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Old 04-23-2023, 09:12 PM   #1
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Looking for ideas for winter camping trip UT -> AZ, CA? NV -> UT

My wife and I have been light on camping since mid-Summer last year due to a medical issue. Planning to get back into it starting this Summer with trips to Capitol Reef and later to Sawtooth areas but still light on camping due to professional engagements and a trip to Greece.

So, we are planning a camping trip this December of about 2.5 to 3 weeks from mid-Dec to early January. Starting from SLC in Utah, we are thinking AZ as the main destination - with possible extensions into Southern CA, and NV. Not having camped South of Page, AZ, we are looking for ideas. The only definite place we want to visit is Tucson and Saguaro National Park.

Any ideas of places and campgrounds we should consider? Our interests are mainly hiking, nature and if we go to So CA - beach.

Thank you very much!
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Old 04-24-2023, 09:21 AM   #2
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In Tucson my favorite is Gilbert Ray Campground.
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Old 04-24-2023, 08:28 PM   #3
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In Tucson my favorite is Gilbert Ray Campground.
Ditto what Jon says, the sites are small so you don't get the monster RV's and when I was there there were up to five Escapes at a time.
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Old 04-24-2023, 11:33 PM   #4
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Many many thanks! Will try to book that campground shortly.

Any other places we should consider? I had envisioned traveling West towards CA but can also travel East towards TX/NM. We have obviously seen a fair bit of Utah, Grand Canyon etc. but are less knowledgeable about this general area and attractive places.
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Old 04-25-2023, 01:05 PM   #5
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Many many thanks! Will try to book that campground shortly.

Any other places we should consider? I had envisioned traveling West towards CA but can also travel East towards TX/NM. We have obviously seen a fair bit of Utah, Grand Canyon etc. but are less knowledgeable about this general area and attractive places.

For something different you might consider Big Bend NP. It is a long way from anywhere and requires that you do your homework (reading) so you are prepared for the extremes. Plan on being self-contained for 1-2 weeks and ready for weather, long drives, unusual environments, etc. And bring your passports for the recommended visit across the border to Boquillas, Mexico. If you like Big Bend, you will want to stay for weeks - or you might want to leave after a day. Plan ahead so you are not surprised. You are past the prime season (winter) and temperatures are heading up and the crowds are heading home.
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Old 04-26-2023, 12:04 AM   #6
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For something different you might consider Big Bend NP. It is a long way from anywhere and requires that you do your homework (reading) so you are prepared for the extremes. Plan on being self-contained for 1-2 weeks and ready for weather, long drives, unusual environments, etc. And bring your passports for the recommended visit across the border to Boquillas, Mexico. If you like Big Bend, you will want to stay for weeks - or you might want to leave after a day. Plan ahead so you are not surprised. You are past the prime season (winter) and temperatures are heading up and the crowds are heading home.
Thanks a lot for bringing this up. We had planned a trip earlier but had to pull out. We have been shying away from the long drive to Big Bend. Perhaps we have to re-think that. Last time we were looking - we had found late Dec to be very busy camping wise. Do you think our time is past the busiest period?
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Old 04-26-2023, 11:15 AM   #7
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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Consider Organ Pipe Cactus NM in Arizona. It has one of the nicest campgrounds I've seen in a federal park: the RV section has all concrete pads and all are pull-throughs. No hookups, though. It is very scenic as well.
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Old 04-26-2023, 06:18 PM   #8
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Consider Organ Pipe Cactus NM in Arizona. It has one of the nicest campgrounds I've seen in a federal park: the RV section has all concrete pads and all are pull-throughs. No hookups, though. It is very scenic as well.
Many thanks, Mike! Iím planning to start booking campsites this weekend. So, your recommendation is timely and I will try to book it soon!
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Old 04-26-2023, 08:59 PM   #9
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Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park near Tucson is scenic and worth a stay. Just down the road from it is Oro Valley and the Biosphere 2 complex, a fascinating techno-hubris attempt to mimic planet Earth. It got buggered up, same as this Earth.

https://biosphere2.org/
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Old 04-26-2023, 10:21 PM   #10
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Thanks a lot for bringing this up. We had planned a trip earlier but had to pull out. We have been shying away from the long drive to Big Bend. Perhaps we have to re-think that. Last time we were looking - we had found late Dec to be very busy camping wise. Do you think our time is past the busiest period?
Points to emphasize.
It is a long drive from anywhere (one of the prime attractions of the Park for many, but not all folks appreciate the isolation.)
It is quite busy in the winter as you found out - reservations are a must.
Late spring - April, to mid-fall - October, can be very !! hot. That is why it is the off season. But if you plan accordingly, the central campground, Chisos Basin at 5200' elevation can be tolerable. Remember, no hookups and very limited generator hours so using the A/C is not practical. Keep in mind that the other 2 campgrounds are below 2000' and can be much warmer. I remember one summer day when the law enforcement ranger told us that only 1 camper was in the Rio Grande Village campground (100 sites).
October-November would be my middle ground choice. Not as crowded, not as hot.


Read a book or 2 prior to going. The information you learn will prove very valuable.
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Old 04-27-2023, 11:06 PM   #11
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Catalina State Park near Tucson is scenic and worth a stay. Just down the road from it is Oro Valley and the Biosphere 2 complex, a fascinating techno-hubris attempt to mimic planet Earth. It got buggered up, same as this Earth.

https://biosphere2.org/
This isn't our speed. We see buggered up close and personal where we are! But, thanks for pointing out. If we are in the area, my wife might be persuaded, and I might follow her
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Old 04-27-2023, 11:08 PM   #12
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Points to emphasize.
It is a long drive from anywhere (one of the prime attractions of the Park for many, but not all folks appreciate the isolation.)
It is quite busy in the winter as you found out - reservations are a must.
Late spring - April, to mid-fall - October, can be very !! hot. That is why it is the off season. But if you plan accordingly, the central campground, Chisos Basin at 5200' elevation can be tolerable. Remember, no hookups and very limited generator hours so using the A/C is not practical. Keep in mind that the other 2 campgrounds are below 2000' and can be much warmer. I remember one summer day when the law enforcement ranger told us that only 1 camper was in the Rio Grande Village campground (100 sites).
October-November would be my middle ground choice. Not as crowded, not as hot.


Read a book or 2 prior to going. The information you learn will prove very valuable.
Thanks a lot, Alan! I will make a serious attempt to secure the campsite. If we get it, we will go that way. If not, we will wait for another time. I will report back if I managed to secure something...
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Old 04-28-2023, 12:00 AM   #13
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Thanks a lot, Alan! I will make a serious attempt to secure the campsite. If we get it, we will go that way. If not, we will wait for another time. I will report back if I managed to secure something...
Research the Chisos Basin campground carefully. It was designed originally as a tenting campground - many sites are not suitable for a 5.0TA. But on the lighter side - it has the best (Verizon) cell signal in the park.
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Old 04-28-2023, 09:14 AM   #14
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Catalina State Park near Tucson is scenic and worth a stay. Just down the road from it is Oro Valley and the Biosphere 2 complex, a fascinating techno-hubris attempt to mimic planet Earth. It got buggered up, same as this Earth.

https://biosphere2.org/
We love Catalina State Park. However, AZ state parks have a 12 month reservation window so you have to plan ahead.
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Old 04-28-2023, 09:58 AM   #15
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FYI

Here's another Tucson vicinity attraction I found fascinating.

https://titanmissilemuseum.org/museum/
It's straight out of Dr. Strangelove.

There's also Kitt Peak National Observatory
https://kpno.noirlab.edu/
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Old 04-28-2023, 11:34 AM   #16
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Research the Chisos Basin campground carefully. It was designed originally as a tenting campground - many sites are not suitable for a 5.0TA. But on the lighter side - it has the best (Verizon) cell signal in the park.
Thank you! Will do. If you have any campsite recommendations, I'd definitely appreciate it. I always enter our camper length on recreation.gov when making the reservations. I do find it confusing that the RV vs trailer lengths are often different. For instance, the site 52 accommodates 24 ft RV but only an 18 ft trailer. So far, I have shortlisted (sharing in case it is of use to someone in the future):
7, 6, 26, 17, 15 (look good),
18, 45, 25, 13
---
Might work: 52, 44, 30, 58, 16, 9, 5, 4, 3, 2

I tried just now but the reservation window seems to open 6 months in advance. So, I have a reminder set for July 1st to try first thing in the morning.
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Old 04-28-2023, 11:43 AM   #17
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We love Catalina State Park. However, AZ state parks have a 12 month reservation window so you have to plan ahead.
Thank you for mentioning that. I looked and there seem to be sites available. I will try to book Big Bend first (July 1st) and then plan the Tucson dates.
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Old 04-28-2023, 11:43 AM   #18
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Here's another Tucson vicinity attraction I found fascinating.

https://titanmissilemuseum.org/museum/
It's straight out of Dr. Strangelove.

There's also Kitt Peak National Observatory
https://kpno.noirlab.edu/
Great! Thanks for sharing. I have added them to the list.
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Old 04-28-2023, 12:28 PM   #19
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Thank you! Will do. If you have any campsite recommendations, I'd definitely appreciate it. I always enter our camper length on recreation.gov when making the reservations. I do find it confusing that the RV vs trailer lengths are often different. For instance, the site 52 accommodates 24 ft RV but only an 18 ft trailer. So far, I have shortlisted (sharing in case it is of use to someone in the future):
7, 6, 26, 17, 15 (look good),
18, 45, 25, 13
---
Might work: 52, 44, 30, 58, 16, 9, 5, 4, 3, 2

I tried just now but the reservation window seems to open 6 months in advance. So, I have a reminder set for July 1st to try first thing in the morning.
I would be very careful in selecting a Chisos Basin site. Use Google satellite images if you can, plus campsite review sites to get a good feel for each site size and configuration.

For example, you mentioned 17. I don't know what the Recreation.gov website says about 17 but I recall that the parking spot is very short. There is split parking for this site and you can park your tow vehicle on the other side of the road, near site 18.

Again, from my memory, site 18 has a substantial parking area and would fit your TA5.0.

But it has been 3 years since I was at CB - might be returning in Spring 2024 - but I don't remember the specifics of each site anymore. Other folks on this Forum may have more useful information. You might consider starting a topic about campsites at Chisos Basin.

The RV vs Trailer size is meant to differentiate between one piece units and towed units. It sounds like they think - for example - that a bumper pulled E21 can fit in the space when disconnected from the tow. There is informal parking for tow vehicles in the near-by amphitheater parking lot (ask the host).

Since you mentioned starting your search in early July then I assume you plan on camping in December. In that case, you might consider camping at Rio Grande Village campground (not the Rio Grande Village RV Park - private). RGV CG with its 100 sites is much bigger, flatter, and a good place for a first time visit, no worries about size and access. Then, while at the Park you can take a day to explore the other campgrounds and make some notes for your next visit. Also, check out some of the primitive, back road camping sites (also reservation only). Surprising enough - a few of them are actually suitable for trailers. Isolation at those back country drive up sites is intense - dark and silent. You will be the only humans for miles after dark.
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Old 04-28-2023, 03:58 PM   #20
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Kitt Peak is still closed. Maybe someday it will reopen.
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