Free campsites along the road to Gardner Canyon, south of Tucson

Forest Road #92 to Gardner Canyon is easy to find.

Whether driving northbound or southbound on Route 83, you’ll see a big sign pointing to Gardner Canyon.  You can’t miss it.  It’s a few miles south of the entrance to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area where the crew and I are presently camped.

I’d like to show you where you can camp for free on the road to Gardner Canyon.

P1100165Shortly after turning onto the gravel/dirt road, there is a big parking area.

If you have a big rig with a toad car, you might want to park and then take the car up the road to choose a site.

As I type this the road is in washboard condition, so take it slow, especially if towing or driving your rig.

P1100160Very soon you come upon nice campsites like this one.

P1100162However, the first five or six campsites are on State Trust Land.

P1100161These require a permit for camping.

An annual recreation permit is $15 for an individual; an “immediate family unit” permit is $20 annually.

Of course, these fees are subject to change.  For information how to obtain a permit, follow this link to the Arizona Land Department website.

Or you can forget about a permit and bypass the state land!

P1100164Keep driving and you will come to a sign marking the boundary of Coronado National Forest.


Campsites beyond this sign are marked numerically on a post and are free for public use, subject to a 14-day limit.

Bridget and Reggie help me explore each campsite.

P1100169Site #1 is set back from the road and is accessed via its own driveway. 

Originally a pull-through, wear and tear have exposed rocks which means you enter from either end and then there’s room to turn around on either side of the campsite.  It’s like a double site, with a fire ring on each side.

As you can see, the site has shade and also full sun.

P1100170Site #2 is also set back from the road.

One could say it’s on a short spur road.  The spur leads to a copse of mature oak trees.  Fire rings are scattered over a large area, room enough for several rigs or for you alone.  In back of the site is a dry river bed which I imagine turns into a mighty stream during monsoon season.

P1100176Keep in mind also that these photos show the campsites in March, before trees are in full leaf and prior to vegetation turning green.

Look at the size of this campsite!

P1100179It extends from where I stand with the camera all the way beyond those trees in the background, and the site is twice as “wide” as the photo shows.

The third site is also pretty and large.

More magnificent oak trees.  You can camp in the shade or in full sun.  Plenty of room!

P1100194Can you imagine pulling your rig into one of these campsites? 

P1100191You could use this as your base for exploring Sonoita, Patagonia, Parker Canyon Lake, Sierra Vista, Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, plus Gardner Canyon and the hiking trails of the Santa Rita Mountains.

Or use a campsite in a dispersed camping area of Las Cienegas NCA, which is what the crew and I are doing.

P1100189Cows graze in fields near the camping area. 

As best I can tell, they are kept away from the campsites by cattle guards and fence.  I didn’t see cow plops in the sites.

P1100214I did see evidence that people camped with horses in site #5.  In fact there is a metal trough for livestock.

P1100201I suspect these campsites are large because they are used by people hauling horse trailers.  The horses may be for the rodeo in nearby Sonoita or for riding the Gardner Canyon trails.

This may mean the sites fill up during rodeo or peak trail-riding season.  Also people haul trailers of ATVs here.

There are no facilities. 

No vault toilets, water, or trash pick-up. Five Coronado National Forest dispersed campsites in all.

P1100190The crew and I board the Perfect Tow Vehicle and head further toward the canyon.

P1100207By now it’s around noon.

P1100210Bridget and Reggie are pooped.  They settle into their positions, both with a droopy head and sleepy eyes.

“You had fun, didn’t you! ”

The road rolls over small, grassy hills dotted with mesquite trees and a few oaks.


P1100166We come to a fork.  To the left is a ranch; to the right is the way to Gardner Canyon.

I drive far enough to take a photo of a sign that indicates the trails ahead.

P1100211 - CopyThese are popular trails.  If you’d like more information, the Experience Arizona website gives details about the trails and includes photos.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you know the crew and I are walkers, rather than hikers. 

P1100209We enjoyed our excursion along the Gardner Canyon Road.  We’re content with our morning exploration of campsites and happily head for home.




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67 Responses to Free campsites along the road to Gardner Canyon, south of Tucson

  1. weather says:

    is this blank because I’m first?

    • Michelle from Salt Lake,UT says:

      Way to go weather!

    • Linda from Oregon says:

      Congratulations Weather.

    • rvsueandcrew says:


    • Velda says:

      ? yes! Lol

    • Cinandjules (NY) says:

      Scratches head….hmmmm….why is the comment section blank?

      Yay weather!

    • Denise - Richmond VA says:

      Whoo-Hoo, weather! 🙂

    • weather says:

      The new post surprised me , so being first did, too. I was looking for the last page and comments section when this popped up on my screen instead. Fun to not know where I was and find out it was in first place, Ha, I wasn’t trying to be. I’d just looked in the porch expecting to see a cat and found a raccoon, then this, what a confusing few minutes of accidental discoveries. As I understand the information you provided about the campsites fortunate timing would be needed to get what one wanted there, too, with there being so many good reasons to stay there and so few sites. It’s always nice to see Bridget and Reggie enjoying new places to explore. I hope your enjoying this weekend isn’t being interrupted much by those camped around you .

      • rvsueandcrew says:

        Gee, maybe a mama raccoon is thinking your porch is a mighty fine maternity ward. 🙂

        Yes, only five sites may mean they will fill up. Lots of people come to Gardner Canyon to hike and backpack, thus camping along the trails rather in the campsites at the starting end of the road. Also, others camp at Las Cienegas. And still others drive right by the turn for Gardner Canyon not realizing there are campsites. Thus I don’t think the demand is as high as it might be without these factors. Since there is an alternative for free camping nearby, people will manage.

        But, yes, timing is everything when seeking a campsite!

  2. Linda-NC says:

    Darn, I just saw this pop up and I said “I’ll be first”. Well, Weather beat me to it! Congrats to you, and I will settle for second because I have never been there either:)) Now I have some reading to do.

  3. Linda-NC says:

    Beautiful trees and campsites there. My bucket list gets longer. So much to see, so little time or not:) Nice pics as always!

  4. Michelle from Salt Lake,UT says:

    Nice pictures as always and lots of good information, we can’t wait to get out.

  5. Barb from Illinois says:

    Long time reader…first time commenter. Could I have made it into the top 10? I wish to be doing what you’re doing in 10 years. I hope you know what an inspiration you are!

    • Jolene/Iowa says:

      Welcome Barb from Illinois, glad you came out of lurkdom!!

    • Laura - Illinois says:

      Hi Barb!

      I tend to also be a lurker, but do write here once in a while. Welcome! Nice to see another person from Illinois! I live north of Chicago, near Great America. I too wish I can do something similar to what RV Sue is doing in 10 years… who knows, maybe we will pass on the road someday in the future! Happy Trails!

    • Denise - Richmond VA says:

      Welcome, Barb!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Thank you, Barb from Illinois! And congratulations on becoming a blogorino. The more, the merrier! Also thank you for reading my blog for a long time.

    • Krystina ~ Sutton, Vermont says:

      Welcome Barb!! You are now an official Bloggerino.

  6. Pat McClain says:

    Love to read your posts Sue. You take me away from my humdrum life for a few minutes!

  7. Wow, so many empty sites. The place was nearly full when our group of three rigs went there a couple of years ago. We found some people who were in the process of leaving and we waited them out. It’s a nice area.

  8. Linda Rose, Muffin, Murphy, Molly & Midgy in Carmichael, CA says:

    Thank goodness for my Kindle Fire tablet or I wouldn’t get to read your posts at all. My computer has been updated from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and so far I hate it. Haven’t even been able to find my email program. Enough griping, these sites look good but those roads would probably keep me away. I certainly do love free camping whenever possible though. Thanks for all the good info.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      The road isn’t bad enough to keep one from camping…. just have to drive it slowly.

      Consider this: When I drive up a less-than-perfect road, if it isn’t intolerable, I’m pleased. A difficult or inconvenient road keeps people away.

      I remember driving a beautifully paved road up a mountain in Utah only to turn around and leave because hordes of people were also driving up that way. A washboard road can be a blessing! 🙂

  9. Jolene/Iowa says:

    Hi Sue and everyone,

    This is a lovely area. I am sure you will enjoy your time here. We have been very busy with work this week and the next few weeks are going to be crazy busy. So this was great to come here and see this wonderful area of Arizona. Have a nice Easter and I look forward to reading your next post.

  10. Geri in the beautiful Florida panhandle says:

    well, I finally made it to the top 20 hahahahaha!

  11. Jo in SLC, UT says:

    I have been a lurker for several years (I had to go look it up, has it really been that long?!) I may have posted once before, but I really enjoy your wanderings and the deft touch you have with turning your life into an adventure story/letter from a friend. Today’s post seemed to hit home for me as to just how far you have come, and the deep confidence you have in your ability to handle whatever the road throws at you. What hit me was the nonchalant discussion of washboard roads, large rocks, and the first picture that clearly showed miles of definitely subpar roads, and absolutely no sign of concern about your ability to get in and out. I know you are a pro, but it seemed like today’s post put a stamp on it. By the way, I really enjoy your photography, too. You have a genuine eye for beauty and for interest. Thank you for sharing. (We may run across you someday, we lurk in remote areas with dark skies to indulge our amateur astronomy bug. We won’t bother you, but we are always happy to share the night views with those in the area.)

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Jo,

      What a nice comment! You make me proud! 🙂 Thank you for reading my blog all these years. It’s always a pleasure for me to have readers reappear here. Have fun looking at the stars!

    • MB from VA says:

      I agree Jo. Whenever a friend/family member questions my ability to go full-timing and cites challenges….my answer is always, “RV Sue learned to do it.” And when they remind me that I have lots of travel experience but not much camping experience….my reply is, “Well, RV Sue told me that she didn’t have much before she started either.” And yesterday, when a friend told me that her brother was scaring her off getting a trailer because she had never towed before….my answer was, “But RV Sue never had either.” 🙂 Enjoy those dark, clear night skies!

      • Jan NH says:

        Remind your friend’s brother that we couldn’t do most things we do today until we tried and learned. If you believe you can do it you likely can?.

      • rvsueandcrew says:

        Ha! That’s pretty good, MB! Isn’t it remarkable how people are quick to react with a stomp on another person’s dreams? Feel free to use me as a can-do example any time!

        • MB from VA says:

          Hey, I do! I figure if I say it enough, they’ll get sick of hearing it….and shut up. LOL! 😛 BTW….I turned my friend… know, the one with the brother?……onto your site too. 😉

    • DesertGinger says:

      And I assume everyone knows Tucson is an official ‘dark sky’ city?

  12. Calvin R (still waiting in Ohio) says:

    This is highly encouraging. There are enough dispersed sites in the area to use Tucson as a home base or frequent stop, and I like Tucson.

  13. Elaine in Colorado says:

    Gorgeous pictures and area! Bridget and Reggie look so happy! 🙂

    Thank you for sharing! I am saving this blog post in my places & information folder for future use!

    Enjoy! What a great place!

  14. Marco says:

    Hi Sue, Looks like the same weather as Phoenix.
    What does it get down to overnight in the BLT?
    90’s before long here.When do you start to head north, or up maybe?

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I don’t know what the temperature is inside the BLT during the night. Probably goes down to the 60s on cold nights if I don’t turn on the heater. The desert warms up quickly each morning so I often don’t bother turning on the heater when it drops low at night. Instead I dress warmly for bed and stay under the covers.

      The timing for going north depends upon where we are. We wouldn’t be wise to go north through the Apache-Seagraves for a month because of the elevation (think snow). To push the season one has to find a northerly route that covers low elevation . . . . I don’t have a definite answer for your question, obviously. 🙂

  15. Cynthia from San Clemente says:

    Wishing a happy, blessed Easter weekend to Sue and the crew and everyone in blogorino land.

  16. Denise - Richmond VA says:

    Hi, Sue,

    Have a great day! 🙂

    Sending you and the Adorable Crew hugs from me and my adorable Gracie pup! 🙂

  17. AZ Jim says:

    Large campsites have one downfall. Detta and I had a huge site by the Missouri river a few years ago. We had site seekers pulling in all the time, I guess thinking it was a site for as many as possible to use. I camped in the same area a year later and picked a smaller site to avoid “claim jumpin varmints”! Weather is great now and it will be a bit longer before our warmup. You guys take care and enjoy…..

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      You are absolutely right, Jim, about people moving in on your campsite if it’s large. I should have warned of that in the post. These campsites are more suitable for people who travel with others. I haven’t moved to one of these sites for the reason you state!

      I guess one could set out a sign . . . “Allen Party” with an arrow . . . 🙂

  18. Pauline in Mississippi says:

    Great pictures, of course. You should be a PR person for these camp grounds!! I wonder about the big ones…if people would move in on you. As AZJim commented, It seems that they will.
    Hope everyone has a Blessed Easter Weekend and remember there is more to it than bunnies and egg hunts
    Sending lots of love and big hugs

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Thanks, Pauline,

      So often I show our campsites and many times they are too small for people with big rigs. I thought it would be nice to show that there are big sites to be found in our National Forests.

      One of these sites could be used for an overnight stop — before someone else crowds into the site with them. Or if wanting to stay longer, camp there until someone crowds in on them, then move over to Las Cienegas, where we are now.

      I’ll be thinking of you and family on Easter Sunday. 🙂

  19. Dawn says:

    Happy Easter weekend all! Thought I’d share that I didn’t have to pay as much in taxes as I thought I would – which was exciting for all of 24 hours (more money for the RV fund) and then I broke my toe…I’ve spent the last several days watching that “surplus” start to drain away in copays and pain meds, lol! Why is it that always happens!

    Oh well, it gives me an excuse to lay in bed and do more research (grin). The same morning I broke my toe, Freyja jumped off the bed and slipped, pulling her right front leg as well. We are gimping and recovering together. Making quite the pair!

    I love these campsite reports – this is going to be my go to when I get out there – would love more “can or can’t get internet” on “x carrier” on these, but that’s just me. These are fabulous just the way they are – I’ll have to figure some things out just by doing them!

    Happy tails to the crew –

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Gollee, Dawn! You broke your toe? That’s not such a good idea. 🙂

      I’m sorry you and Freyja were injured and I wish you both a quick recovery.

      I didn’t mention the internet coverage because I forgot to check it. I am pretty sure there is Verizon signal there, judging by how strong it is at our Las Cienegas camp which is only a few miles away.

      • Dawn says:

        Seems like Verizon will be the way to go for a data plan, and if that doesn’t cover it, not much will. I was thinking about starting out with a data plan and then some sort of different provider for cell (I use republic which uses sprint network) just to have extra coverage. When we did this 6-7 years ago we learned that internet was the biggest problem then (I’m a web designer) to what we wanted to do. This time I need to approach it with more planning!

        Thanks for the good wishes! We are both healing and in good spirits!

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          “6-7 years ago”…. In the 4+ years the crew and I have been on the road I’ve noticed much improvement in internet coverage (Verizon). You may have noticed I’m not using my Wilson antenna as much as I used to.

        • AlanOutandAbout - Pahrump, Pahrunp, Pahrump says:

          I use Verizon for data and Consumer Cellular for phone. Never had an issue with either.

          • Dawn says:

            Now if only I’d kept my unlimited Verizon broadband and gotten grandfathered in 🙂 LOL! Very reassuring to know about the improvement in ability to get signal.

  20. Renee says:

    Great post. I appreciate the pictures showing the sites. So often, online pages show just the camping site but not the approach area and that’s doesn’t give us enough information, but you showed everything including the roads going in. With the size of our rig, we need a good sized approach. What I do then is use Google Earth or Google Maps to do an arial and using the scale, determine if we can get in or not.

  21. rvsueandcrew says:

    Good morning, blogorinos and also those who read and don’t comment!

    Thanks to those of you who wrote happy Easter wishes and made kind remarks about this post. I hope you don’t mind if I skip replying individually to every comment. I responded to those who asked questions or brought up a subject I want to address.

    I appreciate every comment!

    I may put up another post later today and then take a break for Easter Sunday.

    Bye for now,

  22. Kitt, NW Wa says:

    Morning Sue,

    Sue, I hope you and the crew have a peaceful, enjoyable Easter.

    Here is a question: Do you lose track of the days of the week? It seems as if knowing exactly what day it is wouldn’t really matter except for town trips. And do you have a watch or clock that you glance at during the day? A lifestyle where these things don’t really matter could be wonderful. Thoughts from other full timers…


    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Thanks, Kitt. I hope your Easter is enjoyable, too.

      Sure, I mix up what day it is. 🙂 Writing this blog I have to check the date and day in order to label my posts. I get this from the calendar that pops up from the lower right corner of my laptop screen. The time is also shown there. My phone gives the time and date, of course, but I rarely turn it on. I have a tiny, digital clock on the wall for the purpose of noting the time during the night when I get up with the crew for potty break. I need to know the time so I can make sure Bridget has a chance to relieve herself before waiting too many hours.

      I also have a calendar on the wall where I make a note of when we moved to a new camp, again for the sake of blog posts.

      I stopped wearing a watch the day I retired. Yes, after teaching middle school where every minute is accounted for, it’s wonderful to live out from under the tyranny of the clock!

  23. AlanOutandAbout - Pahrump, Pahrunp, Pahrump says:

    Good morning sweet Sue and crew. Glad you are enjoying the area, looks inviting. You probably know it but your a just a stones throw from the Chiricahua National Monument, about 50 miles as the crow flies. I hope you take the time to find a campsite near it. You and the pups would love it.


  24. Great sites, although after all our blowing dirt the last week, they look like that could be an issue when the winds kick up. Still, with those great trees, they are pretty darn perfect!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Wind can be an issue wherever one boondocks in the Southwest. Boondockers can’t be too concerned about dirt. 🙂

  25. Applegirl NY says:

    I really enjoyed the pictures of those campsites. Can’t wait until we head west some day. Sue, your comment on how they may be larger for horse trailers for rodeo days added another layer of imagining for us blogorinos. How interesting it would be to see the western rodeos and their horse culture.

    Weather here in Upstate NY is as beautiful as it can get in March. Lovely warm breezes and sunshine.

    Have a blessed Easter Sunday!

  26. Linda Sand (Minnesota) says:

    I’d ignore that Arizona state trust land because even if you jump through all the hoops to get a permit you are restricted to camping 14 days PER YEAR! Not worth it.

  27. MollyLuvsRoadtrippin says:

    Have a great weekend Sue and Crew! I’m enjoying a few days of Casita maintenance, installing a sway control bar and washing off the green goo of a northwest winter. Also got to practice backing up a few times which I am getting a little more comfortable with each time. Really looking forward to starting my camping season next
    month! I love seeing the southwest options through your photography and wonderful descriptions. Thank you!!

  28. Cindi - Newport News VA says:

    Hi. I’m always looking at different types of information about full time RV living. I have a few more years to work but I have had a dream about living a simple life and meeting good people. I enjoy your blog and pictures, Sue. Now don’t be offended but here comes my “I’m always going to be a worried mom no matter what” personality. Aren’t you ever worried about being alone in all these out of the way places? I’m sure you take every precaution but sadly there are people among us who aren’t very nice. Please be careful out there!! You are very brave. I would welcome advice from you and your readers that may be helpful to me if I am ever lucky enough to go full timing. Thanks.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Cindi,

      No, I’m not offended. In almost 5 years on the road, camping in secluded places as well as in campgrounds, I’ve never had a problem. Never had to skedaddle. Never felt uncomfortable or nervous being alone.

      Now I’m asking you not to be offended by what I’m going to write. I am pretty certain your life in your location puts you at greater risk than mine. Why? Because there are more people around you (increased probability of not nice people among them) and you probably have a pattern of behavior. My lifestyle follows no pattern and I’m away from places where criminals troll. You will be, too, when you are full-timing on the road. You can look forward to that phase of your life without concern!

      Thanks for the kind words, Cindi.

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