Dispersed Camping in Ironwood Forest National Monument near Marana, Arizona

Winter in Tucson is a time of snowbirds, gem gazers, and rodeo-goers. License plates change, restaurants fill up, and living in an RV park gets interesting. 

Empty spots give way to out-of-town neighbors and all the horse mess that comes with them.

So it’s no surprise that, after not being able to take the squaredrop trailer out for a couple of months, we were feeling the ache for saguaros and solitude.

Ironwood Forest National Monument near Marana, Arizona checked all our boxes. It was the second place we took our trailer after we bought it last year, and we’ve been wanting to get back ever since.

This area is 129,000 acres of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land with lots of scenery, wildlife, points of interest, and history worth appreciating.

The first time we camped at Ironwood, we stayed off Pump Station Road. That dispersed camping area, while a bit rough and narrow in places, is suitable for most RVs.

This time, we decided to venture farther back into the monument and picked a spot with a view of the base of Ragged Top Mountain off Silverbell Road. Last summer’s monsoon was a doozy, and it shows on some paths branching off Silverbell.

Navigating the rough, washed out roads was worth it though, as the camp spot we found felt a lot like camping inside Saguaro National Park. 

We saw one person the entire time we were there, and other than one curious coyote who came up from a wash to yodel and grunt at us, we were left alone.

The road we camped off dead-ended into a hiking trail that looked to head up Ragged Top, and along the way we found an old water pumping station and derelict building. 

One of the many things to love about the Sonoran Desert are little easter eggs like that. There’s so much rich history in Arizona, you just never know what you’ll find.

We enjoyed two nights in our camp spot, but when the wind picked up on the second night, it was time for us to peace out the next morning. There’s nothing fun about blowing sand, scattered gear, and a flaptastic rooftop tent.

After packing up camp, we got lost when the road GPS wanted us to turn on was closed (Red Rock Lane), and ended up on a dead-end road near Silverbell Mine. 

Already tired and frustrated from a sleepless night, (and hangry to boot), getting lost ratcheted up my anxiety. After a mild freak out over “BEING LOST IN THE DESERT 4 EVA OMGZ” compliments of my anxious brain, we turned around and got ourselves out using Gaia GPS (and earned a few Arizona pinstripes–yay!).

There’s too much cool stuff in this area to see in one trip, and items on our list for next time include the Sasco ghost town and Titan II Missile interpretive site.

If you enjoy dry camping, we can’t recommend Ironwood Forest National Monument enough. Things to know before you go:

  • The paved section of Silverbell Road before you hit the dirt in Ironwood is hot garbage. Batten down thy hatches.
  • There’s a one lane bridge with a 3-ton weight limit here. If your setup is big and heavy, set your GPS to route you around this bridge.
  • There are several dispersed camping sites directly off Silverbell Road that would be fine for bigger setups, but a lot of the off-shoot type roads appear to be washed out from last summer’s monsoon and are probably only appropriate for high clearance vehicles.
  • We had one bar of 4G cell service with Verizon. Our weBoost gave us enough to get texts out.
  • Pump Station road has sites that bigger RVs can manage. Our campsite was here.
  • The campsite we enjoyed in our high clearance vehicle near Ragged Top Mountain is here.

Obviously, any of the above can and will change in the future. We can tell you about our experience, but be sure to do your own research before you head into the desert. 

We hope you check this area out! Pack out your trash, put out your campfire, and enjoy.

Ironwood Forest National Monument - Free Camping Bureau of Land Management Land near Tucson, Arizona
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