Photography by Alan Stark on flickr

Camping Made Easy in Southern Arizona

Discover 7 can’t-miss campsites near Tucson

By Ciara Jean

Southern Arizona is known for its beautiful scenery. Sunsets and sunrises, mountains, saguaro cacti, and green bushes all around is what makes Southern Arizona the best place to take an overnight trip in the Sonoran Desert. Start planning your getaway under the stars with this list of seven amazing campsites any outdoor enthusiast must explore.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

If you are looking for an adventure within another adventure, Colossal Cave Mountain Park is the perfect place to camp. Located in Vail, Arizona, less than 40 minutes outside of Tucson, the campground has 30 campsites within two large areas, El Bosquecito and La Selvilla, and multiple smaller spots. During the day, there are plenty of family-friendly activities including a guided cave tour, guided horseback riding, and hiking and biking trails. At night, you can start a campfire under some of the largest saguaro cacti and mesquite trees in Arizona.

The campground is more tailored to tent camping, but there are some areas where a limited number of RVs can park and camp too. The sites come with tables and barbecue grills but have no electric and offer limited places to use the restroom and refill water.

Address: 16721 E Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ
Tent camping: $10 per vehicle/night
RV and Horse Trailer Camping: $15 per vehicle/night

Rose Canyon Lake

If you are looking to go camping during the warmer months, Rose Canyon Lake is a beautiful destination. Located on Mount Lemmon, the campground has an elevation of 7,000 feet and is surrounded by ponderosa pines and oak trees that give the feeling you are camping in the forest. This is a good location for hiking, fishing for stocked trout, and bird-watching. Plus, it is close to nearby activities on Mount Lemmon, such as the shops and restaurants in Summerhaven.

There are more than 70 campsites, with half reservable and the other half on a first come, first served basis. The campground accommodates both tent camping and RV camping, but there are no electric outlets for either. Credit cards are not accepted, so bring cash.

Address: Catalina Hwy, Mt Lemmon, AZ
Cost: Sites start at $24 per vehicle/night

Picacho Peak State Park Campground

Photography by Kevin Dooley flickr

If you want a more developed option, Picacho Peak State Park Campground is a great place to stay. When coming into Tucson from Phoenix, there is no way you would miss this beautiful peak right off Interstate 10 just 40 miles outside of Tucson. The campsites are located at the bottom of the peak and offer more than 85 sites for both tents and RV campers.

There are multiple activities for families and individuals, such as hiking trails, historical markers, animal watching, and playgrounds for children. Nearby there are also opportunities to go skydiving, visit the Rooster Gogburn Ostrich Ranch, and see national monuments like the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

The state park usually has both reservable spots and first come, first served spots, but due to COVID-19, they are only accepting reservations. Their facilities include restrooms, showers, electric sites, sewage dump station, and trash dumpsters. There is a $7 entry fee to the state park.

Address: 15520 Picacho Peak Rd, Picacho, AZ
Cost: $25–$30 per vehicle/night depending on the season

Patagonia Lake

Photography by Alan Stark flickr

For family fun, Patagonia Lake is a wonderful spot. Located in Nogales, Arizona, about an hour and a half from Tucson, the park has two campgrounds and 105 campsites around the huge lake. Some spots are more secluded, while others are side by side to accommodate larger groups. They also offer boat-in sites for camping on boats. Activities for all ages include a designated swimming area, boating, kayaking, and hiking trails. Canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and paddleboats are also available for rent at Lakeside Market. Birds seem to find this lake a paradise, so if you like to bird-watch, this is a prime spot. The park is known for waterskiing and fishing.

The campsites include a firepit, tables, barbecue grills, and electric. Some have ramadas and water spouts. The beach has a picnic area and outdoor showers.

Address: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd, Nogales, AZ
Cost: $15–$20 per vehicle

Roper Lake

This campground is for people who want to camp but are not sure if they want to stay in a tent. Roper Lake is located in Safford, Arizona, nearly two hours away from Tucson, and has three campgrounds. Two campgrounds, Hacienda and Cottonwood, offer 45 campsites for tent and RV camping, but the third campground, Gila, offers eight cabins, five non-electric sites, and 14 group camp areas.

Activities here include a designated swimming area with a beach, boating, fishing, and many hiking trails. If you want to adventure off the campground, check out the Hot Well Dunes, Mt. Graham International Observatory, and Discovery Park: Nature’s Hideaway

Hacienda and Cottonwood sites come with water, electric, firepits, picnic tables, and some small ramadas. They also include bathrooms and hot showers by the entrance of the campgrounds. The Gila cabins come with a variety of furniture, beds, electric, and air conditioning and heating.

Address: 101 E Roper Lake Rd, Safford, AZ
Cost: $10 per vehicle for entrance fee, $65–$70 a night for cabins

Parker Canyon Lake

Photography by Alan Stark flickr

If you want a great escape from the Arizona heat, Parker Canyon Lake is the best place to be. Located in Elgin, Arizona, this campground is more than a mile high in elevation. Therefore, it is 20 degrees cooler in temperature than Tucson. They have 40 campsites and 25 RV sites scattered among oak trees and junipers. The campgrounds are just a short walk from the lakeshore and a short drive from the boat ramp and fishing pier. Activities here are boundless and include swimming, fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, boating, and pedal boating. You can bring your own equipment or rent it. You are also able to rent fishing boats, fishing gear, and get your fishing licenses.

Bathrooms are located at the campgrounds, and they have a small concession-operated marina and store open every day. Drinking water, picnic tables, and bear-proof food lockers are available at the campground too.

Address: 9000 S Parker Canyon Rd Elgin, AZ
Cost: Parking: $8 per day or $10 per week
Camping: $20 per night

Saguaro National Park

Photography by John Fowler flickr

Located in the Rincon Mountain District, Saguaro National Park East will have you camping with only what you can carry on your back. This campground is for nature lovers. It is packed with endless hiking trails and wildlife watching. If you are ready to escape electronics, then this is your haven.

The six campgrounds can only be accessed by hiking, but be warned—these are intense hikes with an incline into higher elevations. It is highly recommended that you bring a gallon of water, per person, per day. Temperatures are much cooler at a high elevation, so wearing layers is a must. Permits are required to camp and can be purchased online. The campsites do have bathrooms. There are some sites that do not allow fires. For more information about each campsite visit their website.

Address: See website for campground locations.
Cost: $8 per night, $25 for permit