Rim Country: The Most Convenient Camping Outside of Phoenix

The Mogollon Rim is a beautiful area to explore and the best part is that it is only an hour and a half from the valley.

There are endless FS Roads here which is what makes this area so fun! It can be a bit confusing if you are not prepared so I definitely recommend having some other form of GPS aside from your phone just in case. I also recommend downloading iOverlander. It is my favorite app to use when looking for cool boondocking spots. The best part is it works without internet service.

I like to break the rim down to two area:

  1. Pine / Strawberry
  2. Star Valley

Pine/ Strawberry

Possible Activities Around Pine and Strawberry:

  • Grab some food / drinks and tour the towns
  • Find a great camping spot on the rim
  • Drive to Winslow
  • Hike Water Wheel Falls

As you go straight through Payson you will eventually head to the cute towns of Pine and Strawberry. There are restaurants and shops and it is totally worth checking out.

I recommend the Old County Inn for a great patio, delicious food and great craft beer on tap. That Brewing is the local brewery with a great patio. Make sure to grab a flight and check it out.

I love this area for camping because it is close to town but feels so far away. Within 15 min you can be on FS roads with views of the Rim. If you are looking for a place to camp close to amenities this is your go to spot.

If you continue up this road you will eventually head to Happy Jack and can even make it all the way to Winslow.

As you can see there are many FS roads in the area all ripe for the picking. We have never stayed at the same spot twice. It is fun to find new spots each time and with the plethora of them you will likely never run out of cool places to see. The spots closer to the road tend to be a little more crowded but as you weave back closer to the rim it is very easy to find solitude.

Happy Jack to Winslow :

A fun day trip if you are spending some time in the area is to Winslow, Arizona. Made popular of course by the classic Eagles song. This town doesn’t boast much aside from the continual loop of “Take it Easy” on the corner. We did thoroughly enjoy the brewery, Relic Road Brewing, and would highly recommend. The drive to Winslow is in my opinion beautiful. You leave the ponderosa pines for the high desert, which I find so stunningly beautiful.

Water Wheel Falls Hike:

This is on the way to Pine and Strawberry and is a great little hike especially in the summer. Be vigilant of conditions in this area. There can be horrific flash floods in the summer months during the monsoons. Otherwise, this 1.6 mile hike is totally worth the stop off or spending a day there splashing around in the cool mountain water. This is a very popular place so get there early!

Star Valley:

This area really isn’t known as Star Valley, I just find it easier to break up for the blog and direction purposes. This road takes you on the 260 towards eastern Arizona eventually to Show Low and Pine Top.

Possible Activities in the Area

  • Check out the Rim Country lakes
  • Find a cool campsite on a FS road
  • Hike Horton Creek Trail
  • Drive to the Petrified Forest

Rim Country Lakes:

There are a TON of small lakes in the area that are all great for camping, hiking, fishing and paddling. The map below is nowhere near comprehensive. I just circled ones I am familiar with and can be used as a brief reference for how many there really are up in the area.

There are a ton of options for camping near these lakes and some even have official campgrounds. Check out the forest service website for more information regarding the campgrounds.

Personally, I have been to Woods Canyon, Chevlon and Bear Canyon. All are great. Chevlon is my favorite because it is relatively empty. It is a tough hike down to the lake from the parking area so it takes effort and is not a suitable hike for small children. The effort is worth it as the lake is beautiful.

Bear Canyon Lake is a heck of a drive from Phoenix but is also great. There are many campspots along the the lake off of forest service roads but it does get extremely busy in the summer season when we all are trying to escape the heat.

Campsites / Boondocking on FS Roads:

As with the Pine and Strawberry side there are endless FS roads to choose from. I recommend doing some of your own research in the area and just traveling along the roads because getting lost in the right place is half the fun!

Horton Creek Trail:

This is an 8 mile gradual hike that is quite popular but totally worth doing. It is kid friendly and there are a ton of campsites along the way. Don’t let the length scare you if you are not a big hiker, it really is a gradual hike. Because of it’s ease I do recommend it for an introductory backpacking trip.

This trail is also dog friendly. I have camped here a couple of times as a quick backpacking trip but it can just as easily be done as a day hike especially in the summer. The trial is great because it is shaded most of the way and you are walking right along a cool creek perfect for taking a little wade into when it gets hot.

Drive to the Petrified Forest:

I have not been to the petrified forest since I was a little kid, however, if you are in the area it is a relatively close drive and totally worth checking out. Plus you can knock a National Park off of your bucket list and bonus, it is a REALLY cool and unique place.

Well that is a wrap on Payson. There are endless outdoor opportunities up there and it is all so close to Phoenix. My favorite thing to do is find a large spot and get a group of friends together. It is so much fun to relax in the wilderness and play games: spike ball, cornhole, polish horeshoes, frisbee golf and tree golf.

Sitting around the campfire at night sharing stories and playing board games is one of my absolute favorites.

The best thing about camping on the rim is it is close enough to town if you need anything but yet feels like it is hundreds of miles away with how easy it is to “Get Lost” out on the FS roads,

If you have any questions about any particular spots please feel free to reach out on the website.

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