6 Great Resources For Finding Boondocking Spots in Arizona
For the past few days we’ve been camping in a fabulous new boondocking spot in Nevada next to some equally fabulous (and rather shiny) neighbors. I’ve got lots to report, but before I delve into our new experiences I wanted to finish one last post on Arizona that’s been in my draft folder for over a year. You see we’ve spent most of the past two winters in Arizona and the main reason for that (besides excellent weather) is that AZ has amazing opportunities for free camping. Depending on which reference you look at around 48-53% of Arizona’s land-mass is public land, and much of it is accessible for camping even for “beast-size” such as ourselves. It’s probably my absolute favorite state for boondocking and before I leave it behind I just had to share my secrets. Here’s a round-up of all my favorite resources:
1/ BLM Land
Anyone who’s boondocked any amount of time loves BLM (Bureau Of Land Management) land. These massive swarfs of land are common throughout the west and allow free 14-day camping just about anywhere. In Arizona BLM manages 12.2 million surface acres of public lands with endless opportunities for boondockers to find a cool spot to stay. We’ve stayed in many free BLM sites across the state in places such as Quartziste, Why and Tuscon. What’s extra-special about AZ is that they also allow longer-term stays in specific spots called Long-Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) for those who want more time and some extra amenities (e.g. trash, dump station and water). For $180 you can buy a seasonal pass (Sept 15-Apr 15) or $40 a short-term pass (2 weeks) for the LVTAs which covers 8 locations across AZ & CA. Our very first boondocking trip (ever) was on LTVA land and I consider it a great “starter” boondocking experience for folks who’ve never been out boondocking, but always wanted to try. What a fabulous resource!
2/ National Conservation Areas
A lesser known gem of Arizona public land is the National Conservation Areas. These areas are actually managed by BLM so they should probably go into #1, but they deserve a special mention. There are three of these in Arizona and all of them allow some kind of camping. We stayed for free at Las Cienegas last year & have heard of other boondockers raving about Gila Box (there are dispersed areas or two developed campgrounds charging only $5/night). Some neat, hidden spots with lots of opportunity to explore!
- National Conservation & Monuments Map -> Clicky
3/ National Wildlife Refuges & Wildlife Areas
Arizona has a total of 9 Wildlife Refuges and 29 Wildlife Areas scattered throughout the state all managed by Arizona Fish & Game. Some of these areas are huge covering many hundreds of thousands of acres and offer a mix of activities from simple wildlife viewing to hiking, fishing & hunting. The most exciting thing 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 out interesting spots to camp at KOFA NWR and Mittry Lake (possible spots for next year). Stay limits in Wildlife areas range from 3 days to 14 days so check the individual office before you go. There’s probably lots we haven’t discovered here, so it’ll be a resource for the future.
4/ National Forests
National Forest Lands are great resources for boondockers all across the US. We’ve stayed in National Forests all over the country from SC to CA. Most of our stays have been in low-cost developed (paid) campgrounds, but these same forests often also offer “dispersed camping” (typically free for 14-days) if you can fit & find where to go. In Arizona there are 6 forest agencies covering land mostly along the middle and north of the state. The Coconino, Prescott & Kaibab Forests all publish free Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM’s) which show you exactly which roads are open to boondocking. Many of these sites are along narrow roads better suited to smaller rigs, but every now and then you’ll find something “beast-size”. We used one of these maps to find our boondocking site near Cottonwood last year.
5/ State Trust Land
Arizona is rather unusual in that it has a lot of State Trust Land, round 9.28 million surface acres in all. This is not exactly public land, but is land managed by a Trust for the benefit of public entities (if that makes any sense). What makes it interesting for boondockers is that camping is permitted on these lands for 14-days per year as long as you have a pass and camp in an area that doesn’t interfere with whoever else is using the land. The permit is $20 for a year and it takes quite a bit of doing to find appropriate sites to bring your rig, but if you do you’re very, very likely to be all alone. Also since the land is so wide & lightly managed the sites are very poorly policed (…not that I’m implying anything ya know :)) We buy the pass every year and end up using it at least once to recreate (bike/ride) on state land even if we don’t camp there. For a mere $20 which goes to a good cause (public education & schools) we’re happy to spend the cash.
6/ Extra Useful Map Links
In addition to the links I’ve mentioned above there are three special ones which I use extensively to plan our Arizona travels and which I consider “must have’s” for anything we do.
The first is our good old Arizona Benchmark Map, absolutely the best hard copy land-map we have. It has color-coded pages showing all of the public land boundaries and enough detail to show most of the dirt roads in the entire state. We use this map for dreaming & planning most of our travels, so much so that it’s become dog-eared with use. Can’t recommend it enough.
The other good resource is particular to Arizona. It’s their free on-line, interactive public lands map. Arizona is the only state I know that offers something like this and I find it incredibly useful. You can zoom into any spot, anywhere and see the public land boundaries. How cool is that???
Our last resource is freecampsites.net. I’ve mentioned this site a ton of times on the blog, but it always bears repeating. It’s the best online resource I know for nationwide boondocking spots and it keeps growing. I use it and I contribute to it.
Related Boondocking Links:
- 7 Tips On Boondocking Etiquette -> Rights, Wrongs & Plain Common Sense
- Our Top 5 Essential Boondocking Items
- Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild
- Why Boondocking ROCKS In The West (And Why This Land Is Still YOURS)!
Phew! That turned out to be a longer post than I planned, but hopefully it’s something you can bookmark and use many times over. My next post will be about shiny rigs, new friends and new cocktails 🙂SPONSORED LINK:
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Anna Williamson says
Wow, you are just full of useful and wonderful information, our very own “Wheelipedia” 🙂 🙂 !!! I will make sure to earmark this page for future travel to Arizona. Thank you!
“Ditto”! Really couldn’t put it any better ourselves! Useful source of info!
Thank you Nina. We are looking forward to accessing your blog archives next year as our guide when we finally make it out west. our “Beast” the GlorEB for boondocking this year, we go full time in June!
Congrats on your upcoming fulltime adventure! Hope the road is good to ya!
Mary Ann says
THANKS! You are so generous with your knowledge, and we are planning to take full advantage of your tips in a few years! I always love your pictures.
Glad you like the resource 🙂
Great boondocking information Paul and Nina. I am a “newbie” staying in Buckeye, AZ. I will be going to New Mexico in a few weeks, but I am saving this information for when I return to Arizona next year. I don’t have solar or a generator yet, however for this first year, I think I will purchase a small Honda 2000.
I have heard that at Slab City,CA and at Quartzsite,AZ there are good, reasonably priced solar installations available. Also, I have seen some “portable” solar panels. Do you know or have any advice on these? Thanks
We installed solar on our roof and I have a bunch of links on our installation in our “solar power” tab (see the top of the blog). I’ve seen folks with both the installed version and portable version. Both are great. I don’t think you can go wrong with just about any decent solar panel out there -> much more important is getting the right 3-stage controller & wiring.
An invaluable website that is full of free and helpful information that is also fun to read & beautiful to look at. Thanks, Nina!
Cheer for the compliment 🙂
Thanks. We are currently heading east across northern Arizona and will put some of your resources to work. Boondocking in southern Arizona seems to be much easier. Not to mention – it still gets cold up here these days!
Yeah, northern Arizona has more forest service land, although you should be able to find some decent boondocking in the forests there (with some searching). Don’t get too far south…it’s heating up right now!
Dennis Hunt says
As an easterner, New Jersey, I thoroughly enjoy your travels, trials and tribulations that you share. This most recent one about boondocking sites and detailed information makes me want to pack up the MH and head out there. Great Job. Keep them coming.
I have to admit I’m a western girl, although I’ve never spent much time in the east so I don’t have much to compare it to. Definitely not as much boondocking out there though 🙂
Bruce Overbay says
Thank you for taking the time to share so much good information about boondocking. We are looking forward to doing the same next winter.
Cool! Hope you enjoy the area. Winter is the BEST time to be here.
Great information Nina, I have bookmarked that posting for future reference. Safe travels. –Dave (GoingRvWay.com)
Excellent! Hope it serves you well.
Deas Nealy says
Nice post. Of course I will be in contact for those super top secret spots. Hope you guys are doing well. Heading out early April. Currently in FDR state park in Ga with Technomadia and RVaGoGo
I’ve been watching you guys get back on the road. So nice that you’re getting to hang w/ Technomadia & RVAGoGo!! Hope to see ya out west!
Bud Roberts says
GREAT post – thanks much. We just retired, have a 30′ Airstream and are planning a two or three month trip from the east to AZ and UT this coming late summer — fall.
You’ve got a sweet rig for boondocking. Should be lots of opportunity for you out there. Enjoy!
Thanks for the thought full sharing of Boondocking Options within AZ! We just finished a visit to some areas around the Yuma area, including a day trip to the Imperial Dam area. My wife and I have never seen the Q in action (We’ll do so in a year or two.) – so this was her first time to see several hundred Boondocker’s together. We spent time driving thru the Senators Wash area. She saw the amazing creativity on ‘custom’ rigs, set up to ‘live in and around’ while boondocking. Also was impressed with how clean the restrooms and showers were.
As we were heading back down towards Yuma, the Blue Angels were practicing – so it was a fun way to spend the day!
Appreciate how you share your resources, and tips learned…
Best to both you, Paul – and the critters!
We haven’t actually been to Imperial Dam although I know many boondockers love it out there. Together with Q it’s one of the biggest boondocking spots in that part of AZ. Glad to hear the area looked nice.
Wonderful resources that get right to heart of the matter. Well done and, Thanks!
Thanks. I originally thought the post would be shorter, but as I wrote it I realized there are alot of resources out there.
You’re welcome, Nina. Do you find these resources to be fairly similar from state to state? Or have you found a lot of differences in the way states handle public lands?
The big federally-managed resources such as BLM and National Forest are very similar cross country, but several of the other resources differ quite a bit. For example National Wildlife Refuges are very different state to state in how welcoming they are to campers. In AZ a large portion of them have camping facilities, but in states such as TX or FL they do not allow camping. Also the State Trust land is particular to AZ…haven’t seen anything like this in the other states.
AZ is definitely a hot spot for free camping in natures beauty. Great post.
It sure is. Wish I’d made it up to your area of Yarnell, but we just ran out of time this time around. It’ll be in the books for the next trip!
Nina, you should put a big “Information” sign at the top of your blog. So grateful you seem to enjoy it and do it so well. We haven’t made it out to AZ very much, but will definitely want to check out your recommendations when we do. I’ve heard that there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright school in AZ, do you know anything about it?
Thanks again for being the sharing kind and safe travels.
Hmmm…no can’t say I’ve heard of it, but I admit that architecture is not really one of my interests. Sorry!
just Google “Frank Lloyd Wright Arizona” for location and info on Talieson (sp?) West. It’s still a working school for architects but they do run tours — fee required.
Dianne & Tom Wartman says
(please forgive me if this comment appeared six or so times… wouldn’t post… trying from the laptop now)
Hi there! As always, we so appreciate being in touch and taking advantage of your great info! Look forward to learning about your “great new boondocking spot” since we are on your trail. Still some unknowns as to when we leave Benson… should know Monday, but probably by the end of March. Our new MCD shades are great! Tire monitoring system up and running! Be well, and we’ll stay connected. D & T
We’ll probably be well into NV by the time you get here, but hopefully you’ll get to benefit from some of my camping info. Happy to hear the shades and TPMS are working out. We’ll be testing ours on this next drive.
That AZ public land interactive website is the greatest thing ever! Much more up-to-date than any printed maps, since public land is constantly being sold or traded. I actually bought a state land permit last October, when I thought the fed govt shutdown might close the LTVAs. With this nifty tool you just revealed to us, it looks like I’ll be putting my permit to good use this summer. Thanks for being so open and helpful with your knowledge!
I totally agree. I was astonished when I found that online map…one of the best state resources I’ve ever seen, especially for boondockers. Glad you’re finally going to make use of that state trust permit!
Thanks so much Nina. Once we head back out west, we plan to do much more boondocking. I will definitely bookmark this post. 🙂
Looking forward to seeing you guys out here. Hopefully we can hook-up along the way.
Bill aka one legged cowboy. says
Yes it was a good time to finish this project! Thanks a bunch Nina. Err do you think you could whip our Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico right quick???? Well it dont hurt to ask! LOL I love the info on this blog, Sadie n Bill
LOL…Nevada is coming up. The rest of ’em will have to wait 🙂
Love the detailed information you post on campgrounds and your research process. Keep up the great work!
Thanks. Glad they’re useful and enjoyable.
Thank you! Great post and awesome info… very timely!
Gary & Joanne Doty says
Just wanted to thank you guys for helping to get us into boondocking. When we bought the 5er, I put 600 watts of solar on the roof and 600 ah in bats in the basement with a pure sine inverter just so we could do this. We’re on a site just south of Carlsbad on Dark Canyon Rd. for the first time with no one else around but us. Never did this before so we were a little nervous at first; getting stuck on dirt roads, worried about someone ripping us off while we were away from the RV, etc. But we’re looking forward to visiting some of the sites you’ve shown us in your blog to get more use to it. We’re headed to Las Cruces, Tucson, Phoenix & Santa Fe over the next month or so and I’ll be reviewing your posts for places to stay. Looks like it might be getting a little late in the winter for S AZ boondocking but we’ll see. Keep up the great work and thanks for putting these sites and info in your blog.
Bruce Overbay says
Do you have a blog that will share your experiences. If you do, can we sign up? We are just starting out and our primary goal is to start boondocking out west, hopefully as early as next winter. We would love to read about your experiences. Thank you.
Well congrats on getting “out there”! The first couple of times you boondock it’s definitely a little scary. After a while you’ll learn to be more relaxed especially as you get more comfortable in the boonies & with your rig. It’s definitely getting hot in the lower AZ elevations right now, but it’ll still be nice & cool in the higher northern mountains. I know there’s forest service boondocking up there, so you may want to check that out.
Rayn Hetterscheidt says
Love this post! But, I’m confused about the interactive public lands website….am I missing something, or does it not allow you to click on names of places to be taken to another website? I mean, do you just use it to see the names of places, and then you google them to get more info? If I can figure out this one piece, I will be set!
Yes, that’s the way it works. You use the map mainly to orient and see the public land boundaries. For detailed info on places you need to Google them outside the map.
The Good Luck Duck says
Great tip on that interactive map; I’ve never seen it before! You can bet your booties I snapped it up and put it in my boondocking page. Thanks!
It’s really neat, isn’t it? I wish all the states would offer something like this.
David Myers says
Heading to south rim of Grand Canyon Easter week. Is it reasonable to expect to boondock in Kalib National Forest West of Williams and south of Canyon. We will be in a 25foot RV. Any advice is greatly appreciated!
I know boondocking spots in the forest on the North Rim, but I’m not familiar with the South Rim. I recommend giving the Forest Service Office a call. They should be able to direct you.
Robert Titus says
You site is extremely informative and I can tell you put a lot of time into it. Thank you.
I have a question about boon-docking regarding safety. I am not one to just hang around camp during the day. I enjoy hiking most anywhere and I love to explore the area I’m visiting. Do you worry about the safety and security of your motorhome when you take off on an adventure for the day? It looks like some of the boon-docking spots might be remote and in some case no other RV’ers around. Love to here your thoughts.
Honestly I’ve always felt fine leaving the rig. Boondockers tend to look out for each other, and if you’re in a REALLY remote area you’re unlikely to get any visitors. I usually just remove anything of value outside (no reason to leave things that might tempt) and lock the rig. That’s it. We do a lot of hiking & visiting while we’re boondocking.
A question and thank you for the great information.
How much time a week do you spend planning where you’ll boondock next?
It varies. For places we know we spend no at all. For brand new spots I’ll spend a few hours looking at maps (both online and paper) and potential locations. It’s not always necessary though and if we were smaller in size we might spend no at all (just drive and see). With a big rig however, we prefer to be prepared and plan ahead a bit. And besides, the prep work is half of the fun…it’s the art of discovering new gems.
betina mansbach says
My name is Betina and I am currently living in Cornville,AZ.
I was wondering if you guys are on facebook.
I had some questions that feel more appropriate in that venue or an email.
Your site is amazing
Single woman, three cats, one year full time Rv’er.
Living on private property most of the time, have not driven much at all.
Would be grateful for your guidance