19 Best Dispersed Camping Places in Arizona (free campsites)

Dispersed camping is free camping anywhere outside of a designated campground. No amenities, hosts, or clearly marked sites. Arizona has tons of natural beauty, so where is the best dispersed camping in Arizona?

Some of the best dispersed camping areas in Arizona include:

  1. Coconino National Forest: Rich in biodiversity and scenic vistas.
  2. Mogollon Rim: Offers elevated panoramic views and dense forests.
  3. Freidlein Prairie
  4. Badger Creek Overlook
  5. Harshaw Road

But those are only 5 of the top 19 places I selected below.

This type of camping allows you to fully immerse yourself in the diverse beauty of the Grand Canyon State. From the vast deserts to the lush forests, Arizona offers an array of dispersed camping spots for every adventurer’s preference. In almost every case, this type of camping will be free, but always double-check the area before you go.

Embrace the freedom of exploring the great outdoors and create unforgettable memories on your next camping trip.

Short Summary

  • Explore 19 of the best dispersed camping spots in Arizona, offering seclusion and a closer connection to nature.
  • Obtain necessary permits and follow regulations for responsible camping on public lands managed by US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.
  • Dispersed Camping may be free or require fees depending on land management agency.

What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed camping is a type of camping that takes place on public lands outside of a developed campground, offering a more remote and primitive experience.

It could be simply parking your RV somewhere off-road in a national forest. But it could also refer to hiking into the backcountry and pitching a tent.

But either way, don’t expect any of the following:

  • Electricity
  • Water
  • Showers
  • Toilets
  • Fire Pits
  • Picnic Tables
  • Fees

Camping this way is a top pick for folks craving some alone time and a deeper bond with the great outdoors, minus the hustle and facilities of regular camp spots.

Free camping spots also offer regular campers a price break from the usual RV parks or a developed campground where all the comforts of home are there (for a price).

Arizona, famous for its warm weather, stunning landscapes, and jaw-dropping views, boasts a bunch of spots ideal for this kind of camping adventure. With a variety of dispersed camping options available, you’re sure to find the ideal location for your outdoor escape.

While dispersed camping offers a more rustic experience, it’s essential to be prepared as there are no developed or dedicated potable water sources and no restrooms available.

Activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and fishing are available at various dispersed camping areas in Arizona, allowing you to fully experience the beauty of the state.

1. Schnebly Hill Road

Schnebly Hill Road, located near Sedona, offers a stunning red rock canyon view and shaded campsites for an unforgettable dispersed camping experience.

This scenic camping area is perfect for those who wish to immerse themselves in the picturesque surroundings of Sedona, which is renowned for its charming desert town surrounded by pine forests, steep craggy canyons, and red rock formations.

However, it’s important to note that Schnebly Hill Road is well-frequented and may be bustling and clamorous.

It is a favored destination for jeep tours, OHV riders, and RV campers, which can contribute to the noise. Despite this, the spectacular views and unique landscape make Schnebly Hill Road a must-visit for any Arizona dispersed camping enthusiast.

2. Saddle Mountain Overlook

Saddle Mountain Overlook, located on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, provides a secluded dispersed camping experience with approximately five campsites. These campsites offer stunning views of the Grand Canyon and an opportunity to truly connect with nature in one of the world’s most iconic landscapes.

Getting to the overlook involves tackling some tough grounds, so a vehicle with good ground clearance is your best bet. Heads up, though: Saddle Mountain Overlook doesn’t offer water or other conveniences, so make sure you pack everything you’ll need.

The challenging drive and lack of amenities are a small price to pay for the incredible views and solitude offered by this dispersed camping spot.

3. Edge of the World

Located near Flagstaff, Edge of the World is a renowned dispersed camping spot that offers breathtaking views of the Red Rock Wilderness. The access road to this camping area is rough and winding, making it an adventure just to reach the stunning campsites.

Despite its popularity, Edge of the World maintains a sense of solitude, as it is sufficiently distant from Sedona and Flagstaff to ensure minimal light pollution, allowing for exceedingly dark night skies and exceptionally bright stars.

However, the most desirable campsites can fill up quickly, so it’s recommended to arrive early to secure your spot.

4. Coconino Rim Road

Coconino Rim Road, located near the Grand Canyon National Park, offers a unique dispersed camping experience with easy navigation and ample space for campers. The area is accessible by traveling from Grand Canyon Village to the west, or from the town of Cameron to the east.

Although no services are provided at Coconino Rim Road, with the exception of a vault toilet located at the Grandview Lookout Tower, the camping area offers a serene and beautiful experience for those seeking a more rustic adventure.

Campers should come prepared with an abundance of food and water, as the closest place to procure supplies is Grand Canyon Village.

5. Freidlein Prairie

Nestled near Flagstaff, Freidlein Prairie provides 14 dispersed campsites, each equipped with vehicle pads, a fire ring, and a tent pad. These free campsites are not appropriate for recreational vehicles, and campers wanting water hookups or trash disposal services should look elsewhere.

This makes Freidlein Prairie an ideal option for those seeking a more primitive camping experience in a beautiful and serene setting.

6. Plomosa Road

Plomosa Road, located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to the north of the town of Quartzsite, Arizona, offers a desert camping experience for those seeking a more remote and rugged adventure.

The area provides a unique dispersed camping experience in a stark and beautiful landscape.

While a permit is necessary for camping at Plomosa Road, the area remains a popular choice for dispersed camping enthusiasts due to its striking surroundings and sense of solitude. It’s important to note that there are no amenities available at Plomosa Road, so campers must come prepared with their own supplies.

7. Palm Canyon Road

Palm Canyon Road is a dispersed camping area within the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, an expansive and isolated wildlife refuge in Arizona. The refuge offers a high degree of privacy and solitude, making it an ideal choice for those seeking a peaceful and remote camping experience.

The dirt access roads within the refuge are maintained throughout the year and are suitable for recreational vehicles, though large rigs may wish to consider camping closer to Highway 95 as the roads may become more challenging the further one travels towards the mountains.

With its unique landscape and abundant wildlife, Palm Canyon Road is a must-visit destination for dispersed campers.

8. Badger Creek Overlook

Badger Creek Overlook, situated on land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management near the Vermillion Cliffs, provides a tranquil dispersed camping environment, complemented by expansive views of the cliffs and the Colorado River.

This location is ideal for individuals seeking a serene and visually appealing camping location with sufficient space for setup.

However, potential campers should be aware that Badger Creek Overlook lacks shade, and the region can occasionally experience strong winds.

Despite these challenges, the stunning views and sense of solitude make this dispersed camping spot a must-visit for any Arizona adventurer.

10. Hackamore Road

Hackamore Road, located near Patagonia, offers a dispersed camping experience in a picturesque desert landscape. This spot is great for taking in the views and diving into Patagonia’s old mining tales.

Just a heads up: the place does see its fair share of work trucks and border patrol cruising by, so it might get a tad noisy during daylight hours.

11. Gardner Canyon Road

Gardner Canyon Road, nestled in the Coronado National Forest of southern Arizona, presents lovely dispersed camping spots for those after a peaceful and scenic getaway. Thanks to the well-kept roads, reaching and settling into this beautiful area is a breeze.

Though Gardner Canyon Road doesn’t come with amenities, it’s a prime choice for those who are at ease with the basics of dry camping.

It is recommended that campers extinguish any fires they have started prior to departing Gardner Canyon Road to help preserve the pristine environment.

12. Loy Butte Road Dispersed Camping

Loy Butte Road, located in the Coconino National Forest, offers stunning views of the mountains and a picturesque sunset for dispersed camping enthusiasts. A 4WD vehicle is suggested for traversing the gravelly and mildly challenging roads to Loy Butte Road Dispersed Camping.

This spot doesn’t offer facilities or drinkable water, so folks should plan to bring along everything they’ll need. Campers should bring their own tents, sleeping bags, food, and water to ensure a safe camp.

13. Mogollon Rim Road

Mogollon Rim Road, a 43-mile scenic drive situated east of Payson, Arizona, offers a variety of dispersed camping spots along its route, providing ample opportunities for fishing, boating, and navigating trails in the surrounding forest.

The beautiful views of the Mogollon Rim make this an ideal dispersed camping destination for those seeking a serene and picturesque experience.

The road is well-maintained and offers plenty of pull-off spots for camping.

14. Prescott Basin Dispersed Campsites

Prescott Basin Dispersed Campsites, located in the Prescott Basin area in Arizona, offer a more rustic camping experience outside of developed campgrounds. While no restrooms or water sources are available at these campsites, the beautiful surroundings and sense of solitude make Prescott Basin a popular choice for dispersed camping enthusiasts.

A permit is required for camping at Prescott Basin Dispersed Campsites, so be sure to obtain one before your visit.

15. Indian Bread Rocks

Indian Bread Rocks, located in the Dos Cabezas Mountain Wilderness, offers a range of dispersed camping spots and scenic desert views. The area is home to a variety of flora and fauna, making it an ideal destination for hiking and family picnics.

While there is a vault toilet and some picnic tables available, there is no water source at Indian Bread Rocks, so campers must come prepared with their own supplies.

16. Harshaw Road

Harshaw Road, situated in a picturesque locale near Patagonia, Arizona, offers a dispersed camping experience in a rolling desert landscape with thickets densely populated in some areas and clustered in others. While there are picnic tables and a vault toilet available, there are no water sources in the vicinity, so campers must come prepared with their own supplies.

The area is frequently traversed by work vehicles and border patrol vehicles, which can contribute to noise during the day.

17. Upper Canyon Creek

Upper Canyon Creek, situated in Tonto National Forest, offers dispersed camping and fly fishing for rainbow trout. While vault toilets are available at this location, potable water is not, so campers must come prepared with their own supplies.

A high-clearance 4×4 vehicle is recommended for navigating the roads to Upper Canyon Creek.

18. Peralta Canyon

Peralta Canyon, located on the rear side of Superstition Mountain in the Superstition Mountains, is a favored hiking spot. Nestled within the Tonto National Forest, it offers a unique trail that leads hikers to Fremont Saddle at the canyon’s peak.

Great view of the mountains but do expect a fair amount of noise and traffic and know that this will less off the beaten path than some of the other more remote options on my list.

The gravel road in Peralta Canyon is generally in good shape. Do be aware a recreational permit is required for camping at this location. The permit costs $15 for individuals and $20 for families.

19. Pinery Canyon Road

Pinery Canyon Road is a scenic drive located in Arizona that provides access to the forested floor of Pinery Canyon and the high slopes of the Chiricahuas.

This place boasts a good number of camping spots and roads tailored for RVs and trailers, making it a go-to free camping site near Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona.

The road is kept in tip-top shape and showcases breathtaking vistas of the neighboring mountains and canyons.

Where is Dispersed Camping Allowed in Arizona?

Dispersed camping is allowed on public lands managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in Arizona, as well as some Arizona State Trust Land with a permit.

These areas, including national forests, offer a wide range of camping opportunities, from desert landscapes to high country forests, providing a diverse array of experiences for dispersed campers. To make the most of your adventure, be sure to consult an Arizona dispersed camping map before heading out.

It’s essential to research the specific dispersed camping regulations and rules for the public land you plan to visit in Arizona before embarking on your camping trip. By adhering to these rules and obtaining necessary permits, you can help preserve the pristine environment and ensure that dispersed camping remains a viable option for future generations of adventurers.

Obtaining Dispersed Camping Permits and Following Regulations

While dispersed camping often takes place on public lands where permits are not required, some areas in Arizona may necessitate permits or fees, depending on the land management agency. Researching the specific regulations for the area you plan to visit and obtaining necessary permits is crucial to ensuring a successful and responsible camping trip.

When dispersed camping in Arizona, it’s essential to follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles to minimize human impact on the environment.

These principles include:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Proper planning helps ensure safety, minimizes resource damage, and reduces the likelihood of emergencies.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites, whether they’re in the front country or backcountry, to avoid damaging vegetation and soil.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: “Pack it in, pack it out.” This means all trash, leftover food, and litter. For human waste, use established bathroom facilities or dig a cat hole.
  4. Leave What You Find: Preserve the environment by not picking plants, disturbing wildlife, or removing rocks and historical artifacts. Leave natural and cultural items undisturbed for others to enjoy.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camp stove for cooking instead of making a fire. If fires are permitted, use established fire rings or fire pans and keep fires small.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Observe animals from a distance. Do not feed or approach them, and store food and trash securely.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Maintain a quiet and serene outdoor environment. Yield the trail to others and follow posted guidelines and regulations.

By following these rules and obtaining the necessary permits, you can help preserve the environment and ensure that dispersed camping remains a sustainable option for future adventurers.

Is Dispersed Camping Always Free?

Dispersed camping is often free, providing a budget-friendly option for those looking to explore the great outdoors.

However, some areas in Arizona may require permits or fees for dispersed camping, depending on the land management agency. It’s important to research the specific regulations for the public land you plan to visit and obtain necessary permits before embarking on your camping trip.

By respecting the rules and regulations in place for dispersed camping in Arizona, you can help ensure that these beautiful natural areas remain accessible and well-preserved for future generations of campers.

So whether you’re planning a rustic desert adventure or a serene high-country retreat, dispersed camping in Arizona offers a wealth of opportunities for an unforgettable experience.

Tips for Dispersed Camping in Arizona

Dispersed camping in Arizona is a dream for many outdoor enthusiasts. With its vast landscapes and unique terrains, it’s a playground for those seeking solitude and a direct connection with nature. But before you pack up and head out, here are some tips to make your experience smooth and memorable:

  1. Know the Land: Arizona is a mix of private lands, state parks, and federal lands. Ensure you’re camping on public lands and not on private property. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service are good places to start.
  2. Water is Gold: Arizona can be arid. Always carry more water than you think you’ll need. Don’t rely on natural sources, as they can be scarce or contaminated.
  3. Respect the Heat: Arizona’s temperatures can soar. Avoid strenuous activities during peak heat hours (10 am – 4 pm). Wear light-colored clothing, a hat, and always have sunscreen.
  4. Leave No Trace: This principle is crucial. Pack out everything you pack in. This includes toilet paper and biodegradable items like fruit peels.
  5. Wildlife Awareness: You might encounter snakes, scorpions, or even larger animals. Give them space, and remember: you’re in their home.
  6. Campfire Caution: Check for fire restrictions before lighting a campfire. Arizona’s dry conditions can lead to wildfires. If fires are permitted, always use established fire rings or a camp stove.
  7. Road Conditions: Many dispersed camping spots are off the beaten path and often on dirt roads. A high-clearance vehicle can be beneficial. Check road conditions, especially after rains, as flash floods can make roads impassable.
  8. Starry Nights: One of the perks of dispersed camping is the lack of light pollution. Enjoy the night sky, but remember to keep artificial lights to a minimum to preserve the experience for everyone.
  9. Stay Connected: While the idea is to disconnect, ensure someone knows your whereabouts. Cell service can be spotty, so consider a satellite communicator.
  10. Cultural Respect: Arizona is rich in Native American history. If you come across ancient petroglyphs or pottery shards, admire from a distance. Don’t touch or remove artifacts.

Dispersed camping in Arizona is an adventure, offering a raw and immersive experience. With a bit of preparation and respect for the environment, it’s an opportunity to connect deeply with one of America’s most diverse landscapes. Safe travels!

Summary

Arizona offers a wide array of dispersed camping options for those seeking a unique and memorable experience in the Grand Canyon State.

From the vast deserts to the lush forests, there are dispersed camping spots to suit every adventurer’s preference.

By obtaining the necessary permits and adhering to the rules and regulations in place for dispersed camping, you can help preserve the environment and ensure that these beautiful natural areas remain accessible for future generations of campers.

Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to the world of dispersed camping, Arizona’s diverse landscapes and stunning vistas provide the perfect backdrop for your next adventure. Embrace the freedom of exploring the great outdoors, and create unforgettable memories with dispersed camping in Arizona.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are permits required for dispersed camping in Arizona?

In Arizona, some areas may require permits or fees for dispersed camping; it is important to research the area and obtain the necessary permits.

Permits can be obtained from the local land management agency or online. It is important to follow all regulations and guidelines when camping in Arizona.

What should I bring for a dispersed camping trip in Arizona?

Be sure to bring essential supplies like food, water, shade, sunscreen, warm clothing, and sleeping bags for your dispersed camping trip in Arizona.

What is the best map for dispersed camping?

The Bureau of Land Management Camping Guide is a directory of 1,273 camping areas in 14 states, including Arizona. It covers fees (if any), locations, amenities (if any), and extensive maps.

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What’s the difference between dispersed camping and boondocking?

Dispersed camping and boondocking are both forms of free camping in undeveloped areas, but there are subtle differences.

Dispersed camping generally refers to setting up camp outside designated campgrounds, usually in national forests or grasslands. There aren’t any amenities like restrooms or water.

Boondocking, on the other hand, is a term popular among RVers.

It means camping without hookups, often in more remote or isolated areas, but not necessarily in public lands. Think of it as dry camping in an RV. Both offer a chance to embrace nature without the crowds, but boondocking is more RV-centric.


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