What is dispersed camping?
Dispersed Camping is also known as boondocking, dry camping, and wild camping. It essentially refers to camping in an area that is not a designated campground. This means you will be camping in spot in the wild without the amenities that go with an established campground such as showers, electricity hookups, water hookups, tables, fire pits, and bathrooms. Some of the more popular dispersed camping areas in Rim Country will have limited amenities such as vaulted toilets and fire pits.
Dispersed camping also means no services such as trash removal. If you bring it in, you must bring it out and not leave trash for others to clean up.
Some general dispersed camping guidelines in Payson’s surrounding forests:
1. Pack it in/Pack it out – Take your litter with you to keep the forests clean and leave no trace
2. Never leave a campfire unattended – It is illegal to do so
3. Extinguish all campfires completely
4. Always verify that campfires are not restricted in your area or by time of year.
5. Do not camp in or drive through meadowlands. They are delicate and it is easy to scar the land.
6. No camping or campfires on the forest within city limits.
7. No camping within ¼ mile of a wildlife tank or watering hole.
8. Down and dead firewood may be gathered around your camping area for use at your campsite but it is illegal to load wood in a vehicle to take out of the Forest without a special permit. You may not cut standing trees, nor can you cut limbs off of standing trees.
9. All three forests have a 14 day stay limit in a 30 day period. Using forest lands for residency is illegal.
10. Groups camping together that number 25 or more people are required to have toilet facilities (port-a-johns) on site
11. A Special Use Permit is required for groups larger than 75 people. A Special Use Permit is also required for any size group which charges a fee to attend an event
12. Camping on private property is not allowed without the owner’s permission.
13. Bring plenty of water.
14. Let someone know where you are going before you go
15. Talk to a forest ranger. All three national forests have ranger stations with rangers full of useful information and can give you current tips on what to avoid.
16. Cell phone service is unreliable and bringing a paper map can be invaluable. Most ranger stations provide free maps or at least a map on the wall that you can snap a picture of with your phone. Quality paper maps also provide more detail than online mapping applications.
Where can I disperse camp?
Dispersed camping is free and is allowed on public lands in National Forests such as the three National Forests near Payson which are the Tonto National Forest, the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, and the Coconino National Forest. In general, you may camp outside of developed recreational areas anywhere in the forest. No permits are required to camp in wilderness areas. Be aware that there are certain sensitive areas that will be marked “no camping”.
While much of the forest is open to dispersed camping, there are also designated sites for dispersed camping.
Apache-Sitgreaves dispersed camping areas:
Coconino National Forest dispersed camping areas:
Tonto National Forest dispersed camping areas:
Many of the dispersed camping areas in rim country around Payson are accessed by the areas network of forest roads. Dispersed campers head down a dusty forest road looking for the perfect spot in the woods without campground noise.
Be aware extreme winter weather or flooding risks can necessitate the closure of forest roads at different times of the year. Many forest roads that lead to dispersed campsites may be closed during seasonal road closures, so check the status of these roads before embarking on your dispersed camping trip.
Most of all dispersed camping is about enjoying the beautiful forests that surround Payson!