Boondocking in Prescott & Tonto National Forests

Millions of acres of national forest form an ecological valley between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. Prescott and Tonto are just two, but showcase everything from endless desert expanse to dark sky forestlands.

About an hour north of Phoenix lives an experience nearly as antithetic as possible to the sprawl, chaos and broken sound of that massive city.

Prescott and Tonto National Forests comprise nearly four million acres surrounding some of Arizona’s finest destinations: Sedona, Flagstaff, Prescott and Jerome to name a few. The true beauty is the forests themselves, which run the gamut of the southwestern ecology. Pines reflecting in still lakes and ribbons of colorful canyons pour all over this land, where the saguaro cacti stand tall and the California condor still casts his shadow.

The Top Ten Free Campgrounds in Prescott National Forest

Every campground displayed below is absolutely free. That’s ten (count ’em twelve!) spots to call home if you’re the type of camper who loves to live off grid in some of Arizona’s most stunning scenery.

Need to pay the bills while you’re living in Prescott National Forest? Nearly all of them have decent to great cell coverage, sometimes even including T-Mobile. Most are also relatively easy to access, many can accommodate larger RVs, and doggone it, people like them!

These are only a handful of the hundreds of campgrounds found in and surrounding Prescott National Forest, mind you, and whether you want the road less traveled or full hookup amenities, the area has a smorgasbord of variety when it comes to camping.

Also note that while these particular campgrounds don’t have a fee, some locations within Prescott National Forest require a pass. You can purchase a four month pass to Prescott National Forest for $20, an annual pass for $40, or if you’ve already got the America the Beautiful Interagency (aka, your “National Parks Pass”), that covers you, too.

Ten Primitive Campgrounds in Tonto National Forest

While composed of more acreage than Prescott, and certainly not lacking in campgrounds, Tonto National Forest begs us to look at its many offerings (not just free camping), from national forest to nearby BLM and state parks. Though let’s keep it budget friendly and work our way through the free or cheap places to camp.

What experience are you looking for exactly? A soft breeze through the mesquites as they dance their leafy fingered shadows at your feet just steps from a lake? Give Lower Burnt Coral a shot.

Looking for rolling desert hills and sunset mountain vistas? Take a Sunday drive down Arnett Road.

How about wide open expanses while camping around a fire? Get yourself lost in the Bermuda Flat.

Or maybe you’re getting tired of all of this endless free and cheap camping beauty. If you’ve got a hankering to toss a few dimes away, there’s also casino camping in the area.

Finally, note that many of the campgrounds listed here and public lands in Tonto National Forest in general require a Tonto pass. Unlike Prescott National Forest, your National Parks Pass won’t help you in campgrounds (though it’s accepted at some picnic areas). An annual pass for Tonto is $80 ($60 if you’re 62 or older), or you can buy a day pass for $8. Not every public campground in the national forest requires the pass, ask a ranger what he thinks about your plans.