Sandhill Cranes coming to roost at sunset

Sandhill Cranes coming to roost at sunset

A birders paradise and great few-day stopover in SE Arizona

Location: On the south end of Coffman road just outside of McNeal, AZ
Coordinates: Approx. 31.560774, -109.718968. Link to map location HERE
Cost: FREE (3-day stay limit)
How We Found It: I had heard about this spot from birding friends and found further details on freecampsites.net and on Whitewater Draw website.
Nearest Dump/Water:
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  1. Access – 4.5/5
    Very easy access here for any-sized rig. Coming from the south you’ll enter the Wildlife Refuge on just over 1 mile wide, firm flat dirt road from Central Highway. This is washboardy and dusty, but otherwise fine. Whitewater Draw is clearly marked by a sign and high entrance gate on Coffman Road. Turn left into the refuge and drive a few hundred feet to main parking area. There is a small sign saying “overnight parking permitted” and picnic tables arranged in fenced areas around a central pit toilet and garbage. The area is super-flat, firm dirt with space for around 5-6 big rigs or a larger number of smaller rigs. As long as it’s not full you can fit any-sized rig here. Park and enjoy!
    NOTE/ If the main camping area is full there is a second overnight camping spot ~1/2 mile further north on Coffman Road at the “sportsman’s entrance”. Turn left and you’ll see the “overnight camping permitted” sign and flat parking area. No picnic tables or pit toilet here. Space for ~3 big rigs.
  2. Nature – 5/5
    Nature is what this spot is ALL about. The overnight camping area is only a few hundred feet from the hiking & viewing trail at Whitewater Draw. Open views of grassland and hills directly from camp plus lots and lots of birds including up to 30,000 Sandhill Cranes during the main season (Oct-Feb). Watch sunset over the water and fall asleep to the sweet sounds of life in the draw!
  3. Isolation – 3/5
    Moderate isolation here. This is a fairly popular (for the area) birdwatching spot and the day-use parking is just next to the overnight camping area, so you will get people driving through to see the draw. Most birders come early morning or late afternoon so the rest of the time the spot is very relaxed and at night it will be completely dark and quiet.
  4. Pet Friendliness – 5/5
    This is a great location for the paws. Easy grassland all around and a nice hiking trail around the draw. Lots of other dirt roads leading deeper into the wildlife area which can be accessed with pooch for longer walks.

Overall Rating = 4.4
BONUS ALERT = Fall asleep to the sound of Sandhill Cranes!

Summary: Whitewater Draw is a wonderful little oasis in the high desert of SE Arizona. It’s a small 1,500 acre preserve that is well-known for hosting tons of birds including up to 30,000 Sandhill Cranes in the main season (Oct-Feb). Free overnight camping is permitted for up to 3 days (within a 7-day period) and it is well worth the stop. Access to the draw is super-easy along a very wide, firm, dirt road and camping is in a flat dirt circular area around a central pit toilet and garbage. Lovely 360-degree grassland views from camp as well as cute picnic tables all around. We came here with some buddies in the “off” season (Mid-March) so at the time we were the only rigs in the area and traffic to the draw was very light. With no-one in camp access was super-easy and we had plenty of space and isolation to ourselves. During the main Crane season I gather the traffic is higher and camping spots may be more limited especially if you come in a larger rig. If the main camp area is full there is a second “overnight camping” area ~1/2 mile north on Coffman Road at the “sportsmans entrance” with space for another 3 or so big rigs. We spent our days birdwatching, sunset viewing and relaxing at our lovely site. Overall a magical little place and we’d definitely come again.

Extra Info: No water or dump, but there is on-site pit-toilet and garbage disposal (nice bonus!). Moderate 3G Verizon signal (2 bars or so), but stable enough for use with our external antenna.

Driving down Coffman Road towards the draw. Very large, flat dirt road.

Driving down Coffman Road towards the draw. Very large, flat dirt road.

Main entrance to the draw

Main entrance to the draw

View of overnight camping area. It's a large circular parking spot.

View of main overnight camping area. It’s a large circular parking spot.

View from other side of camping area looking back towards entrance

View from other side of camping area looking back towards entrance

Side-view of our parking spot

Side-view of our parking spot

Side-view of Beluga

Side-view of Beluga

View of picnic table at the overnight camping area

View of picnic table at the overnight camping area

View of pit toilets in middle of camping area. There is a also a garbage disposal.

View of pit toilets in middle of camping area. There is a also a garbage disposal.

View of secondary overnight camping area from "sportsmans entrance" further up Coffman Road.

View of secondary overnight camping area from “sportsmans entrance” further up Coffman Road.

General map of Whitewater Draw

General map of Whitewater Draw

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10 Responses to Boondocking Site Review – Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, McNeal, AZ

  1. Dymphe Perry says:

    Looks like the perfect place. Another one to put on my list.

  2. Wow, I did not know you can boondock there. That is indeed a perfect spot for the birders to boondocks.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Yup, it’s a great little boondocking spot. You can only stay 3 days, but it’s well worth a stop.
      Nina

  3. Kentster says:

    This is great! Thanks, we are going to try this spot early next week when we finish with Patagonia and Bisbee.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Cool! Hope the Cranes are still there for you. Even if they aren’t it’s a wonderfully relaxing spot.
      Nina

  4. Sherry says:

    Another great review Nina. Thanks so much. This just looks like a place I would LOVE LOVE LOVE. I assume you came with a full water tank and found a dump at your next stop? Too bad about the 3 day limit. Is it one of those you can do back to backs? 3 days, go away a night, 3 days etc?? Or is it carefully watched or just unfair to use more than your share of the 3 day groupings??

    • libertatemamo says:

      We did come with a full water tank. We can go almost 3 weeks without dumping or refilling so we’re at another boondocking site now, and will just dump when we get to the next place. As far as stay limit the official notice says 3 days max within a 7-day period so you could go out 4 and come back. No-one checked when we were there, but it was also post season.
      Nina

  5. Bettina says:

    We have learned so much from your blogs! We can’t wait to visit this spot being birding nuts & on our way to AZ. What is your secret to being out for 3 weeks? We are new full timers and trying to figure this all out. Do you have or have you considered a composting toilet? Any tips will be so appreciated:)
    Bettina

  6. […] is that many of them allow free dispersed camping in remote & gorgeous locations. We discovered Whitewater Draw last year, spent 10 days in the fabulous grasslands of Buenos Aires NWR this year and have scouted […]

  7. Reed Cundiff says:

    We have been there twice. Both times we met full time RV’ers that were delightful. We have kept in contact with one couple that are as strong solar advocates as ourselves.
    Reed and Elaine

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