Where to camp in northern Arizona
Sleeping under the stars, indulging in outdoor activities and escaping the stress of daily life are some of the joys of camping. In the summer, Flagstaff is a popular place for both locals and tourists to revel in visiting various sites around town.
Those interested in fishing, kayaking, rowing or just simply enjoying the natural scenery should make their way to Lake Mary, located southeast of town. Some of the easiest camping areas to find are around the lake. Besides the Lake View Campground, there are plenty of dispersed camping sites along the primitive roads off of Lake Mary Road. A popular, yet secluded, place to camp is down a road labeled “To Ashurst Lake.” This dirt road is on the left side of Lake Mary Road coming from the I-17. As a side note, campers should be aware that some of these roads require a vehicle that can handle rough terrain.
Mormon Lake is only 10 miles south of Lake Mary, and still relatively close to town. The area around Mormon Lake has just as many trails and camping spots as its northern neighboring lakes have and there is a hidden town nearby called Mormon Lake Village. The settlement’s population can drop to as low as 50, depending on the season. To get to the lake and this old-style town, continue down Lake Mary Road past Lake Mary for 10 miles. On the right there will be a road labeled “Mormon Lake Village.”
Considered by some to be a hidden gem for local camping, Stoneman Lake is also great for camping and bird watching. The lake is 36 miles south of Flagstaff. The easiest way to find the lake is to take I-17 to Exit 306 and travel down Forest Road 213 for eight miles, turn left onto Forest Road 665 and take an immediate right onto Forest Road 213A. Stoneman Lake will become visible after a half a mile.
Thirty minutes away from Flagstaff is a place where one can unzip their tent to see red cliffs, sheer water springs and an abundance of vibrant foliage. Sedona is a popular place to camp, hike, swim, climb and explore. However, due to the popularity of the red rock country, dispersed camping is not allowed except for in some permitted wilderness areas. Surrounding areas allow dispersed camping and there are seven developed campgrounds within Sedona. Sedona is a dynamic region that is good for both first-time campers and outdoor enthusiast alike.
Campers who are willing to travel a little farther from Flagstaff can find an array of streams and creeks in the Verde Valley. Fossil Creek is by far the most well-known place in this region but there are many other places along Clear Creek that are not as well known.
One obscure place is Bullpen Ranch, which is a cut-off from West Clear Creek. Bullpen is filled with areas to camp and there is a swimming hole where the water slowly flows in and out through little natural dams. On the opposite side of the swimming hole is a large, sandy colored boulder with a flat surface that is perfect for tanning and it is tall enough to jump off of into the deep part of the water. To get to Bullpen from Flagstaff, take Exit 287 off the I-17 and turn right. Drive about 8.2 miles and turn left on Forest Road 618, continue for 2.2 miles to Forest Road 215 and turn right. Drive about three miles to the Bullpen Ranch trailhead. Be forewarned: the forest roads to Bullpen Ranch are rugged and off-road or high-clearance vehicles are preferred.
Beaver Creek is just up the road from Bullpen Ranch. Beaver Creek allows fishing and the stream is filled with pools and riffles. There are places to jump off of rocks or cliffs into the pools. To get there, just take Exit 287 going south on the I-17 , and then take Forest Road 618 to the end.