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 🙂