A very scenic boondocking spot in the Prescott National Forest just SE of Cottonwood, AZ
Location: Prescott National Forest, just SE of Cottonwood, AZ
Coordinates: Camping area starts at intersection of AZ 260 and Thousand Trails Road(FS147)/Camino Real(FS360). Approx. 34.660993,-111.965153. Link to map location HERE
Cost: FREE (14-day limit)
How We Found It: We had heard about camping around Thousand Trails Road from other RVers and also found the listing on freecampsites.net. We settled on our final site by studying the Prescott Motor Vehicle Use Map for other permitted dispersed camping in the area.
Nearest Dump/Water: No facilities in forest. Free dump station at Giant Gas on corner of 89A and 260. Plenty of other nearby dump stations in Cottonwood & Camp Verde area.
- Access – 2.5/5
Access can be very good to very poor depending on where you camp. The boondocking area we chose is on the intersection of 260 & Thousand Trails Road just SE of Cottonwood. There are two main areas to camp here on either side of 260:
Thousand Trails Road -> Travelling north on Hwy 260, take a right at Thousand Trails Road (paved, clearly marked). Follow the paved road for 1/4 mile and then turn left onto Forest Rd 147A (wide dirt, firm). You will see flat, open areas and other rigs boondocked along the first 1/2 mile of this road. This is a popular area and easy to access for any-sized rig. Do not continue past top section (where road descends sharply to the water) since it becomes narrow with no turn-around.
Forest Service Road 360 -> Travelling north on Hwy 260 take a left at Thousand Trails to the dirt road directly opposite. This road is unmarked, fairly narrow and rapidly becomes very poor (very rutted, bumpy). According to the Prescott MVUM dispersed camping is allowed all along this road including adjacent FS361 and FS9460C. There are several camping areas fairly close to the entrance which can be relatively easily accessed, but sites further back require high clearance vehicles. Look for cleared-out sites that have been previously used (often there’s a small fire-ring). This is lightly used by campers, but much harder to access. Small high-clearance rigs will be able to find some very private (and still very scenic) sites here, but big rigs will be very limited.
- Nature – 5/5
Lovely nature and views here. You are just south of Cottonwood in high desert forest with sweeping views of the valley (all the way to the red rocks of Sedona). Open land all around and lots of forest service roads to hike and explore.
- Isolation – 2.5/5
You’re close to the largish town of Cottonwood so only medium isolation here. Thousand Trails is a fairly well-known boondocking site so you’ll undoubtedly be camping with others (for those familiar think “Quartzite-like” camping). The other side of 260 has very few campers, but does get OHVers and cars exploring the roads. Either way you’ll encounter some traffic unless your rig is small enough to get very far back in the forest, but the views and location are worth the trouble.
- Pet Friendliness – 5/5
A great location for the paws. Nice, open (cactus-free) space all around for easy paws on the ground plus lots of forest service roads for hiking/exploring. You are also only ~2 miles from Verde River access for water-splashing.
Overall Rating = 3.75
BONUS ALERT = Sweeping views of Verde Valley and the distant Red Rocks of Sedona!
Summary: We chose this area based on good reviews from other RVers and, although it’s not as isolated as we typically like, we managed to find a fairly secluded spot and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Thousand Trails Road is just SE of Cottonwood and off Hwy 260. This makes it a popular (and well-used) spot, but also gives some excellent sweeping views including the Verde Valley and the gorgeous red rocks of Sedona in the far background. Access can be easy to poor depending which side of the road you chose to boondock on (see above), but you’re rewarded with a scenic site that’s a short drive to Cottonwood, Jerome, Verde River and the various excellent sights around the area. Don’t expect to be alone here, plus be prepared for some trash (sadly, typical of heavily-used forest), but enjoy a great location. We loved the area and would readily come back again.
NOTE/ The Prescott National Forest covers a huge area and this is but a teeny piece of the boondocking available. You can pick-up or download a copy of the Prescott Motor Vehicle Use Map which will show each and every road open for dispersed camping in the entire forest. It takes a little doing to match forest service roads to actual road names (plus not all are marked) but if you spend the time you can find some excellent and well-secluded spots.
Extra Info: Good 4G Verizon signal (4 bars) and decent 3G signal. Since this is a well-used area the 14-day limit is enforced. There was a camp host at the Thousand Trails site and a ranger came by to take our license plate number at the other site.