As the weather warms, it is time to start thinking about a camping trip or three. There are plenty of campgrounds in Southern Arizona, but very few of them are where we would like to spend a pleasant weekend. Most have been turned into barren wastelands, devoid of trees or even brush. Here are a dozen-plus that we can wholeheartedly recommend to our friends and family. Most of them are forested and some have lakes. They all have something unique and special about them. Here are our choices, in no special order of preference, with comments to help you decide what is right for you.
- 1. Bonita Canyon in the Chiricahuas
- 2. Patagonia Lake State Park
- 3. Riggs Flat Campground Mt. Graham
- 4. Soldier Creek Mt. Graham
- 5. Spencer Campground Mt. Lemmon
- 6. Rose Canyon Lake - Mt. Lemmon
- 7. Reef Townsite in Carr Canyon
- 8. Triangle T Guest Ranch - Texas Canyon
- 9. Parker Canyon Lake
- 10. Roper Lake
- 11. Catalina State Park
- 12. Madera Canyon
- 13. Cochise Stronghold State Campground
Bonita Canyon Campground with 25 campsites is suitable for small RV's less than 29ft. It is wonderfully shaded with oak and pine adjacent to Bonita Creek, which is mainly dry in the summer, except after a monsoon downpour. Potable water and flush toilets are available. Many bird species, deer and coati can be seen here. There are 17miles of hiking trails within the Chiricahua National Monument.
Reservations are strongly suggested weeks in advance. There are several other campgrounds in the Chiricahua Mountains that are also suitable but this is the best. You can learn more at the Visitor Center. Don't forget to join a tour of Faraway Ranch and learn about the folks who first settled in the Canyon. The Visitor Center will have a tour schedule.
Campers can make reservations for the campground through the National Reservation Recreation System. Reservations can be made online 24 hours a day or over the phone at 1-877-444-6777. The camping fee is currently $12 per site, per night, or $6 per site, per night for the America the Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Senior and Access pass holders.
If you have a large RV, this is the place. There are 105 campsites, all but two with electricity. 12 sites can take boats. Any size RV is accepted, although not all sites will fit all sizes. A Dump Station is available. Reservations WAY in advance are recommended from May - October. In 2018, seven Camping Cabins were added.
Patgonia Lake is Glamping. There is a Visitor's Center, Park Store where you can buy goodies and a Marina where you can rent a boat. More information is available about Patagonia Lake State Park here.
Editor's Note:10/4/19 Much of Mt. Graham was devastated by the 2017 Frye fire. We have not been up there since, but we will update this page when we do.
The main attraction at Riggs Flat Campground is the 11-acre lake stocked with trout in season. Bring your own water. Mt. Graham is closed from November 15 - April 15. RVs no larger than 22 ft. are allowed. Boating is allowed but no more than a trolling motor. There are many miles of hiking trails in the area. The 28-mile road from the valley floor is VERY winding and narrow. There are several other campgrounds along the route that look nice, but none of them have a lake. Many are secluded and forested. Visit the Coronado National Forest site for more information and reservations. This campground fills up fast in the summer.
4. Soldier Creek Mt. Graham
This is our choice for Summer camping on Mt. Graham. It is quiet and secluded and you can get some privacy, yet the lake is not far away. Many of the campsites are nicely situated in the boulders that dot the area. Campgrounds on Mt. Graham are first come first served. The Visitor's Center is not far from the campground. There are toilets but there is no drinking water.
5. Spencer Campground Mt. Lemmon
Spencer Campground is a forested site with 68 first-come, first served campsites. RV's up to 22' are allowed, but there are no hookups. There is drinking water and toilets at this site. It is cool in the summer as it is the highest elevation campground on Mt. Lemmon. Much of the forested area was burned in the 2003 fire that devastated Mt. Lemmon, but it is still a pleasant campground. For more information, see the Coronado National Forest Website.
6. Rose Canyon Lake - Mt. Lemmon
This is probably the most popular campsite on Mt. Lemmon. OK for 22' RV's, it has water, toilets and stocked trout in its 6 acre lake. No boating or swimming. There is a concessionaire during the high season. Show up early for the first come, first served campsites.
7. Reef Townsite in Carr Canyon
Ah, Carr Canyon is just south of the famous Ramsey Canyon and my favorite. You need a high clearance vehicle (but not 4-wheel drive) to get to the top and it is basically one way. On top the air is cool and clear. There are 14 campsites. The campsite in photo above, if memory serves, is the best because it is somewhat isolated from the others. There are toilets but pack your own water. Trails lead to pretty hefty hikes up to Carr and Miller Peaks. Trailers, no longer than 12', are allowed due to the switchbacks and rough road to the top.
Reef Townsite was a mining town. A short, scenic loop will take you to the remnants of the mining site. I have heard that it gets busy as a campground, but when we have been up there, we were virtually alone. Visit the Coronado National Forest website for more information.
8. Triangle T Guest Ranch - Texas Canyon
We like this spot, not because the campsites are great, better for RV's, but because it is Texas Canyon, and the world renown Amerind Museum is just a short hike away. From here Golden Rule Vineyards and the Ghost Town Trail are not far.
Less than a 2 hour drive from Tucson is a large lake, popular in the summer for RV's. 65 sites are setup for tents and RV's. The 135 acre lake is stocked with trout. You will also find bass, sunfish and catfish. There is a marina on the property where you can rent Kayaks and fishing boats or bring your own. There is a small swimming area as well.
10. Roper Lake
Roper Lake can accommodate up to a 45ft RV. There are 3 campgrounds, 2 with water, electric and showers. We particularly like the idea of the 8 camping cabins that are for rent at the steep price of 65-70 a night. Of course there is a lake for boating, fishing, swimming and a bonus of a natural Hot Springs! There is a great view of Mt. Graham, sandy beaches and a nice picnic area. If you are looking for things to do in the area, this is a good base to visit Kartchner Caverns and Tombstone. You can learn more about Roper Lake's Campgrounds here.
On the west end of Mt. Lemmon (Pusch Ridge) Wilderness is Catalina State Park. Very popular with hikers. There are many trails and historical stories within this park.There were two large ranches here in the early days of Tucson, Romero and Sutherland. Also in this area was the ranch of George Pusch, Stem Pump Ranch, worth a visit. The town of Oro Valley is not far.
Catalina State Park has 120 electric and water sites with no limit to RV size. Another glamping site. There are hot showers for campers. Cushy but not terribly scenic in the sites themselves. The attraction for many is proximity to civilization. The birding and hiking can be great.
12. Madera Canyon
Bog Springs in Madera Canyon has only 13 sites. They are capable of holding a 22ft vehicle. There are no hookups or showers. There is drinking water and toilets. This is a very popular area and reservations are not accepted. Madera Canyon is extremely popular with hikers, backpackers and birders. Just saying, you might get a spot if you are lucky.
We avoided this campground for some time as it was very buggy when we first visited. The rains had been ample and there was water in the washes. We went back recently to picnic and found it quiet, wooded and inviting. The campsites are close together but there are only 13 and it is first come first served and only open from September through May. Ps. It has been known to snow up there.
Suggestions anyone? Send them to [email protected] Thanks!