Arizona: Best State Parks and superb boondocking


Mitry Lake Wildlife Area

If you haven’t seen the announcement, Arizona State Parks has just won Best State Parks in America honors (Arizona State Parks and Trails wins best managed park system in the nation) at the National Recreation and Park Association conference in New Orleans. Arizona was selected as a Final Four candidate in May, along with Tennessee State Parks, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, and Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites, and Trails. So if you plan on snowbirding this winter, it would be a great time to visit Arizona State Parks.

And while you are in the state with the Best State Parks, I would like to mention a few other places in the state worth visiting, and that also happen to be good places to boondock. Here are just a few for you to check out.

Imperial Dam on the Colorado River is a 3,500-acre BLM LTVA and a popular winter retreat for hundreds of RV snowbirds that visit the southwest corner of Arizona, where the Yuma winter population about doubles the year-round residents. Nearby Senator Wash is another BLM camping area. This LTVA has a dump station, water, and trash bins, and near enough to Yuma for convenient shopping and cultural events.

Mitry Lake Wildlife Area (photo) is also near Yuma with nesty, isolated campsites on the cattail-covered shoreline of this 600-acre lake. Good place for paddling and birdwatching. Site of Betty’s Kitchen Watchable Wildlife Area and a National Recreation Trail. Ten day limit.


Organa Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus NM on the Mexico border on AZ-85 south of Ajo is one of the first places in Arizona to see the Spring wildflower bloom. The campground takes no reservations and always fills up early, but there is a BLM designated camping area just outside the park boundary south of Why. From this base, a nice desert camping area broken up by dry washes and strips of mesquites and willows, you can make day trips to the park. Also a good area for birdwatching, including three species of orioles that will visit your campsite if you stick half an orange on a mesquite thorn.

Several widely scattered, designated, free primitive campsites in the Buenos Aires NWR south of Tucson near the Mexico border at Sasabe offer a boondocking base for exploring the world class birding areas of Arivaca Creek and Arivaca Cienega, as well as the quirky remote artist enclave town of Arivaca.

The area east from Buenos Aires NWR to Bisbee is an especially interesting one for early Arizona and Wild West history, including the historic town of Tombstone where the Gunfight at the OK Corral took place (and is still re-enacted today), and Bisbee, the reinvigorated copper mining ghost town.

Southeastern Arizona, east of I-19 (the only US highway to have metric mileposts) and south of I-10 from Tucson to the Mexico and New Mexico borders, is a unique area with scattered boondocking sites both on BLM land and in patches of Coronado National Forest. Known for its premier birding sites, it includes the BLM’s visitor center on the San Pedro River (called one of the “World’s Last Great Places” by the Nature Conservancy) and where the Southern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) conducts birding hikes and hummingbird banding, the forested species-diverse sky island mountain ranges, some last remnants of Arizona savanna grasslands where you may spot pronghorns, and some very old pre-historic Native American sites.


Sandhill Cranes at Willcox Playa

Watch and listen to thousands of croaking Sandhill cranes on their wintering grounds at Willcox Playa. A celebration of the cranes’ return, called Wings Over Willcox, is held each January.

There are, of course, many other dispersed camping and boondocking locations throughout the desert areas of Arizona. And this reminder, find the location of the nearest BLM office and be sure to pay them a visit for lots of additional brochures and helpful information that will make your desert experience more enjoyable.


One thought on “Arizona: Best State Parks and superb boondocking

  1. Another great post, Bob! I’ve spent the past three winters boondocking in AZ, and these are mostly new treasures for me. What an amazing state, among so many amazing states! In the State Park category, one of my big faves is Catalina, on the northeastern border of Tucson. The astonishing rock formations of Pusch Ridge tower over the campground. Hiking is superb, and you will see plenty of wildlife, even if you don’t leave camp.


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