Arizona

9 Rad Camping Spots Near Saguaro National Park, Arizona

by Emily Pennington
Updated April 14, 2022

camping near saguaro national park
Photo: Shutterstock

The sun that never seems to set, the arid desert mountains, and, of course, its namesake giant cacti — these are the things that come to mind when one thinks of Saguaro National Park.

Unlike most U.S. parks, Saguaro is divided into two sections, the Tucson Mountain District to the west and the Rincon Mountain District to the east. In the western section, visitors will find large stands of century-old cacti, framed by rocky, picturesque peaks. On the park’s eastern side, there are cactuses, sure, but the high mountains also give way to an island-in-the-sky ecosystem, in which visitors can spot black bears, cougars, and, if they’re lucky, coatis.

Saguaro is also divided by the city of Tucson itself, a desert metropolis with over half a million residents. Because there is no vehicle camping available within the park (it’s backpacking only if you’re looking to sleep inside the park boundary), a wide variety of private and nearby state park camping options exist. So, if you’re looking to cozy up next to a vintage hotel with board games and dive-in movies or relax in blissful solitude as the sun sets beyond a secluded ranch, this list has got you covered.

Because of its Sonoran desert climate, Saguaro is known for its scorching summer temperatures — daytime can reach 110 in the shade. This makes it an excellent park to visit in spring, autumn, and winter, when many other parks are blanketed in snow. Travelers here should always carry plenty of water — at least a gallon per day, per person — and follow Leave No Trace principles to help protect this fragile desert ecosystem.

If you’re looking to RV, tent, backpack, or car camp near Saguaro National Park, we’ve selected the best public, private, and Hipcamp sites to make your Southwestern dreams come true.

Related Read: 12 Best Hikes in Arizona, From Desert to Tundra

Best Campgrounds Near Saguaro National Park

1. Gilbert Ray Campground

gilbert ray campground saguaro np
Photo: Dan Nevill

Why you should camp here: Sleep among giant saguaro cacti with electrical hookups and views of Tucson Mountain Park.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: RV, tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes, 30 amp

With both designated tent and RV sites, plus modern bathrooms, a dump station, and electrical hookups, Gilbert Ray Campground, nestled inside Tucson Mountain Park, is a camper’s paradise. Plus, it’s the closest car camping to Saguaro that we could find (the park’s west entrance is a short 7-minute drive away). Other worthy activities, like driving Gates Pass Road and visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, are just a stone’s throw away too.

At only $10/night for tents and $20/night for RVs, this campground’s 130 desert sites are prime for budget minded travelers. Most sites are shaded with desert flora, like towering ocotillo plants and flowering creosote bushes, and have a picnic table and grill for after-park hang outs. There’s even a dump station for RVs in need.

Related Read: 8 Best Lake Havasu Camping Spots for Water-Filled Adventure

2. Amber Sunrise Desert Retreat

Amber Sunrise Desert Retreat
Photo: Paul S., Hipcamp

Why you should camp here: Sleep in a grove of Sonoran Desert saguaros while remaining close to the city comforts of Tucson.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Oftentimes, Hipcamps offer travelers the best of both worlds — the ability to sleep in the dirt and enjoy nature while also remaining close to the city. The four spacious sites at Ambler Sunrise Desert Retreat each come equipped with their own picnic table, fire ring, and included firewood to keep you toasty when the sun goes down.

This small, private campground is located 34 miles from Saguaro National Park, but with the epic cacti and sunset viewing right from camp, you’ll feel like you’re sleeping inside the park itself. There are no shower facilities at this pet-friendly spot, unfortunately, but a well maintained porta-potty is available for guests to use. Small campers are also allowed for dry camping only.

Related Read: 9 Unique Places to Stay in Arizona for an Unforgettable Vacation

3. Catalina State Park Campground

catalina state park camping
Photo: Colby-Sawyer College

Why you should camp here: Hot showers, modern restrooms, and epic views of the Santa Catalina Mountains await both tenters and RVers at this large Tucson campground.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: RV, tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes, 20/30/50 amp and water

Located on the northeastern edge of Tucson, inside gorgeous, arid Catalina State Park, is a 120-site camping haven for desert lovers who want mountain views and comfy amenities. RV roamers will adore the spacious, level, paved sites and their easy access to water and electrical hookups.

Those who prefer to tent it won’t be disappointed either. Each campsite at Catalina offers a picnic table and BBQ grill for campers who like to kick back after their day of hiking and adventuring is done (Saguaro is an easy 30-minute drive away). Visitors can rinse off with hot showers and enjoy simple pleasures like modern flush toilets. Sure, it’s roughing it, but not too rough.

4. Molino Basin Campground

Molino Basin Campground
Photo: Patrick Alexander

Why you should camp here: Set 4,500 feet up on the slopes of the Catalina Mountains, this quiet campground is perfect for visitors to Saguaro’s eastern section.

  • Reservations: No (Reservations only accepted for large group camping)
  • Campsite type: RV, tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: No

Situated in a high desert scrub oak ecosystem, this campground is a perfect getaway for last-minute travelers visiting Saguaro National Park in spring, fall, or winter (the campground closes during scorching summer months). The campground is small and rustic, with a few dozen first-come, first-served spots and one large group site that can be reserved for family gatherings or big posses of desert-loving friends.

There’s no water at Molino Basin, so remember to pack in at least a gallon per day, per person. Picnic tables, fire rings, grills, and food lockers are provided to help ensure a pleasant and safe stay. Looking for non-national park activities while you visit? The 800-mile Arizona Trail passes right through the campground.

Related Read: 12 Magical Glamping Sites Near the Grand Canyon South Rim

5. Rancho Relaxo

rancho relaxo camping saguaro np
Photo: Robert U., Hipcamp

Why you should camp here: Set on four private acres near Tucson, these two Hipcamps are perfect for solitude-seeking travelers to Saguaro’s western section.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: RV, tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes, 30 amp

Enjoy stunning sunsets, a clean, bohemian shower room, turtle pond, and cactus garden before you even venture into the park. Rancho Relaxo hosts two well-spaced sites — one for tents, the other for van, car, or RV campers who value their space and privacy and prefer not to bed down in large, commercial campgrounds.

Visitors here love the host’s thoughtful little touches, like turtle-themed décor, firepits, picnic tables, and colorful shower hut. With the national park a scant 27 miles away, there’s no excuse not to stay a while.

6. El Pais Campgrounds

el pais campground saguaro natl park
Photo: Toni S., Hipcamp

Why you should camp here: Simmer in funky Coachella vibes at this central Tucson motel, complete with vintage glamping trailers, tent sites, and psychedelic décor.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: RV, tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes, 30 amp electrical, water, and sewage

Why says a national park vacay needs to be all silence and sleeping in the dirt? El Pais Campgrounds is here to fulfill all your quirky, vintage dreams, with bright, amenity-rich campsites for RVers, van lifers, and car campers with tents. No need to rough it here; the place has showers, shade structures, fire pits, bathrooms, a communal kitchen, wifi, and did we mention the free laundry?

Wake to free eggs and coffee — the owners’ chickens might cluck right through your campsite throughout the day — relax with an on-site board game, or cool down and enjoy a dive-in movie at the campground’s retro pool. At only a 25-minute drive to both the east and west sections of Saguaro, it’s a road tripper’s delight.

Related Read: 15 Unforgettable Romantic Getaways in Arizona

7. La Hacienda Chuparosa

tent camping near saguaro national park
Photo: Katie C., Hipcamp

Why you should camp here: Privacy is the name of the game at these secluded, horse-friendly RV and car camping sites overlooking the Catalina Mountains.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: RV, tent, car camping
  • RV hookups: Yes, 50 amp, water, and sewage

Set at the back of a 4.5 acre parcel of private land, La Hacienda Chuparosa (a chuparosa is a desert shrub with brilliant red flowers) is a horse-friendly campground that’s supervised by a big, friendly dog named Max (cuddles with him are an optional part of the experience). The space features room for two RVs with full hookups on concrete pads, as well as a standard tent site for car campers. Vanlifing it or sleeping in your car? Get an RV site, says the host.

There are stalls and corrals available for people traveling with their horses, and the entire property is surrounded with phenomenal views of the Catalina Mountains, to the northeast of Tucson. The tent site is equipped with creature comforts galore – think private hot showers, a bathroom, picnic table, fire ring, and potable water. Oh, and Saguaro National Park is just five miles away, making this an ideal basecamp.

Best Backcountry Camping in Saguaro National Park

If you’d rather get down and dirty and trek in your gear to camp inside the park proper, then roll up your sleeves and head to one of these two campgrounds.

8. Manning Camp

manning camp saguaro national park
Photo: Sean O’Connor

Why you should camp here: Historic cabins adorn this high-altitude backcountry haven, which is the largest in the park.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tent only, hike in
  • RV hookups: No

Once the summer home of former Tucson mayor, Levi Manning, this high elevation camp (nestled at around 8,000 feet above sea level) is the largest and most tree-lined of Saguaro’s six backcountry campgrounds. Getting there is no easy feat, though. Hikers must secure a permit and trek a minimum of 7.5 miles (from the Turkey Creek Trailhead) before pitching a tent.

A perennial water source is nearby, and it’s only dried up twice in the history of the park, so you can rest assured that water finding will not be an issue at Manning. There are also fire rings and picnic tables for evening lounging when you’re done exploring the park.

Related Read: 11 Best Places to Go Camping Near Water in Arizona

9. Douglas Spring

douglas spring trail saguaro np
Photo: Emma Locarnini

Why you should camp here: Explore the rocky scrublands of the desert foothills on a moderate hike to this shady backcountry campground.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Campsite type: Tent only, hike in
  • RV hookups: No

On the way to this lower altitude (4,800 feet) three-site area, backpackers will have the opportunity to gaze out at views of Tanque Verde Falls and the Tina Larga Tank. Warmer evening temperatures are a real treat here, perfect for night sky gazing, as no fires are allowed — fire-prone grasslands surround the camp.

Water here is seasonal, so check with the ranger station before heading out. It’s 1,800 feet of elevation gain to get to camp, and having plentiful water is essential. Once you arrive, plentiful cottonwoods and oak trees provide a shady respite from the hot desert sunshine.

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