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9 Top-Rated Campgrounds in the Phoenix Area

Written by Lana Law
Jul 30, 2020

If you are craving a bit of nature and want a break from the metropolitan area, you can find a good selection of campgrounds in the mountains on either side of Phoenix. Many of the best camping areas are found in regional parks operated by Maricopa County, which also generally offer a range of activities or are based around natural features.

Hikers, mountain bikers, and even those looking for a place to go horseback riding will find campgrounds that offer areas for these activities nearby. If you simply want to enjoy some scenery and escape the city, you can set up camp on the shore of a lake or the base of a mountain.

Camping on the east side of the city offers the easiest access to the major attractions of Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Mesa.

Campgrounds on the west side of the city are quite a distance, both in terms of geography and traffic congestion, from the city sights. They do not make a good base if you are coming to the area with the intention of spending time in the city.

For all Maricopa County Parks, the maximum stay is 14 days, and you can reserve sites up to six months in advance. Some campgrounds ask you to leave for a period of time, others may simply ask you to move sites.

For more information and a comprehensive overview, see our list of the best campgrounds in Phoenix.

See also: Where to Stay near Parks and Natural Areas around Phoenix

1. Usery Mountain County Park Campground

Usery Mountain County Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Usery Mountain Regional Park is set against the stunning backdrop of a colorful mountainside, on the eastern edge of Mesa.

Most of the 73 campsites offer a beautiful panorama and are well spaced and surrounded by palo verde trees, cholla cactus, tall saguaros, and barrel cactus. Sites have paved parking areas, water, and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a fire ring. Facilities include flush toilets but no showers.

The popular Wind Cave hike is just a short drive from the campground. Also available in the area is an archery range, and fitness buffs will find outdoor equipment located near the Merkle Trail.

2. Lost Dutchman State Park Campground

Lost Dutchman State Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Although Lost Dutchman State Park is just a short distance east of Phoenix, it feels a world away. Flat Iron Mountain provides the spectacular backdrop to this state park, and views from the campsites will make you want to park yourself here for a few days.

The 134-site campground at Lost Dutchman State Park offers a true desert setting, with individual sites plunked in around the vegetation. A few saguaros dot the landscape here and there, but most of the vegetation is low-level bushes. Only a few sites have shade ramadas, otherwise, you can expect to be camping in full sun.

This campground is well set up for RVs, with large sites and level parking pads, back-in and pull-through sites, and some have electric and water hookups. All sizes of RVs are accepted. You'll also find tent camping areas. Showers and flush toilets are available.

The hike up the mountain, Flat Iron Summit via Siphon Draw is one of the top hikes in the Phoenix area, and if you want to get an early start on this demanding trail, it's best to camp here.

Official site: https://azstateparks.com/lost-dutchman/

3. Cave Creek Regional Park Campground

Cave Creek Regional Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Set at the base of low mountains, this is a beautiful area for camping, with multi-use trails running through the surrounding hills. This campground is a great option if you want to base yourself in this area north of Phoenix.

The campground itself is quite small, with only 44 developed sites. Set well apart from each other, and surrounded by low bushes, ocotillos, and saguaros, the sites offer plenty of privacy.

Sites are flat and have paved parking pads, as well as water and electric hookups. Some campsites have areas for horses. Comfort stations have flush toilets and showers.

4. McDowell Mountain Regional Park Campground

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

With 50 miles of multi-use trails, McDowell Mountain Regional Park Campground is popular with campers who also have an interest in hiking, horseback riding, and particularly mountain biking. In addition to the single-track trails, the park also has a competitive track.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park is located in the far northeast of Phoenix, 10 miles beyond Fountain Hills, and is quite a distance from any services. You should come prepared and be fully self-sufficient.

There are two campground areas, Ironwood and E.I. Rowland. Ironwood is two miles beyond E.I. Rowland and is reserved exclusively for tents, with a total of 13 sites. E.I. Rowland is open to both tents and RVs and can accommodate rigs up to 45 feet. Both campgrounds have paved parking areas, fire rings, and barbeques, and the sites are spaced a good distance from each other.

In the E.I. Rowland campground, each site also has water and electricity. Both campgrounds have flush toilets and showers in the comfort stations. One unique feature of the E.I Rowland campground is the covered children's play area with several kinds of climbing structures.

The surrounding countryside is a mix of small scrub bushes and the occasional saguaro. At night, you might hear the coyotes howling.

5. Lake Pleasant Regional Park Campground

Lake Pleasant Regional Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Camping next to a large lake in Arizona is a rare and unusual experience and staying at Lake Pleasant Regional Park Campground allows you that pleasure.

Campsites are spread along the shoreline and range from developed to primitive. At over 1,600 feet, the slightly higher elevation and large lake provide a bit of relief from the heat of Phoenix.

Depending on the campground you choose, you will be right by the water or up above, with views out over the lake and surrounding countryside. The park has 148 sites, some of which have electrical and some of which do not, but all sites generally come with a shade ramada, fire pit, picnic table, and barbecue. The comfort stations all have flush toilets and showers.

The park has two main campgrounds, Desert Tortoise, with a mix of developed and semi-developed sites, and Roadrunner, with all developed sites.

Desert Tortoise has three loops, one of which, the Bajada Loop, is out on a peninsula and provides great views. Roadrunner has three loops as well and is set back from the water, but the campground is more modern, less dusty, and a bit more organized.

6. White Tank Mountain Regional Park Campground

Trail near Visitor Center | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

White Tank Mountain Regional park is spread out over nearly 30,000 acres on the eastern fringes of Phoenix. The camping consists of 40 sites of varying sizes, each with water and electrical service, a picnic table, and barbecue fire ring. Tents and RVs use the same sites, and the maximum RV length accepted is 45 feet.

Hiking, biking, and equestrian trails are located throughout the park, along with a competitive track.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park is a long way from the city, and services like grocery stores are scarce, so make sure you are well equipped.

Showers, flush toilets, and a dump station are available. Note that jet aircraft noise can be an issue here, as Luke Airforce Base is located nearby.

One unusual feature of the park is the modern public library set just outside the gates, which is combined with the White Tank Mountain Regional Park Nature Center.

7. Estrella Mountain Regional Park Campground

Estrella Mountain Regional Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Estrella Mountain Regional Park is a large park located in the far southwest side of the Phoenix area. The camping options are limited to seven RV sites located near the arena grounds. Sites are large but offer little more than a paved pad with hookups facing out over a gravel parking lot.

The sites have water and electricity and a picnic table and barbecue. Flush toilets are nearby. The park is popular for its hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, as well as for the Tres Rios Golf Course.

8. Coon Bluff Campground

Imagine camping near a cool river in the middle of the desert. This is what you'll find at Coon Bluff Campground.

Located 17 miles from Mesa, this basic campground has limited facilities, but it's the setting that is what will make you want to go. The campground is filled with mesquite trees that provide ample shade, and the river access is easy.

Only five true sites are available, but camping is permitted pretty much anywhere you can put a tent.

Camping is first-come, first-served and only permitted on weekends from October 1st to March 31st.

Camping is free with a Tonto Pass, available at local retailers around the city.

9. Saddle Mountain Dispersed Camping on BLM Lands

Saddle Mountain dispersed camping

Just to the west of Phoenix, near Tonapah, you'll find a wonderful place in the desert to set up camp. Just follow the roads in, pick your patch of sand, and set up. Camping here is free.

This is dry camping or "boondocking" in RV speak, so there are no facilities whatsoever, except a stone fire ring. You need to be fully equipped with water, food, and something to provide shade. Most people out here are in RVs.

Access is south off Interstate 10 on Courthouse Road. Anywhere past mile marker 13 on the left is flat with decent roads.

Where to Stay near Parks and Natural Areas around Phoenix

If you can't find a place to camp, or the weather isn't what you were expecting when you left home, here are some quality, moderately priced, interesting, and fun hotel options near popular outdoor areas:

  • Mid-Range Hotels: A 10-minute drive from Usery Mountain Regional Park is Westgate Painted Mountain Golf Resort, complete with an outdoor pool. This hotel gives you far more comfort than camping, reasonable rates, and convenient access to the great outdoors.

    Right out of another era, the Arizona Golf Resort is a quaint property with lovely pool areas. It was originally built in the 1960s and has preserved much of its character. It also offers easy access to the Superstition Mountains and natural attractions on the east side of the city.
  • Budget Hotels: You can usually find good-value at the Surestay Hotel by Best Western Phoenix Airport. This property offers basic but comfortable rooms and is about a 30- to 40-minute drive to places like Estrella, White Tank, and Usery Mountain Regional Parks.

    The Baymont by Wyndham Mesa, with a pool, is located in Mesa and will put you a bit closer to the parks on the east side of the city.

More to Explore near Phoenix and Other Areas of Arizona

Camping: Just a couple of hours away, you'll find more outstanding campgrounds around Tucson. In summer, and especially during hot spells, head to the hills and find a cool retreat in the campgrounds around Payson, Prescott, and Sedona. These destinations are much higher and offer cooler temperatures, and campsites among tall pine trees. And, if you really want to experience some great camping, see our article on the best places to camp in Arizona.

Hiking: If you are interested in camping, chances are, you are interested in hiking and walking trails. Discover where to go hiking with our guide to the best hikes in Arizona. For more details on hiking around urban areas, which tend to include shorter walks and nature trails, see our articles on the top hikes around Tucson, Prescott and Sedona.

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