1. Cave Springs Campground, Sedona
Set in shaded Oak Creek Canyon, Cave Springs is surrounded by red sandstone walls and has its own creek. Hit the water holes at Slide Rock State Park ($10 per vehicle; azstateparks.com), about 5 miles down the road. $20; redrockcountry.org or 928/527-3600; book at recreation.gov
2. North Rim Campground, Grand Canyon National Park
Just 2 miles from Bright Angel Point, the North Rim Campground is an easy walk to the difficult 14.2-mile trail that descends into the canyon. Reserve as soon as you have a date in mind. From $18 (plus $20 park entrance fee per vehicle); 928/638-7888; book at recreation.gov
3. Blue Ridge Campground, Coconino National Forest, North of Clints Well
Blue Ridge Reservoir is just 9 miles from this cluster of 10 sites shaded by oaks and ponderosa pines. From the campground, hike the moderately difficult Arizona Trail to the recreation-packed reservoir. For solitude, skip the reservoir and hike a moderate 5 miles to trout-filled East Clear Creek (trailhead is about 6 miles from the campground). $8; no reservations; 928/477-2255.
4. Bonita Canyon Campground, Chiricahua National Monument, Southeast of Willcox
The pine-and-juniper campground is near the national monument’s visitor center. Drive 6 miles up the road to access hiking trails that cut through a forest of volcanic-ash rock spires and hoodoos. Come in September, when you’ll have the place to yourself. $12 (plus $5 entrance fee per person; no reservations), $3 per person at group site (plus entrance fee; reservations required); 520/824-3560 ext. 501 or 520/824-3560 ext. 501 (group reservations only).
5. Cottonwood Campground, near Canyon de Chelly National Monument, East of Chinle
Shaded by cottonwoods, this campground is near Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs and pueblo sites. Hire a private guide at the visitor center, a few steps away, to tour the park’s backcountry (you can’t access it without one). Free; no reservations; 928/674-5500.
6. Lynx Lake Recreation Area, Prescott National Forest, Prescott
At 5,200 feet, the campground is just above the 55-acre, trout-stocked Lynx Lake. Try to get a campsite with a lake view. Pan for gold in Lynx Creek, ½ mile north of the recreation area. $18; no reservations; 928/443-8000.
7. Crabtree Wash Recreation Site, Tonto National Forest, South of Roosevelt Dam
To park your tent or trailer right on Apache Lake’s gravel beach, drive 100 miles northeast from Phoenix to Crabtree Wash. Dispersed camping here gives you a front-row view of saguaro-covered volcanic cliffs that catch dawn’s first rays, and the shallow water is perfect for swimming or paddling. $6/vehicle/day; no reservations or potable water; fs.usda.gov/recmain/tonto/recreation
8. Locust Point, Kaibab National Forest, Near Grand Canyon National Park
A secret guarded by locals and National Park rangers: You don’t have to battle crowds to camp on the North Rim. The adjacent Kaibab National Forest contains a number of backcountry overlooks where dispersed camping is free and gloriously scenic—the trick is navigating the dirt roads (suitable for low-clearance cars). Pack plenty of food and water, buy a map at the Kaibab Visitor Center in the town of Jacob Lake, then drive an hour to Locust Point. It’s primitive (BYO water, no facilities), but you’ll have Grand Canyon magnificence all to yourself. Free; no reservations; fs.usda.gov/kaibab
9. Desert View, Grand Canyon National Park
Think South Rim scenery without (so many) crowds. Photographers thrill to Desert View, especially at dawn, when first light paints the canyon in soft pastels. Twenty-five miles east of Grand Canyon Village, it’s less well-known than Mather, the other South Rim campground. But you’ll still want to grab a spot by 10 or 11, when people are packing up. $12; $25/vehicle; mid-May–mid-Oct; no reservations; nps.gov/grca.
10. Boulder Beach Campground, Boulder City
You’ll find more than 100 palm-studded campsites just ½ mile from Lake Mead’s shores. Go in October―the water’s still warm and the days are still long enough to hike. $10 (plus $5 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations except for large groups; 702/293-8990.
11. Arch Rock Campground, Valley of Fire State Park, West of Overton
One of only two campgrounds in the aptly named Valley of Fire, Arch Rock has an upper loop where sandstone rocks create more privacy. Hike the 4.5-mile Pinnacle Trail loop to a “forest” of red rock pinnacles. A flat, bed-size rock at campsite 18 makes for perfect stargazing. $14; no reservations; 702/397-2088.
12. Hilltop Campground, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Northwest of Las Vegas
At 8,437 feet, this campground overlooks the Mojave Desert and accesses the North Loop Trail, which takes you a rigorous 10.3 miles to the peak of Mt. Charleston. If you aren’t up for Mt. Charleston, stop 3 miles in at a bristlecone pine known as Raintree, thought to be Nevada’s oldest living thing. $17; 702/872-5486; book at recreation.gov