dispersed camping on the mogollon rim

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Want to watch a sunrise melting over the edge of a grand escarpment, painting the sky with hues only nature could conjure? 

Dreaming of sleeping under the peace of a star-studded sky? 

Then camping on the Mogollon Rim should be on your adventure agenda. This rugged geological marvel offers some of the best views and unique camping experiences in the United States.

The Mogollon Rim (pronounced muggy-awn) cuts across the northern half of Arizona. It’s an escarpment that forms the southern limit of the Colorado Plateau, spanning 200 miles. 

It originates in northern Yavapai County and extends eastward until it nudges the New Mexico border.

The Rim shatters the stereotype of Arizona as a desolate desert state. Everywhere you look, it’s an ocean of green, so vast it seems to merge with the horizon.

Nighttime brings a whole new dimension to The Rim. With minimal light pollution, it morphs into your own personal observatory. As the last rays of the sun disappear among the pine trees, a blanket of stars unfurls above.

And the wildlife? From a horned lizard at 7700 feet in elevation, colorful songbirds flitting from tree to tree, and the distant call of elk in the night, it was remarkable.

milky way as seen from the mogollon rim in arizona
With few sources of light pollution, the Mogollon Rim is a great place for stargazing.

Dispersed Camping on the Mogollon Rim

Accessing the Mogollon Rim is straightforward from either Payson to the west or Show Low to the east. 

As you traverse Rim Road, also known as Forest Road 300, prepare to be captivated, as The Rim spans two national forests: Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves.

Nestled among towering Ponderosa pines and embraced by the sky, there’s a camping spot for every kind of setup.

Discover Arizona's Mogollon Rim: Free Dispersed Camping with Unmatched Views

There are campsites that hover on a precipice, and these edge-of-the-world sites offer waking up to a panorama of rolling forests stretching out towards the horizon, with the early morning light creating an ethereal scene.

However, these exceptional views come with a challenge — the wind. The altitude and exposed position make a conduit for gusty winds. 

Position your tent or trailer strategically to withstand the wind direction, and ensure any loose items around your campsite are safely tucked away or tied down.

horned lizard in pine needle litter on the mogollon rim
We were surprised to find a horned lizard at 7700 feet in elevation.

Tips For Your Mogollon Rim Camping Adventure

We traveled to both sides of the Mogollon Rim and found the Apache-Sitgreaves side was busier. While the Coconino National Forest side seemed ideal for those seeking peace and quiet. 

Outside the campgrounds, there are no facilities like toilets, electricity, or potable water — so you’ll need to come prepared. 

Secure your food to avoid attracting bears, follow current fire restrictions, and pack out your trash.

Don’t expect to update social media from The Rim, as cell phone signal is practically non-existent in many areas. We had one bar of 4G we were able to boost to get messages out.

The area has been the victim of many wildfires over the years, so make sure you’re informed on any current fire restrictions and practice smart campfire management.

Road conditions on The Rim can be rough, and I bet they get worse when it rains. 

We helped someone with a flat tire in an area with no cell signal get going again after they drove over a sharp rock that tore a fist-sized hole in their low-profile tires.

image 5
Don’t take Forest Road 300 for granted. It’s rough, narrow, and features a lot of sharp rocks that are hell on low-profile tires.

Takeaways from our experience on the Mogollon Rim:

  1. The Mogollon Rim isn’t just for camping; it’s an outdoor lover’s playground with hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, and kayaking opportunities.
  2. The area is home to black bears, so be cautious about securing food.
  3. There’s little to no cell phone signal. It’s a perfect chance to disconnect but have a backup plan for contacting the outside world.
  4. The roads can be rough and narrow. Ensure your vehicle is up to the task, and be wary of sharp rocks.
  5. The elevation and steep cliffs make the Mogollon Rim a windy place. Be prepared to secure your belongings.
  6. Be aware of fire restrictions and manage your campfire responsibly.

image 6
Western Tanager going after grasshoppers on the Mogollon Rim (of which there were approximately eleventy one hundred).

The Mogollon Rim is a perfect way to experience the rugged beauty of the American Southwest. Let this stunning part of Arizona be the backdrop for your next great adventure. Add the Mogollon Rim to your must-see list today!

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