U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Tonto National Forest


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Forest Information

The Tonto National Forest is located in Arizona near Phoenix and is comprised of 2,874,900 acres. The elevation ranges from 1,300 ft. to 7,900 ft. There are about 25 developed campgrounds of which 18 meet the selection criteria.

The Tonto National Forest, located near Phoenix, Arizona, isn't a dry, barren desert. This Forest is a special place stretching across a rolling desert landscape dotted with saguaro and mesquite, then up into tall mountains covered with tall, green timber right to the edge of the "storied" Mogollon (muggy-on) Rim. This variety of topography, flora, and fauna means a diversity in recreation opportunities and camping locations no matter the time of year.

The historic Apache Trail Scenic Byway begins (or ends) at Roosevelt Lake Dam. Nearby are four recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome-friendly campgrounds scattered along the lake's shore. The Forest Service's innovative Cholla, with flush toilets and hot showers, is the largest all-solar powered campground in the United States. Windy Hill, with 339 sites, is the largest campground in the Tonto National Forest and is designed so all the campsites have a view of surrounding mountains. Indian Point and Schoolhouse, located at the north and south ends of the Lake, are the newest campgrounds. These campgrounds might be considered primitive but their spacious sites, magnificent views, and quiet surroundings make them a favorite. A centrally located RV waste station provides for the needs of RVrs. As the largest lake in Arizona, Roosevelt Lake is ideal for all water sports and fishing, and has challenging hiking nearby.

Along the Apache Trail Scenic Byway (State Rt. 88), visitors will find not only some spectacular views of Apache Lake, as well as Four Peaks and Superstition Wildernesses but two National Forest campgrounds. (Note: Travel between these two campgrounds is along the narrow, winding, dirt Apache Trail which is NOT recommended for RVs.) For the car and tent camping enthusiasts there is Burnt Corral, located on the eastern end of the Trail and boasts some of the largest Mesquite trees found in a Forest Service campground. At the other end of the Trail is RV and motorhome-friendly Tortilla. This three-tiered campground is unique, not only for its proximity to the historic town of Tortilla Flats (population: 6), but for sewer and water (no electric) hookups at each site.

For those who prefer their camping experiences to be a little less developed there are Jones Water west of Globe, AZ or Riverside near Carefree. Each offers a rustic camping experience but in very different environments. Jones Water is located on a hillside along a seasonal creek among live oaks and junipers. Riverside is located on level ground near the Lower Verde River. Considered a "family" or easy float river, the Riverside campground offers fishing, swimming, and other water-related activities and excellent bird watching opportunities.

The Tonto National Forest is also rich in human history. The CCC campground is actually located over an old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. Foundations and cement steps can still be seen among the campsites. Another interesting campground is Oak Flat with an old CCC dam and roadway - to the delight of many off-road fans. Located near the Apache Leap cliff formation of Superior, Arizona, Oak Flat is popular with rock climbers and is the site of an annual "Bouldering" competition. With it's abundant oak trees, seasonal but clear running creek, and natural defenses, the Oak Flat campground area was the location for an Apache "rancheria."

There are also examples of much older cultures in the Forest. Maintained and protected by the Forest Service, many sites are difficult to find. However, some are quite accessible to visitors of the Tonto National Forest. The Sears-Kay Ruins near Carefree, the Tonto National Monument with its pre-historic cave dwellings near Roosevelt Lake, and Besh-Ba-Gowah Ruins in Globe, are all excellent day-trips and provide glimpses into the life and cultures of the Salado and Hohokam people.

In contrast to most of the Tonto National Forest, the northern most portion receives upwards of twenty inches of rainfall each year. The abundance of moisture and the geological formation called the Mogollon Rim provide another environment to explore. In Tonto Creek, Ponderosa and Christopher Creek campgrounds near Payson, Ponderosa pines are abundant and the temperatures cooler than elsewhere in the Forest. The Highline Trail, reached using a number of "spur" trails, parallels the Mogollon Rim's 1,000-ft cliff face. Fifty-one miles long, the Highline Trail offers some of the most spectacular views and challenging paths found in the Forest.

While there are portions of the Highline Trail not considered horse-friendly, the twelve-miles of trail out of the Houston Mesa campground (Horse Camp section) are designed for a leisurely ride. Across the road from the Horse Camp section is the family campground section. This campground, the latest addition to the Forest, provides a convenient location for day trips to explore the Mogollon Rim, Tonto Natural Bridge, the Shoofly Village Ruins or enjoy the many activities in Payson.

Although not well known, wildlife viewing is excellent in the Tonto National Forest. There are the migrating hummingbirds who visit the Forest to enjoy the Saguaro's spring blossoms. Along with other seasonal residents, such as elf owls, and permanent residents, such as quail and red-tailed hawk, the Forest hosts 300 different species of birds each year. The Forest's varied vegetation also supports a variety of mammals. Although not as colorful as the bird, these mammals are an important and integral part of the eco-system.

Daytime, night-time, all year round, the Tonto National Forest has something going on. Something is always blooming, growing, moving, or in general, going about the business of living. In the winter much of the Forest offers warm days and cold nights and snow play in the Pinal Recreation Area near Globe, AZ. Spring brings a burst of color to add interest to the Forest's hiking trails. Cool water fun along a lake or river awaits Summertime visitors, while Fall's cooler days are perfect for exploring ancient places and footpaths. Come and see for yourself all the possibilities of this special place called the Tonto National Forest.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 2324 East McDowell Rd. Phoenix, Arizona 85006 602-225-5200 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Cave Creek 40202 N. Cave Creek Rd. Scottsdale, Arizona 85262 480-595-3300 Globe 7680 S. Six Shooter Canyon Rd. Globe, Arizona 88501 928-402-6200 Mesa 5140 E. Ingram St. Mesa, Arizona 85205 480-610-3300 Payson 1009 E. Highway 260 Payson, Arizona 85541 928-474-7900 Pleasant Valley P.O.B. 450 FR #63 Young, Arizona 85554 520-462-4300 Tonto Basin 28079 N Arizona Hwy 188 Roosevelt, Arizona 85545 928-467-2795

Fred and Suzi Dow