A somewhat crowded but very well-located boondocking spot on the South side of Tucson, AZ
Location: On the corner of W. Ajo Hwy (86) and S. San Joaquin Road
Coordinates: Approx. 32.156758,-111.115551. Link to map location HERE
Cost: FREE (14-day stay limit)
How We Found It: This is a fairly well-known boondocking spot in the area. It’s listed on freecampsites.net and we’ve known several friends who’ve stayed here.
Nearest Dump/Water: Nearest dump/water at the private RV Parks just north of the BLM area on S. San Joaquin Road.
- Access – 4/5
Pretty easy access here with just one ding. This is a small BLM area right on the corner of Hwy 86 and S. San Joaquin Road. Driving west on W. Ajo Hwy from Tucson once you hit the corner, turn right onto San Joaquin and then immediately right onto the first dirt road you see. You’ll see RVs scattered right there by the base of Snyder Hill and you can choose any open site you see. Lots of flat spaces for just about any sized-RV. The main ding is the road is rather rutted/bumpy in spots and does seem to get more so with water/rain (there are a few large dips especially on the northern exit of the BLM area where bigger rigs could potentially get stuck) so DO take you toad in for a walk-around before bringing in a “beast“.
- Nature – 2/5
Considering the near-road location this is actually a fairly OK natural spot. You are camped right at the base of Snyder Hill which has some nice (moderately strenuous) hiking over/onto the hill for good views all-around. Base of Snyder is scrub desert and hard dirt. The area has been heavily used so you will find glass and (even) shot cartridges, but overall it’s nicer than I expected.
- Isolation – 1/5
This is *not* a place you come for BLM isolation. The BLM is right on the corner of 2 roads so you’ll get some road noise, plus it’s fairly small so you will most definitely have neighbors. Neither bothered us much, but you just need to be aware of it before you come. On the plus side it’s a fabulous location to see sights & visit Tucson. You’re on the south side of town with super-easy access to the Desert Museum and a short drive to Pima Air Museum, Mission San Xavier Del Bac etc.
- Pet Friendliness – 5/5
This is a great location for the paws. Easy scrub desert all around and a decent hiking trail up over Snyder Hill for afternoon walks.
Overall Rating = 3
BONUS ALERT = Camp for free just a few miles south of the fabulous Arizona-Desert Museum!
Summary: We chose this spot primarily as a convenient paw-friendly base to explore some of the south side of Tucson and (in particular) visit the Arizona-Desert Museum. It’s a very small and fairly well-known BLM area that is super-easy to access off the corner of Hwy 86 and S. San Joaquin Road. As far as isolation and nature goes it doesn’t rank too high. You’ll most certainly have neighbors here and you’ll undoubtedly hear some roadnoise, but overall it really isn’t bad. The biggest negatives are the dirt road can get rather rutted/bumpy plus there is glass scattered about (a shame). The biggest bonuses are location (fabulous area for visiting S.Tucson) plus Snyder Hill which dominates the background view and provides some short, but very nice (paw-friendly!) hiking directly from camp. The official camping limit is 14-days although some of the rigs certainly looked like they were settled for longer (I gather BLM rangers do come by occasionally to “remind” folks of policy). Overall we enjoyed the spot much more than we expected, liked our neighbors and would certainly use it as a base for Tucson in the future.
Extra Info: No water or facilities (nearest dump/water is at the private RV parks just north of the BLM area). Somewhat variable 3G Verizon signal on our phone (seemed to knock between full data and voice only), but very decent/stable 4G signal on our MiFi (~3 bars).
Extra, Extra Info – OTHER CAMPING: For those of you looking for other (non-BLM) camping in S.Tucson the nicest/most natural campground in the area is Gilbert Ray, although there are also 2 decent private parks (Justin Diamond J and 55+ Desert Trails) just up the road from the BLM area. All 3 of these parks have access to the extensive network of trails in Tucson Mountain Park. However for those of you with dogs BE AWARE that Tucson Mountain Park does *NOT* allow dogs on any of the trails. Nearby Saguaro National Park does *NOT* allow dogs either. So sadly, very few paw-friendly options this side of town.