If you want to get away from the metropolitan area, you’ll find a good selection of mountain campgrounds on both sides of Phoenix. Many of the best camping areas can be found in regional parks managed by Maricopa County, which generally also offer a variety of activities or are based around natural elements. Hikers, mountain bikers, and even those looking for a place to go horseback riding will find campgrounds that offer areas for these sports nearby. If you just want to enjoy some scenery and escape the city, you can camp on the shore of a lake or at the foot of a mountain. Camping on the east side of town provides the easiest access to major Phoenix attractions, Scottsdale and Mesa. Campgrounds on the west side of town are quite far, both in terms of geography and traffic congestion, from the city’s attractions, and don’t make a good base if you’re coming to the area with the intention of spending time in the city.
For all Maricopa County parks, visitors are welcome to stay for up to 14 days, and you can reserve sites up to six months in advance. Some campgrounds will ask you to leave for a while, others may ask you to move sites. For more information and a comprehensive overview, see our list of the best campgrounds in Phoenix.
Read also: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Phoenix
1 Usery Mountain County Park Campground
On the eastern edge of Mesa, Usery Mountain Regional Park is set against the beautiful backdrop of a colorful mountainside. Most of the 73 campsites offer a beautiful panorama. The sites are well spaced and surrounded by palo verde trees, cholla cactus, tall saguaros and barrel cactus. The popular Wind Cave walk is just a short drive from the campground. Also available in the area is an archery range and fitness enthusiasts will find outdoor gear near the Merkle Trail. Sites have paved parking, water and electrical hookups, a picnic table, and a fire ring. Amenities include toilets for toilets, but no showers.
2Lost Dutchman State Park Campground
Although Lost Dutchman State Park is just east of Phoenix, it feels far from the city. Flat Iron Mountain provides the spectacular backdrop to this state park, and you can park here for a few days from the campgrounds. The walk on the mountain, Flat Iron Summit via Siphon Draw is one of the top hikes in the Phoenix area and if you want an early start on this demanding trail, the best place to camp is here. The 134-site campground at Lost Dutchman State Park offers a true desert setting, with individual sites nestled around vegetation. A few saguaros dot the landscape here and there, but most of the vegetation is low-lying shrubs. Only a few sites have ramadas, otherwise you can expect to camp in full sun.
This campground is well set up for RVs, with large sites and level parking spaces, back-in and pull-through sites, and some have electrical and water hookups. All sizes of RV’s are accepted. You will also find camping pitches for tents. Showers and toilets are available.
Official site: https://azstateparks.com/lost-dutchman/
3Cave Creek Regional Park Campground
Located at the foot of low mountains, this is a wonderful area for camping, with versatile routes through the surrounding hills. The campground itself is quite small, with only 44 developed sites. They are well separated from each other and surrounded by low shrubs and saguaros, the sites offer a lot of privacy. This campground is a great option if you want to base yourself in this area north of Phoenix. The locations are flat and have paved parking platforms, as well as water and electricity connections. Some campgrounds have areas for horses. Comfort stations have flushable toilets and showers.
4 McDowell Mountain Regional Park Campground
With 50 kilometers of multi-purpose trails, this site is popular with campers who are also interested in hiking, horseback riding and, in particular, mountain biking. In addition to the single-track trails, the park also has a competitive trail. The park is located in the extreme northeast of Phoenix, 10 miles past Fountain Hills, and is quite far from any amenities. You must be prepared and be completely self-sufficient.
There are two campgrounds, Ironwood and EI Rowland. Ironwood is two miles past EI Rowland and is reserved exclusively for tents, with a total of 13 sites. EI Rowland is open to both tents and RVs and can accommodate setups up to 45 feet. Both campgrounds have paved parking, fire rings, and barbecues, and the sites are a good distance from each other. In the EI Rowland campground, each site also has water and electricity. Both campsites have toilets and showers in the comfort stations. A unique feature of camping EI Rowland is the indoor children’s playground with different types of climbing structures. The surrounding landscape is a mix of small shrubs and the occasional saguaro. At night you may be lucky if you hear the coyotes howling.
5 Lake Pleasant Regional Park Campground
Camping next to a large lake in Arizona is a rare and unusual experience. Campgrounds scattered along the shoreline range from developed to primitive. At over 1,600 feet, the slightly higher elevation and large lake offer a bit of relief from the Phoenix heat. Depending on the campsite you choose, you will be right on the water or above, with views of the lake and surrounding countryside. The park has 148 sites, some of which are electric and some are not, but all sites generally have ramadas for shade, fire pit, picnic table, and barbecue. The comfort stations all have toilets and showers.
The park has two main campgrounds, Desert Tortoise, with a mix of developed and semi-developed sites, and Roadrunner, with all developed sites. Primitive sites have no facilities at all. Desert Tortoise has three loops, one of which, the Bajada Loop, sits on a peninsula and offers beautiful views. Roadrunner also has three loops and is set back from the water, but the campground is more modern, less dusty and a bit more organized.
6White Tank Mountain Regional Park Campground
White Tank Mountain Regional park is spread over nearly 30,000 acres on the eastern edge of Phoenix. The campground consists of 40 sites of varying sizes, each with water and electricity supply, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring. Tents and RVs use the same sites, and the maximum RV length allowed is 45 feet. Hiking, biking, and equestrian trails are scattered throughout the park, along with a competitive trail. White Tank Mountain Regional Park is far from the city and services such as supermarkets are scarce, so make sure you are well equipped. Showers, toilets and a dump are available. Note that jet aircraft noise can be an issue here as Luke Airforce Base is located nearby. An unusual feature of the park is the public library just outside the gates, which is combined with the White Tank Mountain Regional Park Nature Center.
7 Estrella Mountain Regional Park Campground
Estrella Mountain Regional Park is a large park in the extreme southwest of the Phoenix area. Camping options are limited to seven RV sites near the arena grounds. Sites are large but offer little more than a paved trail with hookups that overlook a gravel parking lot. The sites have water and electricity and a picnic table and barbecue. Flat toilets are nearby. The park is popular for its hiking, biking and equestrian trails and Tres Rios Golf Course.
Where to stay near parks and natural areas around Phoenix
If you can’t find a place to camp, or the weather isn’t what you expected when you left home, here are some interesting, reasonably priced, interesting, and fun hotel options near popular outdoor areas:
- Luxury resorts: For a complete rundown of the city’s top luxury resorts, check out our list of top-rated resorts in the Phoenix area.
- Mid-range hotelsWestgate Painted Mountain Golf Resort is a 10-minute drive from Usery Mountain Regional Park, complete with an outdoor pool. This hotel offers you much more comfort than camping, reasonable prices and easy access to the great outdoors. Straight out of another era, the Arizona Golf Resort is a quaint property with beautiful pools. It was originally built in the 1960’s and retains much of its character. It also offers easy access to the Superstition Mountains and natural attractions on the east side of town.
- Budget Hotels: You can usually find a good price at the Econo Lodge Airport. This property offers simple yet comfortable guestrooms and is approximately 30 to 40 minutes’ drive from places such as Estrella, White Tank, and Usery Mountain Regional Parks. The Baymont Inn & Suites, with a pool, is located in Mesa and puts you a little closer to the parks on the east side of town.
More to explore in Phoenix and other areas of Arizona
- to walk: If you’re interested in camping, chances are you’re interested in hiking and walking trails. Find out where to hike with our guide to the best trails in the Phoenix area or set your sites a little higher and check out the best hikes in Arizona. See our articles on the top hikes around Tucson and Prescott for more information on hiking through urban areas, which usually include shorter hikes and nature trails.
- Camping: Just a few hours away, you’ll find more excellent campgrounds around Tucson. In the summer, and especially during hot spells, head for the hills and find a cool retreat at the campgrounds around Payson and Prescott. These destinations are much higher up and offer cooler temps and campsites among tall pine trees. And if you really want to experience great camping, check out our article on the best places to camp in Arizona.