Boondocking in Flagstaff, Arizona

May 2015

Boondocking is a term in the RV world that means camping/staying in the great outdoors at a place that isn’t a campground. I am not talking about spending the night in a Walmart parking lot here (yes, that is a thing), but rather more typically finding a National Forest that allows camping, finding a spot to park, and enjoying your peace and quiet.

Also known as dispersed camping (especially when boondocking in a National Forest), you are without a source of water or power, and have no place to dump your holding tanks. In other words, the perfect place to spend some time away from it all. And something I had not done up to this point. WTH? Never boondocked? Yes, it is true. I will hang my head in shame over in the corner now.

1+ years into this little adventure without boondocking meant I could hardly call myself a fulltimer. No self respecting fulltimer has never boondocked, so I had to remedy this situation!

There are a few fulltiming couples whose blogs I follow that are really good boondockers. As in REALLY good! And I had the pleasure of being invited by one such couple to my first boondocking experience.

Brian and Leigh are a fulltiming couple that I have been stalking virtually for a while. They also happen to run Campendium, the newest website for rating and reviewing places to stay. I happen to be a big supporter of Campendium and have been writing quite a few reviews there, so Leigh had reached out and offered to cook me dinner as a way of saying thanks. We just needed to coordinate where this was going to happen. Turned out Flagstaff worked for both of us, so off I went.

Walnut Canyon Dispersed Camping

The American West is a large, open area with vast stretches of nothingness (I am writing this for my East coast friends who think openness is Central Park) and there are a lot of places to boondock. Because there is a lot of public land. And public land is boondocker’s heaven.

The Coconino National Forest is one such stretch of vast openness, and is located in the Flagstaff, Arizona area. Walnut Canyon is one such area of said National Forest and the destination for my rendezvous with Brian and Leigh. The name Walnut Canyon comes from the canyon that contains Walnut Canyon National Monument and is a bit over a mile away (more about the monument below).

I arrived at the Walnut Canyon dispersed camping area on a Monday afternoon, having made the drive up from my parent’s place in the Phoenix area. After a short drive down the paved road leading to the monument, I hooked a left and continued down a very well maintained gravel Forest Service road to the GPS coordinates Leigh had provided me. I hooked another left down essentially a Jeep trail, with house in tow. No worries, right??

I was greeted by Leigh soon after I turned down the Jeep trail. She informed me that I had a couple of choices to call home – a spot close to the main gravel road, or a spot further down that offers spectacular views of the mountains. Um, duh, the mountain views it was.

I successfully negotiated my way into the spot and settled in to my first boondocking/dispersed camping experience. So far so good! (I had filled up with water in Flagstaff before arriving and dumped my holding tanks in town on the way out.)

View from my backyard

View from my backyard

As it turned out, another fulltiming couple (and friends of Brian and Leigh’s) were also staying at the same place, so I got to meet Dave and Kelly over dinner and drinks that night. Unfortunately they were heading out the next day, but we made plans to connect down the road.

The three nights I spent at Walnut Canyon were wonderful. A great first boondocking experience. I got a taste of it and left wanting more. Thanks Leigh and Brian for inviting me to the party!

One morning I logged (walk/jogged) about 4 miles of the Arizona Trail, which is an 800+ mile long trail that goes from the Mexican border to the Utah border and happens to run right past where I was staying. I wasn’t feeling motivated enough to do it a second day on my mountain bike, but I did pass a mountain biker in the middle of nowhere while I was out and about on the trail. Can’t a guy get a little alone time? 😉

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Just over a mile away from my dispersed camping site is Walnut Canyon National Monument,which was home to the Sinagua people over 800 years ago. They lived in Walnut Canyon for over 100 years in cliff dwellings, which are visible in many places.

One morning I walked over to the National Monument just before it opened, and I wasn’t the only one who planned an early arrival. There were several cars lined up and we all waited a few minutes for a ranger to open the gate. I am glad that I got there first thing as there weren’t many people but there sure were when I left. Several buses full of tourists were starting their descent as I was climbing up. I am all for tourists, but not of the rude kind. Not of the won’t get out of your way kind. And that is the kind that had arrived. Fortunately I was able to enjoy the canyon in peace before the masses arrived. The early bird gets the worm, or something like that.

There are only two trails in the monument – the Rim Trail and the Island Trail. The Rim Trail is a short 0.7 mile long paved trail along the rim of the canyon that provides great view points. The Island Trail is a 0.9 mile loop trail (more of a lollipop trail) that depends 240 steps onto an island in the canyon. A very tall island that is more of a peninsula, but whatever. The island contains restored cave dwellings you can view, and offers additional great views of the canyon and the inaccessible dwellings.

240 steps…

While definitely not a place you would spend all day at, Walnut Canyon National Monument is only 10 miles from downtown Flagstaff and worth a side trip if you are in the area.

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