U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Apache National Forest


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Forest Information

The Apache National Forest is located in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico and is comprised of 1,197,655 acres in Arizona and 614,202 acres in New Mexico. There are twenty-four developed campgrounds, of which sixteen meet the selection criteria. The Apache National Forest and Sitgreaves National Forest are administered together and are referred to as the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

The Apache National Forest is a place of magnificent scenery, rugged beauty, and many recreational activities. The Forest is not convenient to a large community and access to this area has never been easy. These two factors allow the Apache National Forest to boast it is the most pristine forest in Arizona with a great diversity of recreational opportunities.

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway runs north to south in the Apache National Forest and offers a delightful view of the Forest. The idea of building this route through the rugged forest of the Blue Range was thought to be quite ridiculous. "There ain't even a good horse trail," was the response of one old-timer. Once the first roadway, a ten foot wide dirt track, was completed it took only three days to travel from Duncan, Arizona to Springerville, Arizona. Over the years, the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (US Highway 191) has been widened, paved, and improved. Today this trip requires two or three hours!

From Duncan to Clifton, the Byway passes through dry, arid land. The Gila River presents a narrow ribbon of green but creosote bushes that seem to be the only plants growing. In Clifton, the route passes through a steep-sided canyon (notice the "baby locomotive" in front of the Cliff Jail) and than you are climbing into Morenci with its enormous open-pit copper mine (tours of the mine are available Monday thru Friday). At a Byway vista on the northern side of the mine, the visitor gain a sense of the mine's size and complexity of operation.

Past the mine, the topography remains rugged but there is a change: sparse desert becomes Evergreen oaks and Pinyon pines and soon Ponderosa pines begin to appear. This is the Apache National Forest with its stands of virgin Ponderosa pine groves, fabulous scenery, varied wildlife, and pristine wilderness.

It is said there are 400 curves on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway so take your time and enjoy the magnificent vistas, fabulous scenery, and possible wildlife sightings. (Ask at either the Springerville or Clifton District Ranger Offices about a Talking Tour Tape for the Coronado Trail.) This tape will enhance your journey with lots of information about the Byway, the land, the people, and the Forest.) A couple of "must-sees" along the way are the "Arrow Tree" (near mile marker 223) and Blue Vista at the top of Five-mile Hill. From here the view reaches almost to Mexico and is "totally awesome."

From Blue Vista, the Coronado Trail begins its descent into beautiful Hannagan Meadow, the town of Alpine, and ends in Springerville. A wonderful stand of Quaking Aspen is located north of Blue Vista and a few Maples can be seen scattered among the pines. The forest soon begins to open up along the Byway and elk, deer, and turkeys might be seen grazing in the meadows.

This northern section of the Coronado Trail has two developed campgrounds. Alpine Divide, adjacent to the Byway and north of Alpine, and Luna Lake, just west of Alpine. Either are good for overnight camping or as a base from which to explore more of this rugged and interesting section of the Apache National Forest.

Before reaching Springerville, the pines and deciduous tree disappear and are replaced by grasslands dotted by Juniper and Pinyon pines. The rugged topography also changes to gentle, rolling hills that reach toward the horizon. In places it appears some giant hand has built stonewalls to terrace the land. These great stone retaining walls are in fact a product of the ancient volcanic activity that formed the surrounding mountains. As you approach Springerville, look to the east. That is Escudilla Mountain. This ancient volcano, the center piece of Arizona's smallest National Wilderness, was an important force in forming what is now the Apache National Forest. West of Springerville, easily viewed from Arizona Rt. 260, are many Maar Volcanos. Appearing as rounded hills scattered across the plains, these mounds provide more evidence of the Apache National Forest's volcanic history.

South of the Maar Volcanos, the Apache National Forest offers some of the best trout fishing (Rainbow and Brown along with Native Apache) in Arizona, outstanding mountain bike/cross-country skiing trails, and fabulous wildlife viewing areas all accessible from developed campgrounds. The campgrounds are roughly located in three sections: the Big Lake/Crescent Lake area, East Fork of the Black River corridor, and the Greer Lakes area.

The Big Lake Recreation Area offers four campgrounds, each designed for a different camping experience. Rainbow is the largest and most RV-friendly while Brookchar is located among a young stand of mixed pines and is designed with only walk-in tent sites. Cutthroat is also a tent-only campground with limited views of a large meadow and Big Lake. Grayling has both tent and RV-campsites among large pines. The Big Lake Recreation Area also offers campers during the summer regular interpretative programs, guided nature walks, and a hot shower facility. Nearby, Winn campground is located at the edge of Lee Valley. While Winn does not have all the amenitities found at Big Lake, it does offer spacious RV-friendly sites, outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities, and a tranquil setting.

Along the East Fork of the Black River are several more rustic campgrounds. Scenery and fishing are the main attractions of these campgrounds. Water is available only during the summer season at Horse Springs and Diamond Rock. Raccoon and Buffalo Crossing do have vault toilets, tables and grilles on site.

For those who want the feeling of rustic camping but not the challenges, there is the Rolfe C. Hoyer campground. This special campground is dedicated to a former Forest Service who lost his life in a forest fire. Located near the resort community of Greer, Hoyer is not only set among a grove of mature Ponderosa pines, it offers the delightful luxury of hot showers, regular interpretative programs, and guided nature walks. The nearby community of Greer offers the additional luxury of a meal out at one of the several good cafes and restaurants.

Apache National Forest is located in lightly populated, mountain country. High elevations, cool temperatures, a rich forest, expansive mountain meadows, numerous lakes and streams, abundant and varied wildlife, and breath-taking scenery make for a memorable outdoor experience for visitors. The Apache National Forest is not the easiest forest to get to but one trip will have you planning for your next visit.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 30 S. Chiricahua Dr. P.O.B. 640 Springerville, Arizona 85938 928-333-4301 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Alpine 42634 Hwy. 180/191z Alpine, Arizona 85920 928-339-4384 Clifton 397240 AZ 75 Duncan, Arizona 85534 928-687-8600 Springerville 165 S. Mountain Ave. Springerville, Arizona 85938 928-333-6200

Fred and Suzi Dow