Want an escape from the summer heat in the Valley? Look no further than your home state. Arizona houses some of the most beautiful and accessible campsites in the country. You can choose from a wide variety of scenery and experiences to match your taste. So pack your bags, hop in the car, and see what adventures Arizona’s wilderness offers when you visit these spectacular slices of nature.
1. Monument Valley
Located in northern Arizona along the Arizona-Utah border, you’ll instantly know this landmark when you see it. Monument Valley’s majestic sandstone buttes tower over the landscape and define the quintessential “Southwest” in many people’s minds, thanks to numerous Western movies employing it as a backdrop, from “Stagecoach” in 1939 to the Western scene of “The Lego Movie” in 2014.
This iconic region boasts several campsites, including Goulding’s Campground and The View Campground. The former costs $34 a night and the latter $20, but both allow campers a spectacular view of the valley from an up-close and immersive perspective. Both sites also allow for RVs if your idea of roughing it means setting the air conditioner to 80 degrees.
2. Lockett Meadow Campground
Showcasing a beautiful view of the San Francisco Peaks, Lockett Meadow in Flagstaff offers a cool and refreshing escape into nature. The primitive facilities – no on-site drinking water, for example – appeal especially to those who love a purist mountain camping experience.
Several hiking trails start at the meadow, the most notable being the Inner Basin Trail. This trail – as you might suspect – ultimately leads to the Inner Basin, the heart of an ancient volcano. You’re likely to see plenty of wildlife around the campground, including elk, porcupines and wood thrush.
Reservations are not required, but you might want to head up early as the campground fills up fast. It costs $14 per night per family (up to 8 people), or $8 for a day pass.
Lockett Meadow Campground | 928-527-3600
3. Paria Canyon (Vermilion Cliffs)
To protect this unique and beautiful bit of land, Congress created the Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area in 1984. Paria Canyon’s outstanding scenery, desert wildlife and colorful history make it a truly special destination for scenic travelers and adventurers alike.
Nationally known for its beauty, the Paria Canyon features towering walls streaked with desert varnish, huge red rock amphitheaters, sandstone arches, wooded terraces, and hanging gardens. The 125,000 acres of land are also home to one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the world.
There are plenty of campgrounds around the area, both fee-based and free, and day use permits are available via self-serve envelopes at each trailhead. Just note that in some areas, hiking groups are limited to 10 people per day.
Campgrounds at Vermilion Cliffs | (435) 688-3200
4. Sinkhole Campground
Sinkhole Campground sits back about a mile from the beautiful 150-acre Willow Springs Lake. This campground boasts 26 first-come, first-serve campsites available to the public. Several hiking and mountain biking trails start near the campground, including the General Crook Trail, which follows the famous Mogollon Rim.
For campers interested in fishing or boating, it’s a perfect destination. Rainbow trout and the occasional largemouth bass are regularly caught in Willow Springs Lake. A boat ramp is available for your convenience, but there is an 8 h.p. limit for boat motors.
Sinkhole Campground | (928) 535-7300
Want even more fishing ideas on the Mongollon Rim? Check out this map of fishing spots in the area.
5. Patagonia Lake State Park
Tucked away in the hills of southeastern Arizona rests Patagonia Lake, one the state’s hidden treasures. The local campground overlooks a 265-acre, man-made lake where anglers can catch crappie, bass, bluegill and catfish. If you don’t want to work that hard, rent a motorboat, canoe or kayak just for fun.
The tracks of the New Mexico/Arizona railroad lie beneath the lake and remnants of the old historic line may be found at the Nature Conservancy in Patagonia. Bird watchers love the area as canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture and several species of hummingbirds thrive in the environment.
Camping costs $17 to $20 for a non-electric or boating site, and $27 to $30 for a site with electricity. Day use passes are $15 to $20 per car, but individuals and cyclists can get in for just $3.
Patagonia Lake State Park | (520) 287-6965
– Evan Baltman, Phoenix.org