The sprawling metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona may not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re thinking of cities with great camping nearby, but you should think again! Surrounded by beautiful desert wilderness, there are tons of excellent dispersed campsites near Phoenix that make a great place to pitch your tent or park a trailer.
However, not all campsites in the Phoenix area are created equal so you’ll want to come prepared with an idea of where you’ll camp.
We’ve created this Phoenix dispersed camping guide to help you navigate your options and find the perfect campsite for your upcoming trip.
Phoenix, AZ Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- Dispersed Camping near Phoenix
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To start, it is important to have a good understanding of the basics that come with planning a Phoenix dispersed camping trip. This includes all the must know information on when to camp, what to bring, and how to minimize your impacts.
This is the essential info before you head out!
When to Dispersed Camp near Phoenix
Phoenix can be a year-round camping destination, although there are certainly limitations to which campsites make sense during which time of year. The summers in Phoenix are brutally hot, so escaping to some of the higher elevation campsites will make sense during that time. Even during the hottest days, the temperate does fall significantly at night given the desert climate.
During the winter months, the temperatures are more mild making campsites at a lower elevation much more enjoyable.
What to Bring
You shouldn’t expect any amenities when dispersed camping near Phoenix so you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – Most of the camping areas included in this guide do not have a potable water source. As such, a portable water container is essential.
- 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.
Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?
Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
Permits, Fees, and Campfires
There is ample public land surrounding the Phoenix area, much of which allows free dispersed camping. This includes Tonto National Forest, BLM land, as well as Arizona State Land Trust land. It is best to inquire with the relevant land manager for the specific area you’re looking to camp prior to setting out, and we’ve provided links to the best contacts/information on camping below:
Generally speaking, all of these public lands impose some basic regulations on dispersed camping. This includes how long you can stay at a particular site (generally 14-days), what permits are required, and the maximum size of your group. Be sure to consult the links above or reach out to the relevant party to get information on your specific campsite.
Other helpful dispersed camping rules that broadly apply include:
- 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.
- 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!
Additionally, given some of the bad fire season’s Arizona and the West have experienced in recent years, it is critical to check current fire restrictions before having a campfire. You can check the most recent notices and fire restrictions for Tonto National Forest here before heading out.
We can’t stress this enough as being a responsible forest user is essential to preventing wildfires and preserving our incredible forests!
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping in the Phoenix region 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 to 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 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.
Dispersed Camping near Phoenix, Arizona
The following section includes an overview of the top dispersed campsites located near Phoenix, Arizona. This includes campsites in the adjacent Tonto National Forest as well as several on BLM land surrounding the city.
We’ve also created the map below to give you a sense of each campsites’ location.
If you’re looking for other dispersed camping in the region, we recommend starting with our Arizona Dispersed Camping guide. Then, check out some of our other camping guides in area:
- Sedona Dispersed Camping
- Prescott Dispersed Camping
- Flagstaff Dispersed Camping
- Dispersed Camping near the Grand Canyon
- Tucson Dispersed Camping
Finally, if you’re interested in finding more dispersed campsites in the area, check out our guide to the best dispersed camping apps to help you find your next campsite.
Mesquite Flats Boondock
Located east of Phoenix just past Tortilla Flats you’ll find the Mesquite Flats boondocking area. Campsites are located on both sides of Route 88, with 4-5 total sites available. This is a remote region, so don’t expect cell phone service or any other amenities.
The road to get here is passable, but those with larger rigs will want to exercise caution and should consider scouting the sites with a car if possible.
There are no services in the area except for the developed campground at Tortilla Flats, so you’ll need to come prepared for dry camping with plenty of water and also be sure to pack out all of your trash.
Stewart’s Camp is an OHV staging area located deep in the wilderness north-east of Phoenix. If you’re looking for secluded dispersed camping, this won’t be for you. However, you will find nice level camping areas far from civilization.
Stewart’s Camp is a popular place for dirt bikes, OHVs, and shooting, so if any of those aren’t your cup of tea, plan to look elsewhere. However, if you’re interested in any of those activities as well as a nice base to explore from, this is a great dispersed camping option not far from Phoenix.
Most reports indicate that a majority of vehicles can reach the campsite, but proceed with caution as you’re a long way from services here if you were to get stuck.
As with most dispersed camping options in the area, you won’t find water or any other services at Stewart’s Camp so please plan accordingly.
Hewitt Canyon Road
Hewitt Canyon Road is located in Tonto National Forest southeast of Phoenix and north of Highway 60. The road runs for just over 10 miles and has a number of pull outs suitable for camping along its length.
Most of these are great for 1 or 2 cars with a few tents, but there is a larger pull out just over 1 mile in that can accommodate larger set-ups. As with many Forest Service roads, the first few miles are passable by most vehicles, but then it quickly becomes much rougher the further back you get.
There are no services along Hewitt Canyon Road and you’ll rarely be able to pull any water from the seasonal stream that parallels the road. Given that, it is best to plan on dry camping here.
Restrooms: Vault toilets
Heading further east from Phoenix into Tonto National Forest you’ll find the Oak Flat Campground. This isn’t dispersed camping, but is a great free USFS campground to take advantage of. There is excellent climbing and hiking in close proximity to the site, and there are a few sites that can accommodate RVs/trailers.
This is a relatively popular campsite, so if you’re after peace and quiet, you might look elsewhere. However, you’ll get access to a vault toilet and fire rings which may makeup for the fact that you’ll likely be sharing the campground with others.
There is no water available at Oak Flat, so be sure to pack all that you’ll need.
Sonoran Desert National Monument Dispersed Camping (Vekol Valley Road)
South of Phoenix near Gila Bend you’ll find a popular spot for dispersed camping within the Sonoran Desert National Monument along Vekol Valley Road. This is a convenient place to spend the night, as Vekol Valley Rd is easily accessed off of the main highway, I-8. Keep in mind that there is a mix of private and public land in the area, so be sure to obey all signage and double check that you are on public land before setting up camp.
Vekol Valley is a popular spot for those with RVs or larger rigs as the road is easily passable and there is plenty of room for larger vehicles. This is BLM land, so there is a 14-day stay limit that you’ll want to be aware of.
This is the desert so you won’t find any water sources or amenities, so please come prepared and always Leave No Trace.
Saddle Mountain BLM
If you’re looking for a good dispersed camping area west of Phoenix along I-10, the Saddle Mountain BLM area is worth a look. You’ll find nice flat spots along many of the roads that lead to Saddle Mountain (be sure to check out the petroglyphs), but be aware that the fly situation here can be horrible. Reportedly the nearby chicken processing plant is the main cause, but regardless you’ll want to limit your time outside in the middle of the day. Yes, it is that bad!
To get here from Phoenix you’ll head west on I-10 to the town of Tonopah. Get off and head past the chicken plant and continue south to a junction before turning west. Continue west until you reach a junction with Courthouse Rd, which leads you into BLM land and the camping areas.
There are no services or water in the area, so please come prepared.
Hackamore Road/Apache Trail
Map (see maps below)
There are several good areas for dispersed camping along both Hackamore Road and Apache Trail near the Bulldog Canyon OHV area as well as past the Flying Dutchman State Park. These campsites tend to be staging areas for those planning on offroading in the National Forest or on BLM land, so you can expect a bit more noise than some of the other sites in this guide.
The sites on Hackamore Road are located past the mine, and right off the main roadway. This Google Map should give you a general location to aim for.
Along Apache Trail you’ll find dispersed campsites just off the main road approximately 2 miles past Flying Dutchman State Park.
The campsites at both areas have incredible views of the Superstition Mountains and surrounding wilderness. Keep in mind that there have been reports of lots of trash and human waste left behind at these sites in the past few years, so be sure to leave your site better than you found it.
Restrooms: No (toilets are available at the Peralta Trailhead)
Peralta Canyon and Peralta Road both offer some excellent dispersed camping just east of Phoenix and Gilbert, AZ. The public land here can be a bit confusing, so it’s important to know the various regulations for camping in the area.
When turning off Highway 60 onto Peralta Road you’ll first pass through a new subdivision. As you continue along further along the road you will cross onto public land managed by the Arizona State Land Trust. Camping is permitted once you are on this public land, but the State Land Trust does require you have a recreational permit to do so. These are very affordable (about $15/year) and the area is patrolled so having a permit is essential.
Further up along Peralta Road you will cross into Tonto National Forest & the Superstition Wilderness Area. There is a small area for dispersed camping here just before the Peralta Trailhead. No permits are required here as you are on USFS managed land.
Regardless of which area you choose, this is a beautiful region with great access to hiking and OHV areas. It does tend to get a bit crowded, so be sure to show up early on busy weekends.
Restrooms: Available at Wildcat Staging Area seasonally
One final dispersed camping area northeast of Phoenix is the Wildcat Staging Area in Tonto National Forest. This is the gateway to the Desert Vista OHV area, so expect plenty of campers who are there to offroad in the surrounding area.
Access is straightforward, but the camping area can get quite crowded with folks towing dirt bikes and similar off road vehicles. One upside is that there are restroom facilities at the staging area available seasonally from approximately September 15th through May 1st.
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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 near the wonderful city of Phoenix, 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!