6 Boondocking Campsites for Loners – In the Southwest

This is the 9th in the Southwest Safari series

These are isolated locations where lone wolf campers can be alone and most of these sites are free.  All of these are legal camping sites.

First, a reminder that boondocking is rustic camping without hookups. Some of these sites don’t even have a toilet, so you have to be comfortable with alternatives. Fortunately for me, I was hauling a pickup camper which was entirely self-contained and I could store my compost in a holding tank until reaching a dump site.

Pleasant Creek National Forest Campground

The first of the rustic campsites on my recent photography trip to the American Southwest was at a deserted forest campground along highway 12 in the mountains between Capitol Reef National Park and Escalante, Utah. At about 7000 feet elevation, this spot was a cool island of pine and poplar woods surrounded by lower deserts of bare rock.

Forests are rare in the southwest where the desert heat is a killer.
Forests are rare in the southwest where the desert heat is a killer.

The campground had pit toilets and delicious well water. All alone for the night, my campsite cost $6 which is half the usual rate because of my senior pass which also gets me into all national parks for free.

Pleasant Creek Nat'l Forest Campground is a cool respite on Highway 12 north of Boulder, Utah
Pleasant Creek Nat’l Forest Campground is a cool respite on Highway 12 north of Boulder, Utah

There were two other national forest campgrounds within a half mile and there were a couple of campers there for the night.  This was in September.

Hole-In-The-Rock Road, Escalante, Utah

Devil's Garden

After exploring the intriguing rock formations at Devil’s Garden off Hole-in-the-Rock Road, I found an isolated pull-off a couple of miles south and west across from the access track to the dinosaur tracks site (I didn’t cross the dry wash into dinosaur tracks because the steep sideways slope threatened to roll my camper over).

High clearance and four wheel drive are helpful on any of the side tracks from Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
High clearance and four wheel drive are essential on any of the side tracks from Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
The only other sign of life was the wild horse plops on the hills next to my camper.
The only sign of wildlife was the wild horse plops on the hills next to my camper.

This spot was essentially nothing more than a level field where I could pull off the road.  The sound of the light rain on the roof of the camper during the night lulled me to sleep.

Paria Contact Station

East of Kanab, Utah, there is a ranger station with some helpful volunteers on staff.  After driving through heavy rain coming down from Escalante all day, I was leery of crossing the gully at Buckskin Wash even with four wheel drive.  I figured a flashflood was coming that could prevent me from returning to the highway for several days.  Their solution for me was a gravel pit on the top of the mountain behind the station.  I had a free campsite with no neighbors.

I had a view of the Paria River valley from the summit.
I had a commanding view of the Paria River valley from the summit.

The next morning I looked down on a raging Paria River rushing at 30 miles an hour.  I decided to change my itinerary and stay out of the slot canyons where the water level rose from ankle deep to 30 feet deep overnight.  Deadly!

Valley of the Gods

This was my favorite campsite for pure desert grandeur.  I chose a spot at the foot of a huge stone butte where I could see for twenty miles toward the distant towers of Monument Valley.  The camping is free for a limit of 14 days at each spot.

Valley of Gods butte

Valley of gods camp

Valley of God view

One word of caution here.  If you approach Valley of the Gods from the south off highway 163 you can reach the campsites with a medium-sized motor home or trailer.  If you come in from the west on 261 as I did, you will cross no less than 20 dry washes with steep grades that will test the fortitude of your four wheel drive rig.  Don’t take your 40-foot coach in here from either direction.

Butler Wash

Five miles west of Bluff, Utah, on highway 163, open the cattle gate and drive through, then close it behind you.  You are on Butler Wash Road at the south end of a broad valley flanked by rocky cliffs on both sides.  Among those cliffs there are many hidden Navajo cliff dwellings.  Camping is free at any of the side tracks on this 25-mile long four wheel drive road.  Yes, again, you must not take a long wheel-base vehicle in here; you’ll get hung up in a step ravine trying to climb out the other side.

Butler Wash

You are sure to be alone with only the night wind to keep you company.  (Read about my adventure at Pedestal Rock Ruin here.)

7-Mile Parking

A few miles northwest of the town of Moab, Utah, on highway 191 there is a privately owned parking lot with nicely leveled gravel lots and porta-johns.  There are no other perks except its strategic location near the entrances of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.  I found it almost impossible to get a campsite at the national parks so this little spot was a real blessing to me and I stayed several consecutive nights paying the measly $5 per night.  What a great staging area for rafting the Colorado River, dirt biking the slick rock at Behind the Rocks, or four wheeling the epic off-road challenges around the area.  Moab has provisions of all kinds.  You can even rent a Jeep or ORV there.

7 Mile Parking is surrounded by the rugged terrain of southern Utah.
7 Mile Parking is surrounded by the signature rugged terrain of southern Utah.  It is right next to the entrance to Gemini Bridges Road, a rugged off-road trail for four wheelers.

These are a few of the great boondocking campsites of southern Utah.  I passed up many others.  Much of the desert southwest is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where free – or almost free – camping is permitted with only a few restrictions.

Somebody with the ultimate off-road camper was enjoying the almost-free campsites on BLM land near Fisher Towers 20 miles east of Moab.
Somebody with the ultimate off-road camper was enjoying the almost-free campsites on BLM land near Fisher Towers 20 miles east of Moab.

Happy camping!

___________________

Read about my adventure near 7-Mile Parking on the White Rim Road:

3 Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot Out of Me

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