Although summer is known as the camping season in most places, some of Arizona’s best camping can be found during the winter months. This is when the Grand Canyon State provides a sunny escape from the cold, dreary conditions elsewhere, but isn’t blazing hot like in the summer. In other words, Arizona is the perfect place for winter camping.
Arizona is home to an incredible variety of winter camping destinations. From the snowy peaks of the San Francisco Mountains to cozy campfires under the starry Sonoran Desert skies, Arizona offers a captivating blend of beauty, serenity, and excitement during the colder months. So grab your tent and let’s dive into all that this southwestern camping paradise has to offer!
Check out our 11 favorite destinations for winter camping in this great state!
In this Guide
- Arizona Winter Camping Destinations
- Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
- Chiricahua National Monument
- Lost Dutchman State Park
- Peppersauce Campground
- Picacho Peak State Park
- Patagonia Lake State Park
- White Rock Springs Backpacking Loop
- Cococino Rim Road Dispersed
- Manzanita Campground
- Winter Camping Preparation & Must Know
Arizona Winter Camping Destinations
The following are our 11 favorite places for winter camping in Arizona, in no particular order. These include dispersed sites, campgrounds, a few backcountry sites, and even some cabins. Check out the map below to see where each is located:
Camping Option: Developed campground, primitive campground, backcountry
Permits needed: Yes
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located west of Tucson on the US-Mexico border. Its location in the spectacular Sonoran Desert makes it the perfect destination for a winter camping getaway. Throughout the National Monument, you’ll find fantastic hiking, birding, equestrian, and stargazing opportunities. Temperatures in the winter tend to be in the 50’s and 60’s during the day and can drop into the 30’s and 40’s at night. Rain is common in December and January, bringing with it new blooms and clear air.
There are great options for all types of campers in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The developed Twin Peaks Campground is located a mile from the visitor center and has 208 sites, restrooms with flush toilets, solar heated showers, potable water, and a dump station. Many sites can accommodate RVs up to 45 feet long, although there are no hookups. For a more rustic experience, head to the primitive Alamo Canyon Campground, which has just four tent-only sites (vans and truck campers are also allowed) in a beautifully rugged setting. Finally, if you really want to get off the grid, consider exploring one of the nine different backcountry zones and setting up camp wherever you please.
Given the popularity of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the winter months, it’s a good idea to reserve a campsite at the campgrounds in advance. Camping costs $20/night at Twin Peaks and $16/night at Alamo Canyon campground, and you’ll need to camp in your assigned spot. For backcountry camping, no advance reservations are required. However, you’ll need to pick up a $5 permit from the visitor’s center when you arrive.
Keep in mind that all campers will need to pay the $25 park entrance fee in addition to camping fees.
Camping Option: Tent & RV camping
Permits needed: Reservation recommended
Chiricahua National Monument is located in the southeast corner of the state, less than two hours east of Tucson. The Monument is known for its incredible collection of rhyolite rock pinnacles, some stretching hundreds of feet in the air. These dramatic spires make a perfect backdrop for hiking, horseback riding, and of course, winter camping. History buffs will also enjoy learning about the many people who have called this beautiful place home, from the Chiricahua Apache to the ranchers whose homesteads you can still explore today.
Camping is available year round in Chiricahua National Monument at the Bonita Canyon Campground. This lovely campground has just 25 sites tucked in a shady grove of pine and oak trees. It’s perfectly situated for exploring the Monument, with a trail that connects the campground with many of the major attractions. Although there are no hookups or dump station, RVs of up to 29 feet are welcome. Each site has a picnic table and stand-up grill, and you’ll find clean restrooms with flush toilets and potable water taps throughout. Be advised, however, that you won’t find any showers here.
Winter is a lovely time to visit Chiricahua National Monument, as the temperatures are mild and the summer monsoon has long ended. It’s important to note that it can get pretty chilly in the winter months though, with highs typically in the mid-50’s and lows in the 30’s. There is a chance for snow, especially in December and January. This is a great place to get a taste of winter, with plenty of sunshine still in the mix.
Camping Option: Tent, RV, cabins
Permits needed: Reservation required
Lost Dutchman State Park is a favorite winter camping destination in Arizona for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the park enjoys a fantastic location in the Sonoran Desert, at the foot of the Superstition Mountains and surrounded by the beautiful Tonto National Forest. The excellent trail system, geocaching opportunities, and wildlife viewing also make this a great destination. And finally, with winter highs averaging in the 60’s and 70’s, there’s perfect weather for exploring and camping throughout the season.
The Lost Dutchman Campground has 135 sites that can accommodate all kinds of tent and RV campers. About half of the sites have water and electrical hookups (50/30/20 amp) and there’s enough room for rigs of all sizes. The remainder of the sites can accommodate tents or RVs without hookups. Each spacious site has a picnic table and fire pit with grill grate. There are restrooms with flush toilets and showers and a dump station on site. Larger groups will enjoy the three well-maintained group sites.
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, be sure to check out Lost Dutchman State Park’s camping cabins. These cabins come equipped with a queen bed and two sets of bunk beds (no linens), table and chairs, electricity, and heat if you need it on the chilliest nights. The cabins have incredible views of the Superstition Mountains and are a great way to experience camping with a touch of comfort.
Camping Option: Primitive tent & RV camping
Permits needed: No ($15/night fee)
If you’re looking for a more primitive camping experience but still want access to a few facilities, consider a winter camping trip to the Peppersauce Campground in Coronado National Forest. The campground is ideally located for all types of activities, including great hiking opportunities on the Arizona Trail and many others, caving, and OHVing. It’s also less than 30 minutes from the beautiful Oracle State Park and the super cool Biosphere 2.
The Peppersauce Campground is set at the foot of Mt. Lemmon amongst towering sycamore and walnut trees. Sites are first come, first served and are well spaced and private. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring with grill grate. The campground has vault toilets and potable water. It is not staffed, so visitors are expected to drop their payment into the self-service box upon arrival. It’s important to note that the road to the campground is pretty rugged and best attempted by high-clearance 4WD vehicles. Sites can accommodate RVs up to 22 feet long, but trailers are not recommended since there are no pull-throughs and not much room to turn around.
Although the winters are typically pretty mild in this part of Arizona, you’ll need to be prepared for cold nights and occasional snow. The campground is located at an elevation of 4,700 feet so the weather can change quickly!
Camping Option: Tent & RV Camping
Permits needed: None required, but reservations are recommended
Picacho Peak State Park is a desert paradise located roughly halfway between Tucson and Phoenix. It’s an excellent winter camping destination due to its balmy temperatures (highs in the upper 60’s and lows that usually stay around 40 degrees). Take advantage of the perfect weather to explore the park’s interesting and scenic trails, some of which take you to the summit of Picacho Peak. There are also great opportunities for stargazing and wildlife viewing in this beautiful pocket of the Sonoran Desert. And if you visit on the tail end of winter (late February through mid March), you’ll likely see spectacular wildflower blooms throughout the park.
The campground at Picacho Peak State Park has 85 sites, all with electric hookups, that can accommodate tents or RVs of any size. Sites have ample room between one another, allowing for a good deal of space and privacy. All sites have picnic tables and fire pits with grill grates, and many have covered ramadas. The well-maintained restrooms have showers, and there’s portable water and a dump station on site. As an added bonus, high speed internet is available at all sites for an additional fee.
Camping Option: RV and tent camping, cabins
Permits needed: Reservation recommended
This one’s for all the snowbird campers out there who just want to get to a sunny beach and escape the depths of winter. The 260-acre Patagonia Lake is a water-lover’s paradise, with opportunities for fishing, boating, and swimming (although you should expect chilly temps if swimming in the winter). The park borders the Sonoita State Creek Natural Area, which offers fantastic hiking and equestrian trails. It is located far south in the state, just 15 miles from the border at Nogales.
The Patagonia Lake State Park Campground is located right on the lake, close to the sandy swimming beach and the Lakeside Market, which has essentials like ice, a gas station, and boat rentals. The 105 developed sites each feature electrical hookups (20/30 and 50 amp), picnic tables, and a fire pit with grill grate. Some sites have shade structures. Although the sites are pretty close together, they are nicely maintained and provide access to good facilities.
In addition to the main campground, there are a few other awesome camping opportunities available at Patagonia Lake State Park. First, there are 12 boat-in campsites located on private islands or remote parts of the shoreline. Sites are primitive; they each have a picnic table and fire pit, but they do not have bathrooms. If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, be sure to check out the rustic camping cabins that offer great lake views. Both the cabins and the boat-in sites can be reserved through the online reservation system.
Given that Patagonia Lake is located at an elevation of 3750 feet, campers should expect cold nights (lows routinely drop into the 20’s in December and January) and the occasional snowfall. However, there are plenty of warm and sunny days, as well, with average highs in the mid-60’s to low 70’s.
Camping Option: Backcountry
Permits needed: No, just register on arrival
If you’re looking to get away from busy campgrounds, Arizona is the perfect place for a winter backpacking trip. The White Rock Springs loop is a 23-mile figure-eight route that takes hikers through some of the best scenery in the rugged Superstition Mountains. It’s usually completed in two nights and three days. First Water Trailhead, the traditional starting point, is just 40 miles from Phoenix, making this a great option for a quick weekend getaway.
The route begins by following First Water trail to connect with Second Water Trail and hanging a right at the junction to join Black Mesa Trail. Along the Black Mesa Trail, hikers will enjoy incredible views of rock formations such as Black Mesa and Weaver’s Needle. At the Dutchman’s Trail junction, take a left to go over Bull Pass and then rejoin Dutchman’s to eventually meet the Calvary Trail junction (a left takes you to White Rock Springs) and some established backcountry sites.
The nice thing about this route is that you’ll leave your campsite set up in the same location for both nights. On the second day, leave your pack behind and complete a 10-mile loop that takes you right past Weaver’s Needle and Bluff Saddle. Charlebois Springs is just over a mile from the campsite, and it’s a good place to fill up on water at the start or end of the loop. On your third and final day, you’ll head out the way you came and follow Dutchman’s Trail to rejoin First Water Trail and complete the loop. Check out this website for detailed route information.
It’s important to note that the Superstition Wilderness is a very remote and rugged area and this trip should only be attempted by experienced hikers and backpackers. You’ll need to come prepared with lots of water, as well as gear for a variety of conditions. Although we believe winter is the best season to explore this area, you may encounter rain or snow. The nights and mornings will almost certainly be very cold, so bring layers and the proper gear to stay warm. However, all of your efforts will be rewarded by incredible views, towering saguaros, and solitude in nature.
Camping Option: Primitive tent & RV camping
Permits needed: No
We’re heading north to the Grand Canyon for this next entry on our list. Winter is a fantastic time to visit Grand Canyon National Park. There are far fewer crowds this time of year, you’ll have plenty of sunny days in the 50’s, and the higher elevations are strikingly beautiful with a dusting of snow on the higher elevations. The Mather Campground inside the park is open year round, but we prefer free, dispersed camping in nearby Kaibab National Forest.
The 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.
Camping Option: Tent camping
Permits needed: Reservations recommended
This beautiful campground is located just 10 minutes from Sedona, but it enjoys splendid natural scenery of the surrounding rock walls, creek, and forest. There are plenty of great recreational opportunities in the immediate area, and even more in nearby Slide Rock State Park. Although busy in the summer, it’s typically very quiet in the winter months.
There are fewer than 20 sites at the Manzanita Campground, each with a picnic table and fire pit. Four of the sites are available on a first-come, first served basis only. Sites are on the smaller side, and most only have room for one tent or small van. There are vault toilets available year round.
Be advised that visiting Manzanita Campground from November-March can be a true winter camping experience, with a good chance of snow or rain and cold temperatures. The narrow road to access the campground can become pretty hard to traverse in the snow, so you may need to walk in or bring a reliable 4WD vehicle.
Camping Option: Primitive tent & RV Camping
Permits needed: No
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 region’s best attractions here, including the peaceful Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
This is a beautiful area for winter camping in the desert. Highs between November and March tend to hover in the mid-60’s or mid-70’s and nights are chilly. Sites are typically level and dry, and the paved road in makes this accessible for all rigs. There’s not much shade to be found in the area, so be sure to bring your solar panels and canopy!
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!
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Camping Option: Primitive hike-in camping
Permits needed: Yes
Saguaro National Park is home to an incredible mix of mountain and desert environments, excellent hiking trails, and of course its majestic namesake cactus. The park is comprised of two separate areas. The area west of Tucson is the Tucson Mountain District and the area to the east is the Rincon Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District features more desert scenery, while the Rincon Mountain District has larger mountains and more camping opportunities.
Camping in Saguaro National Park is only allowed in designated campgrounds, and all of the campgrounds require a good deal of hiking to reach them. The campgrounds are all first come first served, although you do need a permit to camp. Sites are primitive, so it’s important that you bring enough water and Leave No Trace.
When winter camping in Saguaro National Park, it’s a good idea to stick to campgrounds at lower elevations if you want to minimize your chances of getting caught in a snowstorm. The Douglas Spring and Grass Shack campgrounds are great options during the winter months. Both hikes to access these campgrounds are fantastic, with incredible views of the some the park’s best scenery.
Winter Camping Preparation & Must Know
Winter camping in Arizona can range from hot and sunny to snowy and freezing, so it’s important to be prepared. Depending on where you choose to explore, you might experience more mild desert temperatures or more harsh mountain weather. However, even if you’re camping in the desert, you can expect it to get very chilly at night. Plus, there’s always the chance for rain in the winter months.
Check out some of our top gear picks to make your trip more comfortable:
- Four season tent: If you’re camping in a snowy, cold environment, a four season tent is an absolute must. This version from REI offers a great value.
- High insulation sleeping pad – You’ll typically want a higher R-value (warmer) sleeping pad for winter camping. This is true even for some desert areas that routinely drop below freezing at night. This version from Exped is sure to keep you warm.
- Hand warmers – Sometimes the simplest items have the biggest impact. A few pairs of hand warmers can make all the difference on your winter camping trip.
- Wool socks – Keeping your feet comfortable and toasty is essential for any winter camping trip. We recommend the wool mountaineering socks from Darn Tough.
- Shade canopy – Whether you’re camping in the desert or the mountains, a portable shade structure can provide much needed relief from sun, rain, or snow.
Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a winter camping trip in Arizona, and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure!
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!
Don’t forget to check out some of our other Arizona camping guides below: