Boondocking Site Review – Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, Sonoita, AZ
A remote and rarely visited grassland area in SE Arizona. Simply spectacular!
Location: 45,000 acre natural preserve on the NE corner of Hwy83 and Hwy82 next to Sonoita, AZ
Coordinates: Road Canyon Camping Area approx. 31.740029, -110.585976, Cieneguitas Camping Area approx. 31.766641,-110.627142. Link to map location HERE
Cost: FREE (14-day limit)
How We Found It: I originally found this spot on my handy Arizona Benchmark Map and was overjoyed when Ivan&HisKitty blogged about stopping here last month. Further research on the Las Cienegas NCA website nailed down the last details.
Nearest Dump/Water: No facilities in camp. Supplemental water availible on the preserve at Empire Ranch. Nearest dump Patagonia Lake State Park ~20 miles south.
- Access – 2.5/5
This is a rarely-used grassland preserve so it takes a bit of extra effort to get here. Camping is allowed in designated primitive “camping areas” or in previously-used dispersed spots. The designated spots -> Cieneguitas (open year-round) or Road Canyon (seasonal) are both accessed off the main road that runs through the preserve. This road is dirt and very bumpy, but otherwise firm and drivable for any-size rig, especially if you stick to the access listed below…just be ready for a bumpy, slow ride!
Cieneguitas -> This is best accessed from the western side off Hwy 83. Driving north from Sonoita, just before milepost 40 you’ll see the entrance to Las Cieneguas NCA and the beginning of Empire Ranch Road (wide, washboardy dirt road) to your right. Head east on Empire Ranch Road ~3 miles until you come to a fork. Take a right here onto Yucca Road (narrow, lots of small embedded stones) and go another ~1.1 miles to Cieneguitas Camp. The area is clearly marked by a sign. Turn right here and drive down the road to chose your camping spot. There are 6 large, cleared-out “individual” spots on either side of the road going back ~1/2 mile. More info HERE.
Road Canyon -> This is best accessed from the southern side off Hwy 82. Driving east from Sonoita, just after milepost 36 you’ll see the entrance to Las Cieneguas NCA and the beginning of Yucca Road (narrow, lots of small embedded stones) on our left. Head north on Yucca Road ~2.5 miles until you hit BLM Road 6916 (marked by a very, very small sign). No obvious sign or individual sites here, but you’ll see large cleared dirt areas for camping. This camping area is closed April 1 to June 30 due to pronghorn fawning season. More info HERE.
NOTE/ I do *not* recommend driving between Cieneguitas and Road Canyon in a big rig within the preserve. This particular interior stretch of Yucca Road is pitted with some deeper washes. If you decide to take your rig from one campsite to the next, it’s better to drive back onto Hwy 83/82 and re-enter at the south access point.
Dispersed Camping -> According to the local ranger you may also camp elsewhere in the conservation area on condition that the spot has been obviously previously used and you are no closer than 1/4 quarter mile from wildlife or livestock watering area. In our drive around there were not really any “beast-size” options of this sort, but for smaller rigs you may be able to find a site.
- Nature – 5/5
Nature is simply fabulous here. Be ready for rolling hills, sweeping grassland views and distant mountains. Very light traffic and lots of little side-roads to explore the preserve by bike or 4WD. Simply spectacular!
- Isolation – 5/5
Wonderful isolation here. This is a very lightly-used preserve so you will only see a few cars going through and you may (or may not) see any other campers. I can’t guarantee complete solitude, but you’ll come very, very close. In our 4 days at Road Canyon we saw no other campers and only a few cars.
- Pet Friendliness – 5/5
Another great location for the paws. Easy grassland all around and 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 = Camp with sweeping grassland views!
Summary: This 45,000 acre grassland preserve is a wonderfully remote, natural get-away in SE Arizona just next to Sonoita, AZ. It’s a rarely-visited park and very primitive. Just dirt roads, dirt sites and sweeping views. This makes accesability more difficult, but the payoff is lots of solutide and fabulous, natural camping. The main road through the park is narrow and fairly bumpy (Empire Ranch Road is washboard, while Yucca Road has lots and lots of small emdedded stones…get ready to rattle!) and camping is permitted in designated spots Cineguitas (open year-round) and Road Canyon (seasonal), or previously-used dispersed sites. If staying at the designated areas choose your spot before you come since access is different for each one (see above). The camping areas are large, dirt clearings with plenty of space for any-sized rig and easy, flat surfaces. Cieneguitas has 6 “individual” style campsites which are further from the main road, while Road Canyon has more “group-like” wide-open camp area closer to the main road, but both have great views and lots of space. Lots of nature to enjoy as well as on-site historic Empire Ranch. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here and would come back in a heartbeat.
Extra Info: Water and pit toilets availible at the Empire Ranch, but no other facilities. Decent 3G Verizon signal (2-3 bars).