Located deep within Arizona’s expansive Coconino National Forest, the Child’s Dispersed Camping Area is one of the state’s top destinations for free camping. Beyond the beautiful wilderness surrounding the camping area you’ll also get to experience hot springs of a former resort and enjoy the flowing water from the once-dammed Fossil Creek.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to plan your next free, dispersed camping trip to Coconino National Forest’s Childs Dispersed Camping Area.
Childs Dispersed Camping Area Guide
- Location & Overview
- What Are the Campsites Like?
- Rules & Regulations
- Cell Service, Amenities, & More
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Location and Overview
One of main appeals of the Childs Dispersed Camping Area is its remote location deep within the national forest. You’re approximately 30 miles from Camp Verde, the closest town, and nearly 90 miles from Flagstaff (which has some excellent free camping as well).
The location is unique as it sits about 1 mile from the former Verde Hot Springss Resort. The resort was built in the hayday of the early 1920s, but closed for good in the late 60s after a fire destroyed the structures. All that is left are a few stone pools that are now free to enjoy along with the funky vibes that come from an abandoned hot springs resort.
Check out the video below to get a sense of what these unique hot springs are really like:
In addition, the camping area is just downstream from the former Childs Power Plant (where the name for the camping area comes from) that generated hydroelectric power from the Fossil Creek. The plant and associated dam were decommissioned in 2004, returning Fossil Creek to its historical flow and beginning the long process of restoring the delicate ecosystem.
The camping area is reached after nearly a 20 mile drive on a dirt road that requires a 4×4 with significant ground clearance as well as an experienced driver. This is a critical point to consider, as many a potential camper have attempted to reach Childs Dispersed Camping only to end up paying over $1,000 for a tow-truck when they learned their car (or driver) wasn’t up to the task!
The camping area itself if tucked back off the main road in (FSR 502) and can typically accommodate between 15 – 20 campsites depending on size. There are also a few pullouts along the road leading to the main camping area where it would be possible to pitch your tent.
As you might guess from the description of the road in, RVs are not recommended at Childs Dispersed Camping Area.
The map below shows the general location of the Childs Dispersed Camping Area.
What Are the Campsites Like?
The sites at Childs Dispersed Camping Area are not formal campsites, but rather informal camping areas carved out of the brush near the river. Many of the site are smaller, so are better suited for a small tent as opposed to a trailer.
There is a cluster of sites located just past the Arizona Public Services building as well as several sites that are simple pull outs along the main road in.
There are no fire rings, picnic tables, or other camp amenities, so you’ll need to come prepared with everything you need for your trip. There is a vault toilet available, so please be sure to utilize it.
In general, most campers find that the campsites are somewhat cramped with other groups very close by. This can create frustrations when you get a particularly loud our rowdy group camping nearby, but in our experience it is well worth it for the stunning location and nearby hot springs.
Childs Dispersed Camping Area Rules and Regulations
Located within Coconino National Forest, the Childs dispersed camping area follows all of the broader dispersed camping regulations you’ll find throughout the National Forest system with a few key exceptions listed below. You can read the full list on the Coconino NF website, but we’ve highlighted the key considerations below:
- There is a 5-day stay limit
- Public nudity is prohibited (but you’ll likely see it at the nearby hot springs!)
- Properly dispose of human/pet waste
- Do not discard food- pack it out with all other trash.
Other helpful dispersed camping rules that broadly apply include:
- Keep your campsite small.
- Place tents/park where vegetation is absent.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
If you’re looking for additional information on dispersed camping in the region, check out our complete Guide to Dispersed Camping in Arizona, Guide to Dispersed Camping Near Flagstaff, and Guide to Dispersed Camping Near Sedona.
Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet
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Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. The wilderness here is fragile and it is our responsibility to minimize our impact and keep these areas open and beautiful for future campers.
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 allows 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.
Cell Service, Amenities, and More
The Childs Dispersed Camping Area is located far from any towns and set deep within Coconino National Forest. As such, you shouldn’t expect many amenities outside of the single vault toilet available. Cell service is spotty at best, although seems to have improved in recent years, especially for Verizon users.
The closest town with services is Camp Verde, which can be over an hour away given the rough condition of the road in to the camping area. Here you’ll find all the essential services prior to your camping trip including grocery stores, gas stations, and more.
What to Bring
You shouldn’t expect any amenities when dispersed camping at Childs dispersed camping area so you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
- Shade canopy– Not all sites at here are shaded, so it’s a good idea to bring your own shade structure.
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – There isn’t a great water source in the camping area, so a good portable water container is a must.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is critical when camping. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
- Map – We prefer downloadable GPS maps via the Gaia GPS app. You can get 20% off your annual membership here.
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
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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 at the Childs dispersed camping area.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!