Six national forests can be found in Arizona, ranging from reddish plains interspersed with cacti to forests thick with towering trees. For a woodsman, camper, or even a casual hiker who appreciates their fair share of green, the Grand Canyon State is chock-full of emerald flora and red deserts to observe.
We’ll be breaking down the quirks of each forest in this article — since there are so many and they’re all so beautiful, you’ll definitely find one that tugs at the heartstrings of your RV camping heart. So, if you’re interested in rv arizona camping, keep reading to find out more!
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests is the first that appears when you google “Arizona National Forest,” and for good reason — it perfectly encapsulates the lush green and cool breeze we tend to associate with a natural getaway. Given that cell service has yet to proliferate most of the forest, the place’s overwhelming popularity should speak to just how breathtaking its beauty is.
It’s actually a combination of two separate forests, the Apache and Sitgreaves Forest respectively — hence the plural in its name.
If you’re a camper who loves green and a “classic” outdoor retreat, there are 2.76 million acres of trees, cool winds, and endless opportunities to sink your time and skills into. Park your RV here and keep on the lookout as you stroll along; you might even see a mountain lion or black bear if you’re lucky.
Coconino National Forest
Every year an extraordinary number of tourists flock to the Grand Canyon to snap photos, hoping theirs will be ‘the one’ that gets picked up as a stock photo in a geology magazine. But if holes in the ground aren’t really your thing (because you’re a hipster at heart who loves bucking trends) — then Coconino National Forest will definitely suit your tastes.
Coconino is Arizona’s most central forest, flanked by the Kaibab, Tonto, Prescott, and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. The college town of Flagstaff sits atop this fairly reddish place, where you’ll be able to find the best cappuccinos and hipster mustaches in all of AZ.
The northern part of the forest is overflowing with beautiful camping spots — whether it’s looking skyward to mountain peaks or nestling in closer to the earth (more holes in the ground!), you’ll definitely enjoy your experience camping here.
Pro Tip: Not satisfied with scenic views no matter where you look? Then follow Arizona 89A south for a picturesque descent, where Arizonian trees against a backdrop of desert mountains give way to stunning views. Just don’t mind the change in temperature.
Coronado National Forest
In the early 1900s, the merger of a bunch of former national forests gave birth to the Coronado — a place full of Wild West pizazz, hippie communities, and rich nightlife. If that description wasn’t enough to convince you of this place’s certified awesomeness, maybe the knowledge it contains tons of otherworldly desert flora might pique your curiosity.
The eastern side of the forest consists of a number of quality campgrounds — mostly beautiful, mostly mountain-flavored in nature. Our favorite camping spots are in the Chiricahua Mountains thanks to its breathtaking views and general tranquility, though if heights aren’t your thing, we’re sure the East of the Coronado surely won’t disappoint you in terms of choice for more “foresty” sites either. After your stay in the peaks, there are a ton of options to pick from in terms of discovery — perhaps you could try your hand at skiing in Summerhaven and make some new hipster friends.
If none of that floats your boat, then head south to the campgrounds near Peña Blanca Creek, set up there, and use it as a checkpoint before surveying the beautiful desert plants that characterize Arizona near the border of Mexico. All in all, no matter what you do, Coronado is so varied in its landmarks that you’ll always find some new quaint town or creek worth exploring.
Kaibab National Forest
The Grand Canyon is considered the main attraction of Kaibab National Forest, and it’s not hard to see why: every year, droves of RVers and tourists across the globe come to visit this spectacular Eighth Wonder of the World, so much so that Arizona is affectionately called the Grand Canyon State.
While RV spots are available at spots in Grand Canyon National Park proper, those places are often crowded and book months out given the Canyon’s appeal. As such, you’ll probably have to make alternative arrangements.
If you prefer spontaneity, simply checking the forests around the park should give you ample locations to set up camp, while simultaneously giving you the best access to the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon. If you’re the type who prefers things to be planned out rather than ad-libbed, free camping in Northern Kaibab doesn’t tend to disappoint, with every national forest campsite in the area doing a solid four-out-of-five job at the bare minimum. To summarize rather crudely — there are about 1.5 million acres of trees surrounding the Canyon, and about 90% of it fits the bill if you’re looking to “just camp”. It’s a beautiful place, one where you’ll find no shortage of spots to call home.
Prescott National Forest
For the camper who for some reason wants to keep in touch with the Internet, Prescott National Forest is probably your best bet. Whether it’s because you want to keep your followers updated or live stream your adventures, cell phone reception runs so rampant in the area that it’s the perfect place to set up camp for a remote working stint.
If you’re willing to shell out a few bucks, you can expect vault toilets, a fire ring at your site, and access to fresh water — thereby avoiding some of the “difficulties” associated with free camping. It’s not like the flora and fauna of this forest are anything to scoff at, either: with 1.25 million acres to explore, there’s bound to be a picturesque spot you can stew at while cooking up the next Great American Novel. And when you’re done typing or need an urban break, you can hit up Prescott proper — one of the premier “up-and-coming” cities of Arizona.
Tonto National Forest
At roughly three million acres, Tonto is the largest forest on this list, and arguably the best one given its sheer diversity.
Mountain, desert, and woodlands galore, Tonto has everything you’d expect from an Arizonian retreat. Whether it’s sparkling crystalline reservoirs or giant cacti playing human statues or small towns painted against dramatic sunsets, Tonto genuinely has it all covered and then some.
Most of the campgrounds in Tonto have working cell service, as well as some combination of the shower, lake access, dumpsters, and sewer hookups to your RV. Pay something like $20 a night and you’d be able to get all of this at a decent level, though if you find yourself searching hard enough, you might find half-price bargains or maybe wander across heavier price tags like the Lost Dutchman State Park which seemingly offers all the best the area has to offer — both in the comfort and scenic view departments.
Of course, there are also ample opportunities to pay nothing and see what the forest has to offer if you prefer… or as I like to call it, “just camp”.
While Arizona’s national forests are a treasure in their own right — where you can somehow sweat in winter or reach for a jacket during the summer — there’s much more to the state than just its national forests and canyons. These forests just so happen to be one of the best springboards for any adventure, and as such, I wholeheartedly recommend any of these six forests for the start of a long RV road trip.