Free Tent Camping in Arizona – National Forests, BLM, and WMA’s

This is my morning view from camp in the Sitgreaves National Forest.

 

Camping vacations are a great way to go when you want to get away with your family and friends, and stay within a budget. In this guide to free tent camping in Arizona, you will learn the places that you can set your tent for no fee and resources that will help you in general to find beautiful and tranquil places to camp in Arizona.  I have researched and compiled the free camping sites in the Arizona  National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, and the Wildlife Management Areas..  Note the Arizona State parks are amazing places to camp as well, but all of these include a fee..

 

>>>Click here to see paid campgrounds in the AZ State Parks>>>>

 

Contents

Benefits of Free

Many folks do camp in private or public campgrounds, so typically the free areas are going to be very quiet in comparison.  In my opinion, the solitude alone is worth spending the extra time to find a free campground. There are many locations in AZ that are remote, not well known and have a lower amount of visitors.

 

Adventure is another benefit to camping for free.  Some no fee areas are so remote they require 4 wheel drive or backpacking into it.  I know of some campgrounds in the White Mountains that could go a year or two with no occupancy.  However, you do rough it a bit more; tt is typical for no fee camping spots to not include amenities like a toilet, hook-ups or trash.

 

With free camping areas, you get to experience nature in its fullest and will be immersed in the pristine, rustic, and wild nature.  You can see the stars better without the light pollution from nearby towns or the lights from your own camping neighbors.   You also get the opportunity to practice Leave No Trace principles regarding your campsite and toilet duty.

Arizona National Forests

There are SIX National Forests in Arizona that cover  15% of  the State;  including mountains, plateaus and even large areas of desert between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Arizona’s  National Forests is an excellent choice if you want to camp for free.  The National Forests provide many locations for dispersed camping and serve as  a great base for exploring other Arizona national and state parks.

National Forest Traits

  • National forests are public lands that mostly consist of forests and woodlands.
  • Owned by the federal government, (Really means they are owned by us).
  • National forests are managed by the USDA National Forest Service for lumber, grazing, minerals, and recreation.
  • National forests are managed and preserved, but are more for use.
  • National forests have the same breathtaking scenery as the National Parks.
  • Typically means no amenities like water, restrooms or trash cans.
  • In Arizona, there are more opportunities to camp in the National Forest vs. a National Park.

For each National Forest in AZ, I have included a description of the area and a link to the specific dispersed campground (s).

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

 

Our AOA camps are held here – so this is my favorite National Forest.  The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests offers beautiful areas to camp; ranging from low to high elevation, lakeside to forested and primitive to developed. The more developed campgrounds have electrical hookups and dump stations for RV or trailer camping, while the more primitive campsites may only have a toilet.

You can camp outside of recreational areas anywhere on the Forest at no charge If you do decide to camp outside these areas, be sure to bring adequate water or be prepared to purify any water source before drinking. Also, remember if you pack it in, then pack it out, don’t leave your trash for others to clean up. No permits are required to camp in Wilderness areas.

Click Here to the  list of the  Dispersed Camping in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest:

 

Coconino National Forest 

 

The Coconino National Forest tops as one of the most diverse National Forests in the country with landscapes ranging from the red rocks of Sedona to Ponderosa pine forests, from southwestern desert to alpine tundra.  For the adventure fitness enthusiasts,  the Coconino would be an excellent choice.  From Rock climbing at Jacks Canyon to fishing at Marshall Lake, there are a plethora of recreational opportunities.

 

Click Here for a list of the dispersed campgrounds in the Coconino National Forest.

Coronado National Forest

There is plenty of room to camp and play on the 1.78 million acres of the Coronado National Forest which spreads throughout the mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The elevation ranges from 3,000 feet to 10,720 feet in twelve scattered mountain ranges aka “sky islands” that rise dramatically from the desert floor. Due to this, the plant life is as biologically diverse as those you’ll come across on a trip from Mexico to Canada.

The Coronado National Forest has eight wilderness areas, where you can enjoy camping, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing.   You can camp for free outside of the developed areas across most of the Coronado National Forest. You can stop in at one of the five ranger stations to pick up a free travel map to see where your vehicle is permitted.

 

Click Here for a list of the dispersed campgrounds in the Coronado National Forest

Kaibab National Forest

 

A picturesque gem located in northern Arizona, the Kaibab National Forest ranges from 5,500 feet in the southwest to a high of 10,418 feet on near the east boundary./  The Kaibab National Forest is an ideal place to camp if you want to soak in the breathtaking Arizona landscape. The forest is especially impressive in the fall when the aspens have changed color. Be prepared to see herds of bison among other wildlife including turkeys, deer, and even Buffalo!

The majority of the ranger districts in the KNF is open to dispersed camping.  Exceptions could be if it’s too close to a developed campground or a natural/cultural resource.

Click Here for a list of the dispersed campgrounds in the Kaibab National Forest.

Prescott National Forest

 

The Prescott National Forest sits on a pristine 1.25 million acres located in north central Arizona near Prescott, AZ.  There are also eight designated wilderness areas that comprise more than 104,000 acres within the Prescott National Forest.

No matter where you decide to set up camp- you will have a blast! With the varying elevations and the abundant lakes and mountains, there are many opportunities to climb, camp, hike, bike, ride horseback and fish.   If you also want to sightsee while you’re in the area, Prescott has a great downtown!

Click Here for a list of the dispersed campgrounds in the Prescott National Forest.

 

 

The Tonto National Forest

You can stay right along this river.

 

Tonto National Forest has nearly 3 million acres of rugged and astonishingly beautiful country; vegetation ranging from the Saguaro cactus to pine forests. The Tonto National Forest is the fifth largest forest in the US and is also one of the most-visited (approximately 5.8 million visitors annually). This forest borders Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.

The different elevations (from 1,300 to 7,900 feet) provide outstanding recreational opportunities year round, whether it’s camping in the cool pine forest or swinging in a hammock on one of the lake beaches.

Click Here for a list of the dispersed campgrounds in the Tonto National Forest.

 

Bureau of Land Management 

The Bureau of Land Management is part of the Department of the Interior and manages close to 250 million acres of land,- mainly for preservation.  A good portion of  BLM land is permitted to ranchers for grazing livestock, but there are still plenty of areas to camp for free.  The BLM has 245 Million acres of public land to play and camp on.  Out of this acreage, we have In Arizona-  12 million acres available for public use.

You can search their interactive map here to find a free camping area that suits your needs.

 

A BLM search brings up 60 camp areas- but not all of them are free. The stay limit for Dispersed camping on BLM land is 14 days and many of the camp sites are along the secondary roads and might not be marked at all.  Those sites that are real popular are usually given away by large flat areas.  (However, not all flat areas are camping sites however).  The BLM encourages campers to use existing sites as much as possible.

A search for Arizona and camping will bring up 60 results on the BLM site.  When I typed in free or dispersed, there were no more than 3 results.   I called the BLM office as well and spoke with a representative there that told me all of the campsites that have fees are listed.  So, with this said my lists should be accurate.  If you do end up going to one of the ones that are noted as free and have to pay, please let me know so I can update my content!  Of course your help is greatly appreciated. 😊

I went through all 60 of these camping areas to see which ones you can camp for free.  (This is how much I love Encouraging people to get outdoors)!!

·      Arizona National Scenic Trail

·      Dos Cabezas Mountains Wilderness

·      Little Pan Staging Area

·      Harquahala Byway Staging Area

·      Mittry Lake Wildlife Area

·      Shores

·      Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

·      Gunsight Wash

·      Tres Alamos Wilderness

·      Paiute Wilderness Area

·      Upper Burro Creek Wilderness

·      Peloncillo Mountains Wilderness

·      Margies Cove West Campground

·      Mount Nutt Wilderness

·      Senator Wash North Shore

·      Mount Tipton Wilderness

·      South Maricopa Mountains Wilderness Area

·      Windy Point Recreation Site

·      Christmas

·      Mount Logan Wilderness Area

·      San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

·      Badger Springs Trailhead

·      Standard Wash OHV Area

·      Homestead Climbing Area

·      Turkey Creek

·      Squaw Lake Campground

·      Wabayuma Peak Wilderness

·      White Pocket Trailhead

·      Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

·      Muleshoe Ranch

·      Baker Canyon Wilderness Study Area

·      Parker Strip Recreation Area

·      Senator Wash South Shore

·      Agua Fria National Monument

·      Ironwood Forest National Monument

·      Boulders OHV Staging Area

·      Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area

·      Hereford Trailhead

·      Round Mountain Rockhound Area

·      Crossroads Campground

·      Burro Creek Recreation Site

·      North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness Area

·      Vermilion Cliffs National Monument – AZ

·      Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

·      Redfield Canyon Wilderness

Fees noted on the BLM Site

·      Windy Point Campground

·      Wild Cow Springs Campground

·      Squaw Lake Campground

·      Oxbow Recreation and Wildlife Area

·      Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and Campground

·      Squaw Lake Campground and Boat Launch

·      Lake Havasu Shoreline Sites

·      Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area

·      Indian Bread Rocks Picnic Area

·      La Posa Long Term Visitor Area

·      Virgin River Canyon Recreation Management Area

 

The types of recreation vary from each location, but depending on where you camp you can enjoy  boating, hiking, fishing, birding, archaeology just to name a few. There are places to RV Camp, Car Camp, or Tent Camp.  If you prefer to go on a Day Trip, you can do this as well.  Many of these sites have day use areas to escape the rat race and the Phoenix heat.

 

Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)

 

 

Wildlife Management Areas are tracts of land set aside for the conservation of wildlife, preservation of local habitats, and for recreational activities like hunting and fishing.

If you type in Arizona and wildlife management area, you may get a mish mash of information.  I ran into the same thing so I went ahead and gave AZ Game and Fish a call.  The lady I spoke with said that there are various agencies that work together to manage and protect the WMA’s in Arizona.  So these areas can be a mix of BLM, National Forests, and State Parks.

These WMA’s listed below are places you can camp and are managed by the AZ G&F in partnership with other agencies.

There are 32 WMA’s listed on the AZ G&F site- and you do not know which ones offer camping unless you go into each link.  (At least from what I saw on their website).  So, again I went ahead and looked at each one individually. The WMA’s listed below offer camping and do not have a fee listed on the description.  Click here to access any of the WMA’s below.

  • Arivaca Lake Wildlife Viewing Area- Primitive camping
  • Bog Hole Wildlife Area -No camping on site- but is surrounded by National Forests
  • Cluff Ranch Wildlife Area – Camping allowed in designated areas and 14 day limit
  • May Memorial Wildlife Area– Access is limited. Please contact the department’s Region V Office for more information
  • Mittry Lake Wildlife Area- No “official” camping spot- but it is allowed. Call Bureau of Land Management Yuma Field Office at (928) 317-3200 for more information.
  • Raymond Wildlife Area– Camping is permitted year round
  • Sunflower Flat Wildlife Area- overnight camping will be a permitted activity within the wildlife area.
  • Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area- Camping in designated areas
  • Willcox Playa Wildlife Area – Overnight public camping is allowed in designated areas

Here are places you cannot  camp- but way too awesome to leave out of my list.  These are excellent places to visit for a  Day Trip and can all be accessed HERE.

  • Arlington Wildlife Area
  • Wenima Wildlife Area
  • Becker Lake Wildlife Area (Excellent for Fishing)
  • Chevelon Canyon Wildlife Area

 

Summary

The camping and recreation in Arizona is in my opinion some of the best in the U.S.   The campgrounds in the Arizona National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, and Wildlife Management Areas offer a huge abundance of opportunity to explore and take advantage of.   I am truly grateful for all of the lands we have for public use.

If you have special places that I left out- please leave me a note!  Your comments/feedback/questions are always greatly appreciated.

 

Be a Happy Camper!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *