Arizona, known as the Grand Canyon State, conjures up images of spectacular natural landscapes. From the Grand Canyon, to the red rocks of Sedona, to the wilderness surrounding Flagstaff, the state is full of beautiful public lands. This diversity of ecosystems also lends itself to some incredible dispersed camping opportunities.
Regardless of whether you’re looking to pitch your tent on the rim of the Grand Canyon, outside of Prescott, or high in the mountains near Flagstaff, there will be plenty of options to choose from.
We’ve created this Arizona dispersed camping guide to help you navigate through the various regulations, rules, and different public landowners to help you find your perfect dispersed campsite. Read on to find everything you need to know to plan your perfect trip.
Arizona Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The 10 Best Dispersed Camping Areas in Arizona
The following sections contain what we consider the essential information to help you plan an Arizona dispersed camping trip. This includes everything from determining what public land allows camping, how to find specific campsites, what to bring, and more.
Where is dispersed camping allowed in Arizona?
As with many Western states, Arizona contains a significant amount of public land that permits dispersed camping. The two largest land managers that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with are the US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Both of these federal agencies oversee hundreds of thousands of acres of public land in Arizona and should be the first place you look for finding dispersed campsites in the state.
Find an overview of each of the different dispersed camping options in Arizona below:
US Forest Service Dispersed Camping in Arizona (USFS)
Your best bet for finding dispersed camping in Arizona is going to be in one of the state’s six National Forests. These distinct forests are located in all different areas of Arizona and encompass the wide variety of ecosystems the state is known for. You can generally expect similar regulations for dispersed camping across the different national forests, but it is still important to check the rules in the forest you plan to camp in.
Arizona’s six National Forests are listed below along with a link to the dispersed camping guidelines for each:
- Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest dispersed camping
- Coconino National Forest dispersed camping
- Coronado National Forest dispersed camping
- Kaibab National Forest dispersed camping
- Prescott National Forest dispersed camping
- Tonto National Forest dispersed camping
In addition to the USFS, the other large public land manager in Arizona is the Bureau of Land Management, often referred to as the BLM for short. The BLM manages land across the state and has several excellent dispersed camping areas. There five BLM district office in Arizona and each can provide great information on dispersed camping within their boundaries:
- Arizona State Office
- Arizona Strip District Office
- Colorado River District Office
- Gila District Office
- Phoenix District Office
You can find a good overview of BLM dispersed camping rules here.
In addition to the usual dispersed camping areas provided by the BLM and USFS you can also find good, nearly free, camping on Arizona State Land Trust land throughout the state. In order to camp on this land you must obtain a recreational permit, which costs all of $15-$20 for a full year. Once you have obtained your recreational permit, nearly 8 million acres of land is available for dispersed camping.
How to find dispersed camping in Arizona
In general, with a little knowledge of where to look, experience navigating forest service roads, reading USFS maps, and camping in remote locations, it should be relatively straightforward to find dispersed camping in Arizona. We like to use a combination of online apps/websites and USFS/BLM maps to find dispersed campsites. Our favorite resources for Arizona dispersed camping are below:
- Freecampsites.net – Our go to resource for finding free camping
- The Dyrt – An app that let’s you filter for free and dispersed campsites
- Campendium – A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.
While these apps and websites are a good starting place for finding dispersed camping in Arizona, we always rely on public agencies maps and information as our main source. We’ve provided contact information for all of the National Forests and BLM offices in Arizona in this post, and your best bet for finding a good dispersed campsite is to reach out to them directly.
These offices will be able to provide you with the most up-to-date dispersed camping information, make recommendations, and give you all the intel you’ll need.
Our final, and favorite resource for finding Arizona dispersed camping is to utilize USFS Motor Vehicle Use Maps for the national forests. These maps generally show which forest service roads permit dispersed camping, often notated by two dots on either side of the road.
Links to some relevant MVUMs for Arizona dispersed camping are linked below:
- Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest MVUM – There are currently no MVUM available for Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
- Coconino National Forest MVUM
- Coronado National Forest MVUM
- Kaibab National Forest MVUM
- Prescott National Forest MVUM
- Tonto National Forest MVUM
We often have a motor vehicle use map open in one tab and Google Maps satellite view in the other to help find dispersed campsites. You can cross reference the two and often see areas that have established campsites in Google Maps.
Dispersed Camping Rules & Regulations
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of permits, reservations, and other requirements you’ll often find at developed campgrounds. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t important rules you should always following when dispersed camping.
It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or BLM office, but you should plan on adhering to the following as outlined by the USFS:
- Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing sites and fire rings when available.
- Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
- Dispersed camping is generally limited to 14 days within any continuous 30 day period.
- Only have a campfire if it is permitted, and always be sure it is completely extinguished.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
Leave No Trace Principles & Arizona Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
- Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
- Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
- Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
- Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
The Best Dispersed Camping in Arizona
Ok, now comes the fun part! If you’ve read the sections above you should have a good overview of the rules and regulations surrounding dispersed camping in Arizona. Let’s take a look at our 10 favorite Arizona dispersed camping areas located across the state, all outlined below.
n addition, the Arizona dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each area with a detailed description following.
Saddle Mountain Overlook
Spectacularly situated on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the Saddle Mountain Overlook dispersed camping area has some of the most spectacular views you’ll from any dispersed campsite in Arizona. This dispersed camping area has room for approximately five campsites and is about a 1 hour drive from the North Rim Entrance Station.
The road in is made up of large gravel, so you’ll want to take it pretty slow. The drive is well worth it though as you’ll enjoy beautiful views out over the Grand Canyon from here. The sites are all clustered together, so you won’t get much privacy but that is an okay tradeoff in our mind!
This is a remote area with no water or other facilities so you’ll need to come prepared to be fully self sufficient.
For more options in the area, check out our guide to dispersed camping near the Grand Canyon.
Coconino Rim Road
Restrooms: No, but pit toilets available at Grandview Lookout Tower
Also near Grand Canyon National Park, but located along the south rim, Coconino Rim Road dispersed camping is as close to camping within the park as you can get. In fact, you can only access this dispersed camping area from within Grand Canyon National Park. Located a short distance off of East Rim Drive, you’ll be perfectly located to visit the Grandview Lookout Tower, hike the Grandview Trail, or take in any of the other sights along the South Rim.
Keep in mind that there are no services here other than the vault toilet at the base of the Lookout Tower. You’ll want to come prepared with as much food and water as you can, since it is a bit of a drive to the closest services in Grand Canyon Village.
You can access the Coconino Rim Road dispersed camping area by either coming from Grand Canyon Village to the west, or from the town of Cameron to the east.
Heading south from the Grand Canyon towards Flagstaff you’ll find the Freidlein Prairie dispersed camping area. There are 14 designated dispersed campsites here, which were given the high-impact camping has had in the surrounding wilderness. The result is some of our favorite Arizona dispersed camping that is very close to Flagstaff. This is the perfect dispersed campsite for hiking Humphreys Peak, as you’ll be very close to the main trailhead.
Each of the designated campsites here are marked, feature a fire ring, and have a place for at least one tent. Given the size of the campsites, RVs are not recommended.
There are no services here so you’ll need to pack out all of your own trash and be self-sufficient in terms of water.
To get here from Flagstaff head north of Highway 180 before turning onto Snowbowl Road. After 2.4 miles take a right onto FR 522 and be on the lookout for the campsites. Most are located on the south side of the road.
For more options in the area, check out our guide to dispersed camping near Flagstaff, AZ.
Schnebly Hill Road
Another popular area for dispersed camping in Arizona is Schnebly Hill Rd just outside of Sedona. The road connects Sedona with Interstate 17 to the east via a rough and rugged 4WD road. Along the route you’ll find some excellent dispersed camping options, with most of the good sites located closer to I-17.
Access from I-17 is easy, with campsites appearing almost immediately off the highway. If you’re coming from the Sedona side you’ll need to drive quite a ways along the road before reaching the area where camping is permitted. The road on the Sedona side is also much more rugged, so only those with 4WD, high-clearance, and some experience driving rocky roads should come from this way.
Regardless of which side you enter from, the campsites here have beautiful views, are well spaced, and make an excellent free place to spend the night.
Don’t forget to bring water, as there are no sources along the road.
For more options in the area, check out our guide to dispersed camping near Sedona, AZ.
A great part of Arizona for dispersed camping is the wilderness and national forest surrounding Prescott, AZ. Our favorite option here is the Prescott Basin Designated Dispersed Camping area. There are a variety of dispersed campsites in this area, but our favorite is south of town along Wolf Creek Road. You can read the handy Prescott Basin Dispersed Camping guide published by the USFS for more details on camping in the region.
The designated sites all generally have fire rings, but you won’t find any restrooms or dedicated water sources. Many of the site are along creeks, but you should still come prepared with as much water as you think you’ll need. Most of the dispersed sites can accommodate trailers and smaller RVs, but it is best to contact the Prescott National Forest for the most up to date information.
If you stay in one of the dispersed sites along Wolf Creek Road, we highly recommend the hike to Wolf Creek Falls!
Restrooms: Vault toilet
Located in Tonto National Forest, northwest of Phoenix, you’ll find the Upper Canyon Creek Dispersed Camping area. The dispersed campsites are tucked back from the main road, and just past the Canyon Creek Fish Hatchery. You’ll find a vault toilet here, but no drinking water source. However, you may be able to pull water (be sure to filter!) from Canyon Creek.
This dispersed camping is very popular with anglers as the adjacent creek is a great place to catch rainbow trout. The Upper Canyon Creek dispersed camping area has a 14-day stay limit.
The road to get here is unpaved, but generally well maintained. Keep in mind that if you plan on exploring further into the national forest you’ll likely want a high-clearance 4WD vehicle as the roads get quite a bit rougher past the camping area.
Hackamore Road Dispersed Camping
Hackamore Road offers some of the closest dispersed camping to the Phoenix area. Located just west of the City on BLM land, Hackamore Road has beautiful view of the surrounding wilderness and leads into the Bulldog Canyon area. This may not be everyone’s favorite dispersed campsite in Arizona as it is very popular with the OHV crowd and can often get noisy at night.
However, you can’t beat the location for its convenience to Arizona’s largest city and how far away you’ll feel when camped here.
There are no services at Hackamore Road, and given the popularity it is very important to practice Leave No Trace camping and pack out all of your trash and waste. The road is passable by most vehicles, although it is known for having many deep potholes. Just be sure to take it slow if you are in a lower clearance vehicle.
the Plomosa Road dispersed camping area is situated on BLM land north of the town of Quartzsite, Arizona. This is desert camping at its finest and you can expect to enjoy some spectacular sunrises and sunsets from this free boondocking area. You’ll be close to some of the regions best attractions here, including the spectacular Palm Canyon in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
As with most dispersed camping in Arizona you won’t find any drinking water sources or restrooms at Plomosa Road, but you will find plenty of services in Quartzsite to make your camping trip more comfortable.
Although this is a popular dispersed camping area, you can generally find plenty of space for your site as there are tons of pullouts along the road. This makes camping here relatively quiet and peaceful, while still being close to amenities. A top pick of ours for Arizona dispersed camping!
Restrooms: Vault toilet at picnic area
Indian Bread Rocks is a great location for dispersed camping in southeast Arizona near the Dos Cabezas Mountains. Situated on BLM land just south of I-10, the area can accommodate a few RVs/trailers as well as tent campers. You’ll be well off the beaten path here so can expect a quiet camping experience as well as stunning night sky’s.
Although there are no services specifically for campers here, you will find a vault toilet and some picnic tables at the Indian Break Rocks picnic area. However, there is no water in the area, so please come prepared with all you’ll need.
The road from I-10 to the dispersed camping area is passable by most rigs and there are several pullouts that are appropriate for both RVs and tents. Exploring the rugged mountains adjacent to Indian Bread Rocks is a popular activity for campers. available directed at Indian Bread Rocks, you will find a vault toilet
Our final spot for the best dispersed camping area in Arizona is Gardner Canyon Road in Coronado National Forest. This is excellent dispersed camping in the far southern portion of the state near Tucson. These dispersed campsites are located west of Highway 83 along Gardner Canyon Road as it winds its way towards Gardner Canyon and the Gardner Trail.
The main dispersed camping area is located on the south side of the road and has a few large pullouts to accommodate trailers, RVs, and tent campers alike. There are no services here, but there are a few make shift fire rings. Just be sure to check the current fire restrictions with the Nogales Ranger District before having a fire.
The road to Gardner Canyon dispersed camping is passable for most vehicles, so this makes a good campsite for those in low clearance cars or with larger rigs.
Have a great trip!
That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great dispersed camping trip in Arizona.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!