Winter Camping in Arizona

Arizona has some of the most famous rock formations in the world. One of the main reasons people visit this state in the winter is for the lovely weather conditions in the desert. 

Arizona is famous around the world for it’s stunning red and ochre rock formations, exemplified in the breathtaking Grand Canyon. However, this state has much more to offer when it comes to natural landscapes. Although they may not be natural wonders of the world, like the Grand Canyon, there’s plenty of vistas and camping locations that make winter camping in Arizona some of the best in the whole of the United States. 

Southern Arizona is famous for its desert climate, and mind-boggling natural rock formations. Here you’ll find blisteringly hot summers: but in the winter, the experience gets milder, and a whole lot more pleasant. Heading to Southern Arizona in the winter is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a mild, temperate winter camping location. It’s also a fantastic way to avoid the intense crowds of the summer. For a similar experience, head to the Colorado Plateau. Here you’ll find huge areas of the high desert and scattered areas of lovely forests. 

But this isn’t all Arizona has to offer. If you’re looking for a winter camping experience that is, well, more wintery, this state has you covered. Head up to the north of Arizona for miles of lush forests of pine, Douglas and spruce trees. Here you’ll be nestled amongst impressive mountain ranges, such as the San Francisco Mountains, as well as large deep mountains. This is a great location to head if you’re looking for a winter snowfall. If you want to combine your winter camping experience in Arizona with some winter sports, head to the popular skiing resorts of Flagstaff, Alpine, and Tucson. 

Arizona might be most famous for the world-renowned Grand Canyon National Park, one of the world’s seven natural wonders, but it’s not alone. There are also many other national forests, national parks and national monuments in this state to explore. Other National parks worth checking out in the state include Petrified Forest Natural Park, Saguaro National Park, and the beautiful Monument Valley. She of the best forests in the state include the Tonto National Forest, the Coconino National Forest, and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. 

 

Blue sky seen through a canyon.

With the insane views, you find in Arizona, you shouldn’t need much persuasion to visit. But, just in case, here are our favorite reasons to visit Arizona in the winter.

 

Avoid the crowds

One of the top reasons to go camping in the winter in Arizona is to avoid the crowds. In 2019, the Grand Canyon alone received an incredible 5.97 million visitors. Although Arizona is still a popular destination to visit and camp in during the winter, the number of tourists during the winter is significantly lower. Perhaps one reason for this is is that RV parks attract the majority of winter campers, and there’s more than enough room in the desert for everyone in the winter to camp with a feeling of privacy. 

Visiting a place like the Grand Canyon National Park can feel overwhelming when it’s covered in tourists, even a site that is as expansive as this. But heading here, and to some of the other amazing National Parks and Forests this state has to offer, during the winter is a different kettle of fish. During the winter you’ll feel like you at least have a corner of these incredible natural landscapes to yourself. For some tranquillity, and some of the most breathtaking natural habitats in the world, winter camping in Arizona is not to be missed. 

 

Become a real adventurer

Arizona is a fantastic option for those of you who are looking to pay little to no money for your camping experience. Arizona has huge areas of land, especially in the desert, which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). You can head here for some of the best free, or very cheap, camping spots in the entire USA. Combined with the fact that there are far fewer tourists in the winter, the free primitive camping options will make you feel like a hardcore adventurer. 

If you’re willing to do a bit of research and to take some time to find the perfect spot, you’ll be able to find a really amazing primitive camping spot. You might even find yourself being the only campers as fart as the eye can see. We would recommend taking a look at camping near Cottonwood Road at Lake Mohave, for lakeside camping with no interruptions. Another fantastic option for rural lakeside camping, with gorgeous interrupted views of the night sky, is by Lake Mohave. Or head to the National Forest outside Payson, if you’re going camping with a larger group. Here you can set up camp nestled among lovely trees and bushes, which will give you total privacy and the space to set up your ideal campsite. 

 

Winter and summer activities

Arizona is a fantastic place to head for winter sports activities, like skiing and snowboarding. If you’re planning on spending your time in this way, we would recommend heading to the popular skiing resorts of Flagstaff, Alpine or Tucson. If you’re looking for a snowy camping experience in Arizona, you’re best off heading up north. From November to April, as the snowbirds settle in, there are plenty of options for you to enjoy snowy Arizona. 

However, often just an hour away from the snowy north, there are plenty of other activities you can enjoy that are far from wintery. In Arizona, you can go swimming or golfing in the desert, and in just an hour be amongst snow-covered peaks. This is one of the biggest benefits of going camping in Arizona in the winter: summertime activities in the height of the cold season. In the desert, you’ll still enjoy swimming, hiking, biking, and paddleboarding, even in January. And if you’re trying to satisfy a varied group of travelers, the variety of climates and activities could be just what you’re looking for to keep everyone happy. 

 

Enjoy the desert bug-free

While in the summer you might be plagued with bugs, as with locations around the country, in the winter you definitely won’t have this problem. All of us have been camping in the perfect location in the summer, with gorgeous weather, only to be plagued almost biblically by mosquitoes and bugs. Although there are citronella candles, and other measures you can take to avoid the bugs in the summer, often they can really get in the way of you properly enjoying your surroundings. 

Winter camping in Arizona is bug-free! If you’re allergic to stings, or just want to properly take in this beautiful landscape without being bothered with swarms of bugs, heading to Arizona in the winter could be your answer. You’ll barely come across any bugs in the desert in the winter months. Another benefit is that snakes aren’t active during the colder months, which might help you out if you’re worried about these slithery friends. 

 

A sunset over the mountains.

Sunsets fading over the mountains of Arizona in the winter are some of the best in the world.

 

The sunsets are out of this world 

Obviously, sunsets are breathtaking on long, lingering summer nights. However, there’s something really breathtaking about the sunsets in Arizona in the winter. On clear days the sunset will light the sky in incredible pink and purple tones, staining the sky with these awesome hues. We would recommend enjoying the sunset from on top of a mountain or hill, or enjoying the lingering light next to a lake or in the desert. Some of our favorite sunsets are caught over the hills outside Parker, or over Lake Havasu at Lake Havasu State Park. 

 

Winter? What winter?!

Winter in Arizona can be a snowy, mountainous wonderland if you head up north. However, if you’re looking for some relaxing, temperate weather in the winter months, then Arizona is the perfect location. If you go camping in the desert, don’t worry about grey skies and rain that you might see in other states in the winter. In the desert in Arizona, even in winter months, you’re guaranteed to get at least a few days of uninterrupted sunshine. It’s a perfect location for a winter’s top-up of vitamin C!

The temperatures in the desert also remain really temperate and enjoyable in the winter months. Here you can expect highs in the 60’s and 70’s, which is more than warm enough to enjoy summer activities like swimming and paddleboarding. Even though there might be occasional windy and colder days, the temperature doesn’t usually go under 50, making camping here a real treat. So if you’re looking to go winter camping, but you don’t have a huge amount of experience under your belt, or you don’t wasn’t to set up camp in the snow or cold, then winter camping in Arizona could be your answer. So now we have told you why camping in the winter in Arizona is so special, let’s take a look at some of the best locations to hike and camp in the state. 

 

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is a fantastic location to head to if you’re looking to escape your winter blues. This is a stunning location, full of saguaro, ocotillo, cholla, and prickly pear cactus. Although there might be the occasional snowfall here, if you’re lucky enough to see it then you’ll see the spectacle which is a wild desert covered in snow. There’d nothing quite like seeing cacti with a satisfying planet of white snow. You’ll also be able to spot bobcats, mule deer, and the pig-like javelina, and if there’s no snow (in the right months) you might be able to see some lovely spring wildflowers, poking up their little heads. 

But if there is a downfall, it’s more than likely to melt in less than a day. As the sun comes up over the mountains, you’ll see the snow drip away, and in no time at all, you’ll be back to wearing your summer clothes. Saguaro National Park flanks both the western and eastern edges of Arizona’s second-largest city and is one of the most incredible places to see the rare desert snow coverage. The Eastern (Rincon Mountain) division of the park has a hilly eight-mile one-way loop road with access to numerous trails, for you to go hiking, biking or horseback riding

 

Bear Canyon

If you hike into Bear Canyon on the northeastern edge of Tucson, and you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Seven Falls, gushing out of the Santa Catalina Mountains. If you’re heading here for views of the gorgeous falls, the best time of the year is to go in midwinter, through the middle of spring. The snowmelt at this time ensures the falls will be bubbling over. There are some lovely camping sites near here, or you could choose to come just for a day trip, to hike the trails and witness the meditative flowing waterfalls. 

 

A view of the canyons in Arizona.

Head up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, for some of the best views in the whole of Arizona.

 

Grand Canyon South Rim

One of the most famous hiking destinations in the world is the Grand Canyon South Rim. It’s the perfect place to head for a day trip if you’re hiking nearby, or if you plan well in advance you can head off on overnight treks into the canyon. Popular hikes include the South Kaibab Trail, the Hermits Rest Route, and the Bright Angel Trail. The Hermits Rest Route is one of our personal favorites, which is rocky and quite strenuous, but you’ll get amazing views from the South Rim. You might even get a sighting of the local elk or mule deer. 

Sleeping accommodations on the South Rim vary in cost and amenities from simple campsites to well-appointed lodges. These are super popular in the summer months, and book up fast, so you might get a better chance to stay in some of these locations if you head off in the winter. Something to keep in mind is that the temperature can vary by as much as 50 degrees from the top or bottom of the canyon, so remember to take lots of layers; and as with any hike or excursion, take lots of water, food, and supplies. 

 

Mt. Lemmon

If you love to head into the great outdoors to immerse yourself in all the incredible ecosystems the USA has to offer, then a journey up the Mount Lemmon Highway will be right up your alley. Heading up this famous road, also known as the “Sky Island Scenic Byway”, you’ll travel through all the ecosystems present if you went on a trip from Canada to Mexico, and it only takes 45 minutes! Beginning with the saguaro-studded Sonoran desert, you’ll travel up through grassland, junipers and oaks, pines, and finally a mixed-conifer forest. 

As you travel up Mt Lemmon, it usually gets about 30 degrees colder. If you’re looking for a trip that traverses multiple ecosystems and offers many different views and vistas, Mt Lemmon has you covered. It’s also a fantastic place to head to for winter sports, as it hosts the southernmost ski resort in the whole of the US. 

 

Final Verdict: 

Arizona contains some of the most famous rock formations and canyons in the world. But there’s so much more that this state has to offer. Whether it be the flowing waterfalls of Bear Canyon, or the stunning juniper, oak and pine-studded slopes of Mt Lemmon, this state has a mind-boggling number of ecosystems for you to explore. And all of them are still just as stunning in winter. Whether you’re looking for a bit of winter sun in the desert,  or to go skiing in the southernmost ski resort in the USA, winter camping in Arizona holds a whole world of opportunities. 

 

Bonus tip: One area of camping in Arizona that we haven’t covered is RV or van camping. There are tonnes of locations to go with your RV in Arizona, that will offer up some stunning views with your winter breakfast. Check out this useful video to learn more about visiting Arizona in a van!

 

 

Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.