, sunshine and water.

Not far downriver, near the community of Parker, red-rock hills on the banks of the free-flowing Colorado River flank the campsites at River Island State Park.

In the southern part of the state, two national monuments provide off-the-beaten-path camping options. In Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the tent-only Alamo Canyon Campground, deep in the monument's rugged Ajo Mountains, is a remote and little-visited gem of a campground.

Over in the southeast corner of the state, in Chiricahua National Monument, Bonita Canyon Campground provides an opportunity to camp in an area known as the "Land of Standing Up Rocks."

Across the Sulphur Springs Valley from Chiricahua National Monument, huge granite boulders surround the campsites (open September through May only) at Cochise Stronghold Campground. Here you can search for the hidden grave of Apache chief Cochise.

Head for the hills to beat the heat

When temperatures in the state's desert areas begin to climb, campgrounds in the White Mountains offer respite from the heat. If you prefer tent camping to RVing, head to tent-only Cutthroat Campground, one of five national forest campgrounds on Big Lake, not far from Greer.

If you're willing to drive a bit farther into the mountains, you can camp beside mountain meadows at KP Cienega Campground, which, at almost 9,000 feet in elevation, is one of the highest and, in summer, coolest campgrounds in the state.

About the Author

Karl Samson

Although he lives in Oregon, for more than 20 years Karl Samson has been escaping his home state's rainy winter weather to dry out in sunny Arizona. He is the author of the Frommer's Arizona guidebook and has also written about Arizona for Sunset magazine.