Dispersed Camping in Arizona

If the first thing you think of when someone mentions the US is cowboys, red rock formations, vast expanses of uninhabited land (well, possibly inhabited by bison), and the Grand Canyon – you’re thinking of Arizona.

This US state is all about the curious ways in which nature arranges the terrain, giving you an impression that humans here are just visitors that get to come along for a ride for a while.

It’s not often that you get an opportunity to witness and take pictures of one of the new seven wonders of the world one moment and then get back to your cozy RV for an ice-cold beer the next.

Whether you plan to go there by RV, on horseback, or on foot – you can rest assured that Arizona will be the place that will give you plenty of options to approach dispersed camping.

Overview

Fall in Arizona

Home to the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Jaguarundi (a particularly grumpy-looking wild cat), the Arizona Ridge Nosed Rattlesnake, and the hottest capital in the United States with an average of 100F from June through September, Arizona is a state that will make you awe-struck and also sweaty.

For this reason, carrying copious amounts of water with you wherever you go is always a must, but I’ll address this further down, in some of the passages below. For the record, the tap water in Arizona is safe to drink for the most part, but it’s the overall access to it that’s creating a problem for the local authorities.

The town of Flagstaff, which is tucked away snugly in the mountains and almost entirely covered by the beautiful ponderosa pine, represents a major gateway to the Grand Canyon. Even though it is the most developed human habitat for miles around, this city, too, has the appearance of a place that lives in some sort of special accord with the surrounding nature.

How to Find Dispersed Camping Spots in Arizona 

Nature in Arizona

Since Arizona is quite large, has breathtaking nature, is home to one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and doesn’t have a large population – it’s no wonder that it abounds in all kinds of cool camping spots that include both desert-like areas and snow-covered mountain peaks.

The thing is, even if you were simply to drive into Flagstaff and ask around, you will get a pretty good idea of where you can camp. There are so many camping spots that you will likely find it difficult to choose one over the other.

That said, if you want to make the selection process easier, picking up an app can be an excellent place to start. It allows you to browse through the different camping spots, see the pictures taken by folks who were already there, and get an idea of what amenities you can expect to find there.

Here are three of the best free camping apps that you can use for this:

The Dyrt – An easy-to-use app that lets your filters find dispersed campsites, RV-friendly campsites, etc.

Campendium – Based mostly on user reviews, this website and app allow you to find the best campgrounds across the country.

Freecampsites.net – This is dedicated entirely on discovering and marking dispersed campsites.

Best Dispersed Camping Areas in Arizona

Cactus in Arizona

Dry, hot, with plenty of red rock formations that look like you’ve been teleported to Mars. The state plant is the giant saguaro cactus. Guess what the state bird is? Cactus wren. You get the idea.

Plenty of cacti, not much water, and vast expanses of pretty much nothing but beautiful, untouched nature – Yup, Arizona is quite a ‘deserty‘ place.

You might think that the wren occasionally landing on a particularly inviting giant saguaro cactus is the only living organism moving around here, but Arizona is pretty much packed with campers all year round.

Despite the serious water shortages in the entire state, campers still flock to Arizona to witness first-hand the nature that you would struggle to find anywhere else in the world. 

In the section below, we’ll list the best-dispersed camping spots in the proud state of Arizona. As you will see, it’s not all desert and not much else, as Arizona is home to quite a few environmental wonders.

Coconino Rim Road

Grand Canyon National Park
  • Map
  • Toilets: No (pit toilets available at the nearby Grandview Lookout Point)
  • Water Availability: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Busy

Many of the best-dispersed camping spots in the state of Arizona revolve around the Grand Canyon National Park. This is not a coincidence, as the park itself offers some of the most gorgeous natural sights you can see anywhere in the world.

A great way to see this global wonder, but also avoid guided tours and retain your dispersed camping freedom would be to pitch a tent along the south rim of the Canyon.

What’s more, this camping area is only accessible from the Grand Canyon National Park – it only depends on whether you want to approach it from the west (from Grand Canyon village), or east (the town of Cameron).

Some of the points of interest near this place would include the Grandview Lookout Tower, as well as the Grandview Trail.

It’s important to come well-prepared with plenty of food and water, as the nearest place where you can get some is Grand Canyon Village, which is not that close. (We highly recommend visiting this place, too, as it’s home to some beautiful rustic buildings and friendly folks. Also, you’ll get to learn more about the Grand Canyon and possibly get some memorabilia.)

Freidlein Prairie

Coconino national forest Arizona
  • Map
  • Toilets: No
  • Water Availability: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

Featuring 14 different dispersed camping areas, the Freidlein Prairie camping ground can be a great gateway to the town of Flagstaff. So, if you want to intersperse spending some time in an urban area with some high-quality dispersed camping, this prairie would certainly be an interesting option to take into consideration.

Another point of interest in the vicinity of both Flagstaff and this Freidlein camping area would be Humphrey’s Trail No. 151, a steep mountain path that leads to the highest point in Arizona.

Along this 5.5-mile mountain trail, you can see Arizona which you perhaps didn’t even know existed. Gorgeous green alpine forests, bristlecone pines that have been bent into their curious shapes by frosty storms and violent wind gusts, as well as many avalanche tracks remain clues to some of the more dramatic weather episodes from this area’s past. 

As far as the amenities at the Freidlein Prairie campground are concerned, there is a fire ring for every individual campsite, and there’s a place for at least one tent. 

Given the rough terrain and narrow roads that lead to this campsite, approaching it with a large RV is not recommended.

Here’s a campground map that can come in handy if you want to explore this area in more detail. 

Prescott Basin

Prescott Arizona
  • Map
  • Toilets: No
  • Water Availability: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

The entire Prescott Basin represents one large camping & hiking opportunity. Whether you fancy parking your RV alongside a creek, pitching a tent in a woody area, or hiking along a picturesque route and then getting to rest in your tent for a while – the Prescott Basin area can be just the thing for you.

Even though this article is dedicated to dispersed camping, we cannot help but mention the fantastic Wolf Creek Falls hiking route. Perfect for casual hikers, folks who just like to tag along and take photos, kids, and pets – this hiking trail is not too demanding but gives so much in return in terms of the beauty of surrounding nature. 

You can take a photo at any given random moment along this trail and you will end up with a wallpaper-worthy shot.

Anyway, swinging back to the Prescott Basin campsites, similarly to most other areas in Arizona – there’s no developed or dedicated potable water source, so be sure to bring your water with you. Also, there aren’t any restrooms and, as far as RVs are concerned, most campsites are generally accessible with small-to-moderate-sized vehicles.

For more information, it’s always the best course of action to consult the Prescott Basin local USFS office. Also, this detailed Prescott Basin dispersed camping map & guide issued by the USFS can be of great use to you if you plan to visit this area.

Sedona

Surrounded by tranquil pine forests, steep craggy canyons, and some of the most fantastic red rock formations you will see anywhere in the world, Sedona is a picturesque and charming desert town. It features art-inclined culture, quite a few spas, and many art shops – small and big.

Most importantly, Sedona represents a treasure trove of great dispersed camping spots.

There are so many campgrounds around this town that you will probably struggle to pick just one place for your stay. Whether it’s kid-friendly campsites near the city where you can get your supplies quickly or some RV-friendly pull outs along forest paths you’re into – you will undoubtedly find it in Sedona.

There is an entire network of great forest roads and desert off-road pullouts where you can park your RV or pitch your tent. Places such as Schnebly Hill Road, Pumphouse Wash (along Forest Service Road 237), or Angel Valley road (for those looking for more of an off-road desert camping experience) offer great views and plenty of space. 

Sedona is the hub for many of these camping spots because of its proximity to the town. If you need to restock your supplies or perhaps check out one of the many local art shows, popping back to civilization can be a great option.  For more information, read our guide to dispersed camping near Sedona.

Upper Canyon Creek

Upper Canyon Creek
  • Map
  • Toilets: Vault toilets 
  • Water Availability: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Busy

If you would like to combine some fly fishing in a clear creek where you can catch some feisty rainbow trout, with some good ole dispersed camping – this area can be just the place where you want to be.

Mind you, there is also a massive fish hatchery here, called Canyon Creek Hatchery but fishing here is prohibited. The fish species that this place aims to preserve mostly centers on the Gila trout, which is an endangered species that naturally lives in the creeks of the Upper Canyon.

As far as the campsites here are concerned, you can expect to find some vault toilets, but no potable water, so make sure to bring some of your own.

An alternative solution to the ever-present water problem would be to bring along a water filter so you can extract some water from the nearby creeks and filter it. That said, it’s still strongly recommended you bring along a source of potable water anyway.

Regarding vehicle accessibility, the roads are not paved, but thanks to the rather high visitor frequency (mostly fishermen), the roads are smooth and in pretty good condition. That said, if you plan to venture further into the Tonto National Forest onboard a vehicle, using a high-clearance 4×4 is highly recommended.

Gardner Canyon Road

Coronado National Forest
  • Map
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water Availability: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Busy

Located in the scenic and hike-friendly Coronado National Forest, Gardner Canyon Road can be a great place to pitch your tent or park your RV.

Despite this road winding through a forest, along the south side of it, there are a couple of pretty large pull-outs where there is more than enough space to park an RV rig – even a particularly large one.

This open space is not strictly limited to RVs, as it can easily accommodate tents and trailers. As for amenities, this place doesn’t have any. That said, there are a couple of fire rings, so you can start a fire whenever you feel like it – but do avoid making new fire pits, as the folks at BLM frown on this practice and look to discourage campers from doing this.

Also, before leaving the camping ground, make sure to put out any fires you may have started.

One thing that this campsite is well-known for is the rather well-maintained, smooth roads. If you’re a proud owner of an RV, or a similar vehicle that is rather large (and especially if it has a low clearance), this campground can be just the place for you.

Here’s the link to MVUMs (Motor Vehicle Use Maps) for this area developed by the USFS.

Indian Bread Rocks

Dos Cabezas
Photo by Cris7ianedu4rdo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Map
  • Toilets: Vault toilet
  • Water Availability: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

If you’re into RV camping and you like the idea of finding a spot in an otherwise busy and popular camping area – then heading to Indian Bread Rocks is a must.

Since this place was and still is a well-beloved picnic area, you will find some picnic tables here and a vault toilet. That said, there aren’t any water sources nearby, so make sure to bring a lot of water – the climate can be quite taxing here.

This camping area is entirely situated on BLM land and near the Dos Cabezas Mountains (meaning ‘two heads’ in Spanish, referencing its curious-looking two granite peaks), just south of the I-10 interstate.

In terms of the fun activities you can enjoy in this area, what most visitors find so appealing is the option to camp peacefully in your RV or tent and the great mountainous expanse of the Dos Cabezas that’s open for exploration. Once you’re done figuring out the elevated mountain paths for the day, you can enjoy some of the prettiest night skies in the US..

If this ‘two-headed’ mountain range sounds like an inviting prospect to you, you might want to check out this interactive map for more details.  

Saddle Mountain Overlook

Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Map
  • Toilets: No
  • Water Availability: No
  • Visitor Frequency: Busy

With enough space to house about five different campsites, this dispersed camping area is only about an hour’s drive from the North Rim Entrance Station – a site that’s worth an entire section of its own, mostly due to the vast natural beauty that lies ahead, but also thanks to its attention-captivating wooden entrance, for the record.

You may want to consider that the campsites are fairly tightly-packed together, so there’s not much privacy. That said, if you’re looking for fantastic views and photo ops that you can use to capture some of the most breathtaking shots of the Grand Canyon, this place is where you want to be.

For the record, Saddle Mountain Overlook doesn’t feature any water sources or other amenities. So, if you want to visit this picturesque place – make sure to bring everything and the kitchen sink with you.

Last but not least – the road leading up to this location is largely made out of large pieces of gravel, so do expect a bumpy ride en route to one of the five camping spots overlooking the Canyon.

Here’s an interactive map of this mountainous area that can make finding your way around it easier and give you some idea of what the elevation and some of the other geographical parameters are.

Where in Arizona Can You Camp?

Forest Area in Arizona

Regarding the parts of Arizona that are available for dispersed camping, rest assured that you will have a tough time running out of space to explore. 

Hundreds of thousands of acres of ‘campable’ land are managed and overseen by the two most important US federal agencies – the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and USFS (US Forest Service). For the most part, the rules and regulations issued by these two overlap when it comes to camping (for example, the article that explains how long you can stay at a single camping location).

That said, depending on where in Arizona you plan to pitch your tent or park your RV (or, both), finding out who’s in charge of that particular patch of land is quite important. Both BLM and USFS have a well-organized online presence, so you won’t have any trouble finding all the latest relevant pieces of info regarding the latest updates on rules and regulations regarding camping. (Also, we’ll provide all the important links in the passages below.)

The reason why this is important is because the changes in climate, weather, camping frequency, and local projects all affect the state and availability of different camping areas.

So, if an area has become quite popular in recent years, the local BLM authorities could have imposed a camping fee and new restrictions. For this reason, getting to know the state of affairs regarding these two organizations before you set out to find a camping spot is strongly recommended.

In addition to these two organizations, there is a third authority in Arizona that oversees about 13% of land – the Arizona State Land Trust.

Here are some important pieces of information about these three:

Bureau of Land Management Arizona

Grasslands in Arizona

If you’ve been looking for a cool camping spot anywhere in the US before, chances are – you’re already well-familiar with how the BLM works and what to expect on BLM Arizona land.

If not, here’s a brief rundown of the rules that you have to respect if you want to free-camp in a BLM area:

  •  Dispersed camping is allowed in a public area for no more than 14 days within a 30-day period. The way you arrange your schedule around this rule is entirely up to you. For example, you can camp for a fortnight and then leave, or camp for a couple of days here and there – as long as the total of days camped within that month is not greater than 14.
  •  Leaving your belongings at a single location unattended for longer than 10 days is prohibited.
  • If possible, the BLM encourages dispersed campers to use already-existing free camping spots. This unwritten rule aims to minimize the impact that camping has on the local ecosystems and wildlife.
  • An important notice: The rules and regulations surrounding different areas administered by BLM can vary somewhat. To learn about the current BLM rules and camping instructions for the area you’re interested in, contact the local BLM office. Here is the list of the BLM offices in Arizona:  

For further reference, you can check out the BLM’s official webpage, section – Camping on Public Land.

United States Forest Service Arizona 

Monument Valley in Arizona

Arizona is one of the feq US states that is almost entirely covered by one major National Forest or the other. This is why, other than the BLM, USFS plays a major role in overseeing and administering the areas that belong to the National Forests.

Despite being well-known for its Grand Canyon, majestic dry red rock formations, and mountains, Arizona is also home to snow-covered mountain peaks and some cold weather areas. This may come as a surprise to many folks, especially since Arizona is a state with the capital that has the hottest climate in the US.

While the rules of camping across the USFS-administered land tend to be quite uniform, there are some slight variations in each of the National Forests – mostly depending on the current weather conditions, but also on some other factors.

As the case is with the BLM’s rules, the best way to approach camping on USFS land is to get acquainted with the rules and regulations of the specific National Forest service on which land you plan to camp.

Here is the list of Arizona’s six National Forests complete with the links to official dispersed camping guidelines for each:

Arizona State Land Trust – Dispersed Camping

Other than the two major land-administering authorities in BLM and USFS, Arizona also has a special, third official organization for land management – Arizona State Land Trust.

Anyway, long story short, to camp on land where the folks from Arizona State Land Trust are in charge, you’ll need a special permit they issue.

The great news is, the list of rules is not that long, quite reasonable, and on top of it all – it’s inexpensive. At most, you’re looking at something like $20 for an entire year, so it’s dirt cheap. 

Here’s a link to the actual Recreational Permit Form that you’ll be filling out. 

Rules & Regulations of Dispersed Camping

Camper in Arizona

While free camping is notably free of the majority of fees, and reservations, and on the very opposite end of the camping spectrum from the so-called ‘glamping’, this doesn’t mean that you can just pitch a tent in the middle of the desert and do what you want.

Depending on who is in charge of the area you want to camp in, there are typically some rules and regulations that campers are encouraged to adhere to and observe. This is to preserve the environment and leave the area looking as close as possible to its original state.

This means that you shouldn’t alter anything you find on the camping ground for the worse. But authorities such as BLM, for example, also frown upon what many folks consider positive changes, such as building new fire circles and encampments, and clearing an area of weeds, plants, or setting animal traps.

To help campers get a clearer idea of what not to do, authorities refer visitors to the Leave No Trace camping principles. Whether you’re in Arizona or Alaska, these 7 principles apply pretty much everywhere and will make you a welcomed visitor wherever you plan to go camping next.

Here are some of the most important rules of camping issued by the USFS:

  • Don’t make campsites bigger than necessary.
  • Use existing fire circles and pits whenever available. Avoid making new ones.
  •  As a dispersed camper – do not camp near developed campgrounds, trailheads, and designated picnic areas.
  •  Check if you’re allowed to make campfires with local authorities.
  • When making campfires, make sure they are completely extinguished before you leave.
  • You are allowed to camp for 14 days within one month at a single location.
  • Respect the local wildlife.
  •  Try to camp in clear areas where you won’t affect the plants or other vegetation.
  • Be respectful of other campers, hikers, and visitors.

If you are interested in learning more, here’s everything you need to know about dispersed camping.

Conclusion

Arizona’s got it all, whether you want vast deserted expanses, scenic and tranquil areas with low growth and tumbleweeds, or RV-friendly pullouts alongside mountain roads.

Add to that the absolute superstar of a tourist attraction that is the Grand Canyon and you have a place that no one should miss out on – from cozy glampers with highly-customized RVs, to dispersed campers looking to find an adventure in the middle of a desert.

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