Southwest: 19 best campgrounds

Whether you want to hike the Grand Canyon or fly-fish in New Mexico, you'll find the perfect campground in our list of faves

Oak Creek Canyon, AZ

Oak Creek Canyon, home to Cave Springs Campground

Ron Niebrugge / Alamy

ARIZONA

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

NEVADA

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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

 

NEW MEXICO

12. City of Rocks State Park, Northwest of Deming
House-size volcanic ash boulders create a mini-city maze; ancient paths weave through the boulders. Campsites have little shade, so go in spring or fall. From $10; 575/536-2800; reservation line 877/664-7787.

13. Iron Gate Campground, Pecos
Aspens and pines shade the 14 campsites nestled 9,400 feet up at the edge of the Pecos Wilderness. Go in spring when the wildflowers are at their peak. $8; no reservations; 877/276-9404.

14. Rio Chama Campground, Abiquiu
Tucked into a stand of juniper along the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River, this campsite is in the heart of sandstone cliffs and Georgia O’Keeffe country. Snag the fourth site on the left―the only site with its own boat (non-motorized) put-in. Free; no reservations; 575/638-5526.

15. Jemez Falls Campground, Santa Fe National Forest, East of La Cueva
Nestled in a ponderosa forest at 7,880 feet―next to the Jemez River―this site is a fly-fishing dream. From the campground, hike 0.25 miles to 40-foot Jemez Falls, then continue 2 miles to McCauley Warm Springs. $10; no reservations; 575/829-3535.

16. La Junta Campground, Wild Rivers Recreation Area, West of Questa
Set on a mesa above Wild Rivers’ 760-foot gorge, the campground overlooks the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Red River. Hike down for a waterside picnic when it gets hot. $7 (plus $3 day-use fee); no reservations; 575/586-1150.

17. Sleepy Grass Campground, Lincoln National Forest, Cloudcroft

The grass-and-pine meadow feels totally secluded at 8,800 feet, but it’s just 1 mile from Cloudcroft’s shop- and restaurant-dotted Burro Avenue. Hike or bike Trail 5661 for views across White Sands National Monument and out to Las Cruces. $13; no reservations; 575/682-2551.

18. Twining Campground, Carson National Forest, Northeast of Arroyo Seco
Set in Taos Ski Valley at 9,400 feet, the campground gives you access to New Mexico’s highest peak―13,161-foot Mt. Wheeler―and the easier 6-mile Long Canyon/Gold Hill loop. Invite friends and camp at the uppermost site, the largest of four. Free; no reservations; 575/586-0520.

19. Morphy Lake State Park Campground, Mora

Campers once needed a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach this campground, about 100 miles northeast of Santa Fe. Although a paved access road now smooths the journey, mornings here are still serene. Ponderosa pines surround the 30-acre lake, tucked into the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Most of the 24 sites sit waterside, allowing paddlers to launch right from camp. And sites on the lake’s east side enjoy blown-open views of 10,000-foot peaks, which get spotlit by the rising sun. From $10; no reservations or potable water; nmparks.com

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