9 Top-Rated Campgrounds near Tucson

Written by Lana Law
Jul 30, 2020

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Just minutes from the edge of Tucson, you can find campgrounds that are equal or better than the best you'll find in some states. The desert and nearby mountains provide outstanding scenery, and the birds and other wildlife are surprisingly abundant.

The different elevations found around Tucson also create opportunities for a diverse range of camping experiences, from setting up next to a saguaro in the heat of the desert to pitching a tent under a tall ponderosa pine near a lake.

Where you choose to camp may depend on the season. Higher regions make great escapes in the summer but are too cold for camping in winter.

It's also worth noting that tents and RVs coexist quite amicably in most of the campgrounds around Tucson. RVers who want to enjoy the natural surroundings don't need to limit themselves to an urban RV park, and tenters have a full range of options.

Find what you're looking for with our list of the best campgrounds near Tucson.

See also: Where to Stay in Tucson: Great Alternatives to Camping

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson Mountain Park

Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson Mountain Park
Gilbert Ray Campground, Tucson Mountain Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you truly want to camp in the desert while still having the convenience of a designated campground, you can't beat the Gilbert Ray Campground. Campsites are surrounded by saguaro and prickly pear cactus, and the views stretch out to the mountains and distant valley.

This campground, only 13 miles from Tucson, puts you right on the doorstep of the west section of Saguaro National Park. Just down the road are hiking trails, Old Tucson Studios, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

This is a Pima County campground with 130 sites, all first-come, first-served. It can accommodate tents and RVs and has 30-amp electrical hookups. Only a few sites have shade covers; almost all are in full sun.

You can stay up to seven days and then must vacate for a minimum of seven days. As a result, if you are just arriving without a reservation, you have a relatively good chance of getting in here.

2. Campgrounds A and B, Catalina State Park

Campgrounds A and B, Catalina State Park
Campgrounds A and B, Catalina State Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Just 15 miles from the heart of downtown Tucson, on the northern edge of the city, Catalina State Park offers some amazing camping.

Campgrounds A and B are two camping areas in the park, almost adjacent to each other, and both offer outstanding views to Mount Lemmon and incredible wildlife viewing. You can expect to see vermillion fly catchers, hear owls hooting at night, possibly spot a bobcat, and almost trip over prairie dogs everywhere in the campground.

Two of the most popular hiking trails in the Tucson area leave from this region of the park and are just a five-minute drive from the campgrounds.

Each site has a picnic table, but shade is hard to come by. Sites are huge, with flat parking pads. Small trees offer some privacy and attract birds. The two campgrounds combined offer 120 drive-in sites, each with water and a majority with electricity, and free Wi-Fi. Facilities includes showers, restrooms, and a dump station.

All sites are reservable for up to 14 days and should be booked well in advance. You can reserve online or by phone. This is an incredibly popular campground.

This campground is extremely convenient to shops and services. Pretty much anything you need is within three miles, including grocery stores, restaurants, a Target, and a Super Walmart.

Official site: https://azstateparks.com/reserve/catalina/camping/

3. Rose Canyon Lake Campground

Rose Canyon Lake Campground
Rose Canyon Lake Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you are looking for a quick weekend camping getaway from Tucson during the warmer months, Rose Canyon Lake Campground is a wonderful destination.

Not far from Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, this campground is centered around scenic Rose Canyon Lake. At an elevation of about 7,000 feet, the area has a real alpine feel, with stands of huge ponderosa pines and Gambel oak. The campsites are back from the lake but well spread out, with plenty of space at each site.

The campground has 70 sites and is the most developed of the five or six campgrounds in the area. Sites are a mix of first-come, first-served and reservable. Facilities are limited to pit toilets and central water taps.

While it seems a world away from the city, way up in the sky island, it is only 22 miles from Tucson.

Official site: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/rose-canyon/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70583

4. Molino Basin Campground

Molino Basin Campground
Molino Basin Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Molino Basin Campground is the first of a series of campgrounds along the Sky Island Scenic Byway, east of Tucson, also known as the Mount Lemmon Highway.

This campground is set at an elevation of approximately 4,500 feet, but despite the altitude, it still has a very desert-like feel. Small to medium-size trees (oak and mesquite) are scattered around the campground, but the landscape is mostly long grass, often a golden color.

This is one of the nicest campgrounds in the area. Scenic hills surround the area, sites are well spaced and offer plenty of privacy, and most sites are level. Many are perched on a small hill, out on their own. Some sites have shade covers, but many do not.

Molino Basin Campground has 37 campsites and is best suited to tents and small trailers. A small number of sites are walk-in. The group site can be booked, the rest of the sites are first-come, first-served.

Facilities are limited to pit toilets and there is no drinking water at this campground.

Official site: https://www.recreation.gov/camping/molino/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72131

5. General Hitchcock Campground

General Hitchcock Campground
General Hitchcock Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Beyond Molino Basin Campground on the Sky Island Scenic Byway, at an elevation of over 6,000 feet, General Hitchcock Campground is the first campground along here with some tall ponderosa pines and an alpine setting.

This location has just 12 tent-only campsites, all first-come, first-served, but the setting here is beautiful. Large boulders are strewn about the landscape in among the trees and sites, and pine needles carpet the ground. Each site has a fire pit and standing barbecue. There is no water at this campground and only pit toilets.

The Green Mountain Trail, open to hikers and bikers, leaves from the campground.

Beyond this campground, the highway is quite dramatic. The road hugs the mountainside, sometimes on bridges, and the canyon becomes quite narrow in some sections.

6. Colossal Cave Mountain Park Campground

Colossal Cave Mountain Park Campground
Colossal Cave Mountain Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Another campground with a beautiful setting on the southeastern edge of Tucson is the Colossal Cave Mountain Park campground. Built in the Posta Quemada canyon by the Civilian Corp of Engineers in 1934, it's a shady place with historic features. Sites are set among large saguaro cactus and mesquite trees.

The campground has 30 sites and is primarily geared toward tent camping but can accommodate a limited number of RVs. This is a primitive campground with no electrical sites and limited restrooms and water. Campsites have tables and barbecue grills. Pets are welcome.

Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, check in at the Cave Shop first.

The main park gate is locked each night, so no entrance or exit is allowed after certain hours. This park is well positioned, just 11 miles south of Saguaro National Park (East), on Old Spanish Trail.

Official site: http://colossalcave.com/camp-picnic/

7. Picacho Peak State Park Campground

Picacho Peak State Park Campground
Picacho Peak State Park Campground | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Located 40 miles northwest of Tucson on Interstate 10, Picacho Peak is hard to miss. Standing much higher than anything in the surrounding area, the angular peak is particularly eye-catching from a distance.

The campground at the base of the peak is a lovely retreat in the desert, close to interesting hiking trails and set among saguaros and other vegetation of the Sonoran Desert.

The 100 campsites are a mix of reservable and first-come, first-served sites. Facilities include restrooms, showers, electrical sites, and a dump station.

Official site: https://azstateparks.com/reserve/picacho/camping/

8. Saguaro National Park Backcountry Campsites

Douglas Spring Camp
Douglas Spring Camp | Richard Bonnett / photo modified

If your idea of camping involves throwing a backpack on your back and heading off into the wilderness for alone time, the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park has just what you're after.

Located in the east section of the park, in the Rincon Mountain District, is the Saguaro Wilderness Area, with six backcountry campgrounds. These are not just simple walk-in sites, these are sites you must hike into on foot or with livestock to access, and many have serious elevation gains.

The campgrounds are located at altitudes that range from 4,800 feet to 9,000 feet, high up in the pine forest. Temperatures are much cooler at these higher elevations.

You can reach the trailheads at several different access points. Permits are required, and you should educate yourself fully on the complexities of this undertaking before hitting the trails.

Facilities at the campsites include pit toilets and hitching rails for horses. Bear boxes are provided. Seasonal water sources are available, but all water must be treated.

Permits are required and can be booked online up to six months in advance on a rolling date basis. Note that the link below is very helpful, but the reservations procedure for the permits changed in 2020.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/sagu/planyourvisit/upload/Saguaro-Wilderness-Modified-for-2015-7.pdf

9. Spencer Canyon Campground

The Spencer Canyon campground, located near Summerhaven, has 66 sites in a rustic setting with large ponderosa pine trees. Set at an elevation of 8,000 feet, the campground is pleasantly cool in the heat of a Tucson summer.

Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, bear box, and barbecue. Water is available; comfort facilities consist of pit toilets. It may seem strange, but the night views of the city lights down the canyon towards Tucson are quite spectacular.

The campground has size restrictions: no trailers or RVs over 22 feet are allowed. All sites are first-come, first-served.

Where to Stay in Tucson: Great Alternatives to Camping

If camping doesn't work out for you or you would like to treat yourself to a couple of nights in a hotel, you can find some great options near natural areas.

  • Luxury Hotels: If you have decided to completely abandon the whole idea of camping and suddenly want to pamper yourself in luxury, while still maintaining that feeling of being one with nature, or perhaps experiencing a taste of the West, White Stallion Ranch might be just what you're looking for. This dude ranch offers a chance to horseback ride through the hillsides, hike to the mountaintops, or climb the cliff sides. Learn rodeo skills, or just relax in the pool. At night, gather around a campfire, enjoy some live entertainment, take watercolor classes, learn dancing, or appreciate the night sky with an astronomy show. Rooms are decorated in a luxurious western theme.

    Alternatively, Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch is a small, intimate resort that offers a more traditional stay. Fabulous gardens greet visitors, and the hillside pool looks out to the mountains. Rooms are well-appointed and offer everything you could need. The resort is located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, on the eastern edge of Tucson.

    For a more extensive list of luxury retreats, see our list of the Top Resorts in Tucson.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: If you want to wake up, have your coffee while watching a roadrunner whisk past, and then head off for a day of hiking, you may enjoy Tanque Verde Ranch. Located on the east side of Tucson near Saguaro National Park, this dude ranch offers a whole range of activities for adults and kids, from hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding to fishing or spending a relaxing day at the spa. Salas and casitas feature tasteful decor, and some come with fireplaces. The on-site restaurant features southwestern cuisine.

    The very reasonably priced Comfort Suites at Sabino Canyon is in a great location for people who want to enjoy the outdoors. Sabino Canyon, home to some of the best hiking around Tucson, is right on the doorstep, and nearby is Mt. Lemmon. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, and the property has a pool, hot tub, and lovely central courtyard.
  • Budget Hotels: You can find some good budget hotels near the airport. Two of the top picks in this area include the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, which features a pool and hot tub, as well as free breakfast, and the Baymont Inn & Suites, also with a pool and complimentary breakfast.

More Outdoor Adventures in Arizona

imageCamping in Arizona: For inspiration in planning more camping adventures, and to point you in the direction of some areas you may not have considered, see our article on the best campgrounds in Arizona. If you are heading north, learn more about where to camp with our piece on the top campgrounds in the Phoenix area. You'll be surprised what you find around this metropolitan area, including lakefront campsites. As well, have a look at the best places to camp in Sedona and Prescott.

imageHiking in Arizona: You'll find no end to great hiking in Arizona. For the best of the best, see our comprehensive series of articles on hiking in the following destinations: Phoenix, Sedona, Prescott, and an overall look at the best hikes in Arizona.

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