U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Coronado National Forest


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Forest Information

The Coronado National Forest is located in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. It is comprised of 1,718,187 acres in Arizona and 68,936 acres in New Mexico. There are thirty-four developed campgrounds, twenty of which meet our selection criteria.

Coronado National Forest is widely scattered across southeastern Arizona. Composed of individual up-thrust mountain blocks called "sky islands," the Forest offers a broad spectrum of experiences. The fifteen "sky islands," reaching elevations of 10,720 feet, contain a variety of environments with plants, birds, and animals unique to the ecology. This biological diversity was first noted in the late 1800's and has laid the framework for today's study of eco-systems. Like those earlier visitors to the Forest, today, one encounters every eco-system found between Mexico and Canada and, at least two of the four seasons in each journey up a "sky island."

With such variations in elevation and eco-systems, the camping locations and recreational opportunities found in the Coronado National Forest are equally varied. Over 1,100 miles of trails, designed for various modes, levels of challenge, and experiences, are available. Five small lakes provide water-based activities. Eight wildernesses and a number of "roadless" and "protected" areas offer solitude and primitive conditions for the out-of-door enthusiast. And with the most southern ski resort in the U.S., Mt. Lemmon, located just outside Tucson, wintertime "snow play" activities are not forgotten.

The Catalina Scenic Byway, winding up to Mt. Lemon, is lined with campgrounds for car, tent, recreational vehicle (RV), and motorhome camping enthusiasts. The first campground, Molino Basin, in the Upper Sonoran Zone eco-system, is open only during the winter months. With temperatures about 20 degrees cooler, Spencer Canyon and Rose Canyon campgrounds, located further up the Byway, are open only during the summer months. Besides cooler temperatures, these campgrounds offer tall Ponderosa pines and spacious campsites.

Molino Basin campground also provides the Tucson area with access to the Arizona Trail. This primarily non-motorized trail, traverses the state from Mexico to Utah. The Trail highlights Arizona's topographic, biologic, historic, and cultural diversity. The Arizona Trail can also be accessed at Reef Townsite or Lakeview campgrounds in the Huachuca Mountains where it is known as the Crest Trail.

Just west of the Catalina Scenic Byway is Sabino Canyon, a "desert oasis" with tower cliffs and lush riparian vegetation. The Sabino Canyon features a visitor center, nature trail, hiking trails, shuttle ride and picnic area. Popular throughout the year, Sabino Canyon offers Forest visitors a closer look at the rich riparian eco-system. The Arizona sycamores, walnut, and Cypress trees and steady supply of water, provide a wondrous environment that attracts a wide variety of birds and mammals, as well as visitors from around the world.

The magnificent Huachuca Mountains, near Sierra Vista, offers two very diverse camping experiences. Lakeview campground, on the western side of the mountains, is a long, dusty drive to the campground near Parker Canyon Lake. One of the few lakes in the area, the 160-acre Parker Canyon Lake offers boating (8 HP motor limit), fishing, and has many sites overlooking the Lake. Other features unique to this campground are "walk-in" wheelchair friendly tent camping sites and an RV/motorhome camping loop (no hook-ups). On the other side of the mountain is Reef Townsite campground, perhaps the best car and tent camping in Coronado National Forest. With a rich recent mining history, this campground is located in a grove of tall, mature Ponderosa pines and adjacent to the Miller Peak Wilderness. This rustic campground provides with a delightful "forest" experience with breath-taking views and outstanding hiking.

No campground in the Coronado National Forest can boast a richer or more colorful history than Cochise Stronghold. In the mid-1800s, the Chiricahua Apache leader, Cochise, used the rugged Dragoon Mountains to shelter his people. Under the fanciful sculptures of towering rocks, the Chiricahua Apache found protection from the ever increasing conflict. The rugged canyons served the purpose so well it became known as Cochise Stronghold and today offers visitors the unique experience of sharing a camp and hiking the trails of Cochise and the Chiricahua Apache.

Many of the prettiest campgrounds, such as Rustler Park, Reef Townsite, and Arcadia, can be accessed only by traveling some of the most challenging roads. Severe switchbacks, shear drops, non-existing shoulders, and, on some, dirt and gravel roadways might make some consider staying at the lower elevation campgrounds. While these routes should be avoided by large rigs, the rewards of the "white-knuckle" driving experience are under-populated campgrounds in a near pristine environment.

Birdwatching is one activity that must be mentioned. The Coronado National Forest boasts two "world-class" birding areas: Madeira Canyon and Cave Creek. More than four hundred species of birds have been recorded throughout the Coronado National Forest. The greatest attraction are the migrating Mexican birds where Madeira Canyon and Cave Creek are at the northern edge of their breeding-range. A Forest Service suggestion is "park your car and walk" along any one of the many trails in these areas. Several birders suggested simply setting up camp at Bog Springs in Madeira Canyon or at either Idelwild or Sunny Flat in the Cave Creek area and waiting. Several sightings of the Elegant Trogon were made in this manner. Not as well-known, and thus not as crowded, are the winter birding opportunities found in the Pinaleno Mountains.

Coronado National Forest has something for everyone: fishing, hiking, camping, off-rode trails, pristine wildernesses, solitude, campgrounds large enough for family gatherings or small enough for two special people. It is a place to enjoy nature and experience in a spiritual renewal found in nature. Personal challenges and solitude can be found in many of the recreational opportunities offered by the Forest. The whole family can enjoy the delights of Coronado's various animals, birds and plants, its many trails, or the simple pleasure of roasting hot dogs over a campfire and listening to stories of Coronado's renegades and heros. Just as numerous as the stories are the days of fun for visitors to the Coronado National Forest. And the best part is each visit will produce more days of fun. Come and see for yourself.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 300 West Congress St. Sixth Floor Tucson, Arizona 85701 520-388-8300 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Douglas 1192 West Saddleview Rd. Douglas, Arizona 85607 520-364-3468 Nogales 303 Old Tucson Rd. Nogales, Arizona 85621 520-281-2296 Safford 711 14th Ave., Suite D Safford, Arizona 85546 928-428-4150 Santa Catalina 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd. Tucson, Arizona 85750 520-749-8700 Sierra Vista 4070 South Avenida Saracino Hereford, Arizona 85615 520-378-0311

Fred and Suzi Dow