There’s a campsite that I think is one of the most breathtaking places to go to in Arizona! Hidden tucked behind the green forests of Payson, you’ll be able to pitch a tent overlooking the Mogollon Rim. The Mogollon Rim is not just where forests are, but it has a collection of canyons, waterfalls, and mountain ranges, after all it stretches for 200 miles. Therefore, it’s not only located in Payson, but could be located northeast from the city.
I’ve been fortunate to have camped here twice (so far) and those two times have been some of the most memorable camping trips out here. This spot is away from civilization (you won’t find buildings or home) by the campsites, so prepare to do it au naturale “Man vs. Wild” style. Basically, there won’t be any amenities like a bathroom or cabins or electric grills. There will, however, be some fire pits built (by rocks) sometimes by other people who have left it there.
How to get to Mogollon Rim and find a campsite (on the top)
Looking to go camping on the very top of the Rim? This is one way of how I did. Coordinates I used: 34.31482° N, 110.83690° W
If you’re coming out of Phoenix or Mesa, you’ll be driving to Bush Highway that connects to Beeline Highway and then connect to North Arizona Highway 87. Through these drives, you’ll see some of the prettiest mountains around the highway, especially during the spring and late spring time where the mountains are vividly green! (They almost make it look like you’re in Hawaii – insane!) After driving through these roads, you’ll hit and pass through the city of Payson.
You’ll then get on Payson-Heber Highway for a while where the roads are paved. Once you enter into the campsite areas, it will be unpaved, but not entirely bad. Still recommended to bring a vehicle that isn’t so low or have smaller tires and to pace your drive, so you don’t hurt your tires through some of those big rocks on this unpaved road.
Note that there will be many campsites close by that have similar views and are right next to each other if you’re not going to refer to the coordinates above. You can choose any campsite you’d like to be at. These campsites are fortunately free at no charge whatsoever! You can pretty much pitch a tent anywhere on this campsite too.
If my option is not ideal for you, for whatever reason (such as you need amenities), you can choose to camp out in Rim Campground. I listed a few other alternative campgrounds if you go read down below to “Places to visit nearby Mogollon Rim” where I listed out a few lakes around the Rim.
Important things to always remember when camping
The weather on the Mogollon Rim can change so often because it is pretty elevated at 4,000 to 7,000 feet high. It can go from really warm during the day (if you’re planning to go up here during the spring/summer weather) to really cold and windy at night. During the summer days, it can have more rain as that is when the Monsoon season rolls in, so you’d have to be prepared for the rain, which means always having your rain fly over your tent and possibly having a canopy over your foldable tables. (I will list some of the things you should pack on your camping trip below.)
When camping, you’ll probably set up fire pits but remember to always completely extinguish them after you leave! We want to avoid fires from occurring as much as possible. The right way to do this is to always check on the weather (if it’s windy and if there’s dry leaves and scrub; those are more likely to ignite something), having a bucket of water, smothering the fire with sand or dirt.
The principles of Leave No Trace should be used everywhere you step out in nature, which includes minimizing campfire impacts as I mentioned above and disposing waste properly.
What to pack for camping out in Mogollon Rim
Camping can literally be work, so I decided to help you out a bit by listing out some of the things you should pack if you’re planning for this experience, especially since I wrote these down as I was planning for my friends and me the second time around. As I mentioned in the beginning, there are no bathrooms here so definitely bring what you need to make your “bathroom” comfortable in nature.
- Hiking shoes
- Bathing suits (if you plan to go swimming in the places nearby listed below)
- Sleeping bags
- Camping chairs
- Packs of water bottles and gallons of water (to use for washing hands or dishes)
- Propane & gas stove
- Canopy (optional- not necessary)
- Breakfast and lunch groceries
- Foldable table
- Paper towels
- Dish-wash soap
- Trash/recycling bags
- Disposable plates
- Disposable cups
- Cast iron skillets
- Bags of ice for cooler
- Hand soap
- Dinner and dessert groceries
- Toilet paper
- Paper towel
- Face towel and toothbrush and toothpaste
- Portable charger and charger cord
- Insect repellent
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Places to visit nearby Mogollon Rim
The Mogollon Rim is truly a splendid place, after all it is right on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, which shares the Grand Canyon. The wildlife that thrives in the Rim, which can be spotted sometimes, are elks, coyotes, deers, and black bears, and in the winter, there are bald eagles you may luckily spot. Mogollon Rim is also greatly known for its several lakes, a bunch of them can be found in the Forest Lakes area.
You could choose to make Mogollon Rim a day trip while adding some of these places below to your itinerary or you could camp out here for a weekend or longer and choose some of these places to add to your trip.
Scenic drives and vistas
- Forest Road 300 – This road is also known as Rim Road and it is approximately 45 miles long. The panorama of this road is some of the most beautiful with sights of forests, lakes, and the Arizona desert. There are also drop offs that have overlooks for more than a 1,000 feet high!
- Rim Lakes Vista Overlook – This overlook is perfect for new tourists of Mogollon Rim! This is an easy trail that is pretty accessible too. It’s closer to Woods Canyon Lake, if you’re planning on visiting either spots.
- Willow Springs Lake – This lake is pretty cold all year round, but it does become a bit more tolerable to swim in during the summer. This lake is cold because of the snow that melts over the lake. This lake is stocked with a few different fish like trout, bass, crayfish, and sunfish, so it’s also a good opportunity for fishing.
- Woods Canyon Lake – Woods Canyon Lake is one of the smaller canyon-bound lakes on the Rim. It’s also one of the lakes that is stocked with fish (mainly trout). There’s also plenty of campsites here if you’re interested in being closer to this lake.
- Bear Canyon Lake – Bear Canyon Lake is one of the more scenic lakes and it’s narrow and canyon-bound. There are a few amenities here, but it still has campsites around.
- Black Canyon Lake – Once affected by the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire, but now recovered, this 60-feet deep lake is good for fishing and boating, as there’s a launch area for that. You could also find campsites around here.
- Knoll Lake – Located in Coconino National Forest, this secluded lake at 50-feet deep is closer to Happy Jack, Arizona. It is traveled through some distance on gravel road to get here though. This is good for fishing (there’s also trout to find here) and camping (there’s a campground here).
- Water Wheels Trail – Although this is almost an hour away from Mogollon Rim, it is still a great idea to see if you’d like to see some beautiful small waterfalls with luscious green-blue water running. It’s also a cooling spot to swim in. I would avoid going here though if the weather seems cloudy/stormy/rainy because this spot is known for deadly flash floods. You can check this trail out on AllTrails.
- Horton Creek Trail – One of the most popular trails in the Rim, Horton Creek Trail is a long 8-mile trail and gets up to higher elevation. Starts off easy but the top is a challenge and it is known to have good shade. You will get sights of flowing water here and some stream-crossing. You can check out this trail on AllTrails.