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The Arizona Trail offers many camping spots along its 819-mile route, such as this one at Crabtree Wash on Apache Lake.
© Kerrick James
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For more campsites, pick up a copy of our book, Arizona's 144 Best Campgrounds. Now in its fifth printing, the book ($15.95) features the state's most beautiful campgrounds. To order a copy, call 800-543-5432 or click here.
Outta Site!You've heard of rooms with a view? Well, we went looking for something a little different. And we found it. From the remote wilderness of the Grand Canyon to a place on the Colorado River that can only be reached by boat, we discovered 10 of the best campsites in Arizona. They're not exactly easy to get to, but talk about tents with a view.
Written and photographed by Kerrick James
>> Editor's Note: What follows are 10 of what we consider the most amazing campsites in Arizona. Although each one falls into the general category of "car-camping," they're remote and require more effort than just pulling into a KOA. You'll need to pack the basics: tent, sleeping bag, sunscreen, sunglasses, maps, matches, compass, flashlight, pocketknife, first-aid kit, food, water, clothing, etc. Because you're car-camping, pack plenty of extras and, if at all possible, travel with someone else. If that's not an option, let someone know where you're going and when you plan to return. Of course, while you're out enjoying the great outdoors, keep in mind that even when the skies are clear, flash floods are a reality in Arizona. Beware. Also, if you see lightning approaching, take cover in your vehicle or crouch down in a low, dry spot. If you plan to use a portable stove or build a campfire, check with the area's governing agency beforehand — fire restrictions may apply during periods of high fire danger. At campsites where fires are allowed, use only established fire pits, and put your fire out at least 30 minutes before you start to break camp. Let the fire die down, then pour water over the wood and ashes and cover them with soil. Mix the soil, water and ashes until the fire and any embers are completely out. Finally, use common sense and always obey the Leave No Trace Ethics.
CUTTHROAT CAMPGROUND, BIG LAKEThis beautiful site in a tents-only campground on the south shore of Big Lake offers great views of nearby Mount Baldy. Named for the trout that are stocked in the area lakes, the 9,040-foot-high site is surrounded by groves of aspens and grassy meadows. If you're looking for a little exercise, follow the Little Colorado River drainage up the slopes of Mount Baldy — the views from the top extend well into New Mexico. You'll find potable water, showers and vault toilets on-site; filter any water you drink from the lake.
Directions: From Pinetop, drive east on State Route 260 for 60 miles. Turn south onto State Route 261 and continue 20 miles. Turn south onto Forest Road 115 and drive 1 mile.
FYI: The camping fee is $12 per night, and there are 18 campsites available; RVs are not allowed. The campground is open May through September; reservations may be made by calling 928-537-8888 or online at www.reserveamerica.com. Take a warm sleeping bag. You'll need it.
More Information: Springerville Ranger District, Apache-Sit-greaves National Forests, 928-333-4301 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf
THE PRIMITIVE CAMPGROUND, MONUMENT VALLEYRanking right up there with the Grand Canyon in terms of world-famous icons are The Mittens of Navajo Nation's Monument Valley Park — sandstone monoliths that look like giant red hands emerging from the ocher soil. Most people simply drive by and gaze out the window, but a better option is to camp right next to The Mittens. It's the best way to watch the interplay of light, shadow and cloud. But that's just the beginning. Rainbows, star tracks, evanescent sunrises and sunsets, horses and riders ... they all allow a seemingly endless range of photographic possibilities, whether you shoot them with a camera or the lenses of your eyes.
Directions: From Kayenta, take U.S. Route 163 north 23 miles to Indian Route 42 (the entrance road to Monument Valley Tribal Park) and turn right (east). Drive 4 miles to the park entrance booth, where you will receive directions to the campground.
FYI: The camping fee is $10 per night, and there's another $5 per person entrance fee to access Monument Valley Tribal Park. The campground is primitive; however, there are chemical toilets and picnic tables. The Navajo Nation observes daylight saving time, while the rest of Arizona does not. And be sure to pack every memory card or roll of film you can find — you'll need them all.
More Information: Monument Valley Tribal Park, 435-727-5874 or www.navajonationparks.org
SPILLWAY CAMPGROUND, WOODS CANYON LAKEJust a mile or so north of the edge of the Mogollon Rim, about 30 minutes northeast of Payson, this fantastic fishing lake offers campers an oceanfront view, so to speak. When I'm there, I like to pitch my tent under the ponderosa pines at the Spillway Campground. There's nothing better than listening to the swish of the branches and the lapping of water just 30 yards below. The campground provides a shady spot to cool off after hiking along the scenic Mogollon Rim, home to the largest contiguous stand of ponderosa pines in the world.
Directions: From Payson, drive east on State Route 260 past Kohl's Ranch to where the road tops out on the Mogollon Rim. Turn left onto Forest Road 300, across from the Rim Visitors Center; follow the signs for approximately 5 miles to Woods Canyon Lake. FYI: The camping fee is $20 per night. Reservations are highly recommended; make them at 877-444-6777 or online at www.recre
ation.gov. Because the lake is located at an elevation of 7,500 feet, the nights will be chilly — you might even need an extra blanket. The campground is closed mid-September through mid-May, earlier or later, depending on weather. Drinking water is available.
More Information: Springerville Ranger District, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, 928-333-4301 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf
POINT SUBLIME, GRAND CANYONRarely does a name say it all, but this one surely does. After 18 deeply rutted, often-muddy miles on a high-centered road, you'll come to the naked limestone ledges at the very edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. You'll know you're there when you're surrounded by endless vistas to the south, east and west. At any time of day, from morning sunbeams to afternoon thunderstorm displays, it's likely you'll be blown away by what you'll see in front of you. So, pack a camera, preferably something panoramic, a tripod, a rain slicker and watch the weather, light and drama change the views of the Canyon every other second.
Directions: From Flagstaff, drive north on State Route 89 to State Route 89A and turn left. Continue to State Route 67 and turn south toward the North Rim entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Turn right just before the ranger station before reaching the rim.
FYI: The camping is free; however, it's primitive, which means there are no amenities and no potable water, and a camping permit is required. Permits are available from the Backcountry Information Office of Grand Canyon National Park. The office is open 1-5 p.m., Monday through Friday only. Beware, this is remote backcountry, so be prepared and check your spare tire before leaving the house (see Editor's Note, page 16). A high-clearance vehicle is strongly recommended.
More Information: Backcountry Information Office, Grand Canyon National Park, 928-638-7875 or www.nps.gov/grca
THREE DUNESArizona's "West Coast," as it's known, offers a wide variety of small, secluded campsites, many of which are reachable only by boat. One of my favorites, Three Dunes, is in a small cove ringed by a soft, sandy beach. I especially like the wind-sculpted dunes that afford views up and down the river. It reminds me of the shoreline along the Sea of Cortes. In addition to being a scenic location to shoot, it's also ideal if you just want to camp and relax.
Directions: To Cattail Cove State Park from Lake Havasu City, drive south on State Route 95 for 11 miles. Turn right (west) onto Lake Shore Boulevard and follow to the park's entrance. To reach the park's 28 primitive boat-in campsites by motorized boat, contact a park ranger.
FYI: The camping fee is $10 per night. Although it can get warm in the daytime, evenings cool off nicely by the water, even during the summer months. Nevertheless, always keep plenty of water handy, and filter any water you drink from the river.
More Information: Cattail Cove State Park, 928-855-1223 or www.azstateparks.com/Parks/CACO
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