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How To Best Experience The Strange And Stunning Wild Side Of Phoenix, Arizona

There’s no doubt that Phoenix, Arizona is a popular winter destination for thousands of RVers. These snowbirds migrate South every year seeking refuge from the frozen North.

Phoenix accommodates those who make the annual winter trek with an extraordinary number of RV Parks. 

The parks range from high-end resorts with luxury accommodations to basic, affordable parks offering little more than a spot to park your RV. Unfortunately, the majority of these parks are restricted to patrons 55 years or older, and feature a layout with cramped sites and little in the way of natural beauty.

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Still, there’s a huge market for these kind of RV parks in Phoenix. The attractive monthly or seasonal rates, in-park security, and wide range of hosted leisure activities ensure these parks do a brisk business all season long.

See also: Long Term Boondocking At Quartzsite, Arizona: Surefire Tips For A Good Time In The Desert.

But what if you’re looking for somewhere to RV with your family in the Phoenix area? Or a park that offers hiking trails right outside your back door? Or views of the desert and mountains?

Phoenix has that too! Many people don’t realize that there’s a wild side to Phoenix. In order to experience this wild side, you’ll have to visit the regional and state parks sprinkled around the outskirts of the city. Here’s some of my favorites.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Eastern side of Phoenix, about a 30 minute drive from downtown Scottsdale and adjacent to the Tonto National Forest, lies a park that will leave you feeling like you are in the middle of a desert playground, instead of next to a major metropolitan area.

The Campground

Usery Mountain has 73 sites with large sitting areas, level gravel parking pads big enough to accommodate RVs up to 45-feet, picnic tables, fire rings, and water and 30/50 amp electric hook-ups.

You’ll find a conveniently located onsite dump station, modern restrooms with clean, hot showers, and a small overflow area available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Large RV site at Usery Mountain Regional Park.

Large RV site at Usery Mountain Regional Park
Amanda Watson

Travel Tip: This park is very popular and typically fills up months in advance for the winter season. Be sure to reserve your space early.

Trails near Usery Mountain

Boasting over 30 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, Usery is a great place for those looking to get out and enjoy the mild Arizona winter weather. The trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles and offer up terrain suitable for a variety of skill levels.

For an easy bike ride, hop on the Moon Rocks Trail and wind your way through a desert wonderland full of prickly barrel cacti, majestic saguaros and sweet-smelling sage brush. The trail is wide and nearly flat with gentle curves so you don’t need to worry about running into those spiky beauties.

On the trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park.

On the trails at Usery Mountain Regional Park
Amanda Watson

Or take to the trail on foot and hike up to Wind Cave (3.2 miles round trip) or around Pass Mountain (7.4 miles round trip). Both trails are rated as moderate with some elevation gain and bit of rocky scrambling in places.

Nearby Attractions

Twelve miles north of the park entrance is Saguaro Lake. Here you’ll find a sparkling blue desert oasis rimmed with burnt red canyon walls and dotted with majestic Saguaro cactus.

Fishing, lounging on the shore, renting a boat, or sampling the local cuisine at the Lakeshore Restaurant are just a few of the activities to keep you busy at the lake.

Or embark on a 90 minute narrated tour aboard the Desert Belle. Passengers ride in style on this modern paddleboat while learning about the desert, lakes, mountains, and flora and the fauna of the area.

Lost Dutchman State Park

On the far eastern edge of Phoenix, tucked up against the Superstition Wilderness is a state park with stunning views, miles of trails, and large scenic sites.

The Campground

Lost Dutchman State Park has a total of 134 campsites, 68 with water and 20/30/50 amp electric hook-ups, and the remainder dry camping only. All the sites have a paved parking pad and packed dirt sitting area with a picnic table and fire ring.

The sites vary in size, but most will fit RVs up to 45-feet long. 

An onsite dump station, large individual showers, and picnic area with shaded ramadas round out the campground amenities.

View of the Superstition Mountains from Lost Dutchman State Park.

View of the Superstition Mountains from Lost Dutchman State Park
Amanda Watson

Travel Tip: Sites 120 through 134 offer the very best views of the Superstition Mountains. These are back-in sites with no hook-ups, but what they lack in amenities they make up for with incredible views. 

The Trails

Hiking trails inside the park vary in difficulty and length. All offer up stunning views of the Superstition Mountains looming overhead.

A fun, medium-difficulty trail is the Treasure Loop Trail (2.5 miles round trip) that climbs up a gentle slope at the base of the Superstition range and traverses across a classic Sonaran desert landscape full of cacti and blooming shrubs.

See also: RV Snowbirding 101: The Ins And Outs Of Going South For Winter In Your RV

For a longer and steeper hike, tackle the 4-mile round trip Siphon Draw Trail. This scenic trail winds up into a canyon where you can stop to catch your breath and take in the long view of the city sprawled out below.

Nearby Attractions

Only a few miles from the park entrance is the start to the famed Apache Trail. A former stagecoach road, this winding route travels 40 miles through the rugged Superstition Mountains, past a chain of deep blue lakes, and alongside steep-sided canyon walls and magnificent rocky outcroppings.

Be sure to stop along the way in the tiny town of Tortilla Flat. With only 6 permanent residents, the entire town consists of a single building-lined street where you’ll find a post office, gift shop, and a saloon.

The Superstition Saloon on the Apache Trail.

The Superstition Saloon on the Apache Trail
Amanda Watson

The Superstition Saloon is known for it’s unique decor consisting of over $250 worth of dollar bills papering the walls, and some slightly risqué hand-painted art on the bathroom walls. A must-see even if you aren’t in the mood for a meal.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

On the northeastern edge of the city is the spacious, well-maintained, and immensely popular McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Our Airstream at McDowell Mountain Campground.

McDowell Mountain Campground
Amanda Watson

Bordered on one side by the foothills of the McDowell Mountains and on the other by the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, camping here will leave you feeling as if you’re one of the first explorers to ever see this area.

The Campground

McDowell Mountain has 76 sites with large sitting areas, gravel parking pads – some large enough to accommodate RVs up to 45-feet – picnic tables, fire rings, and water and 30/50 amp electric hook-ups. 

A dump station is located onsite along with large individual showers, a playground for the kids, and a nature center with unique displays about the wildlife and foliage in the park.

Travel tip: The campground has two loops. The first loop, containing sites 3-31, is located on slopped terrain and some of the sites may be difficult for larger RVs to get level. The second loop, containing sites 43-80, is much flatter and sites are farther apart. 

The Trails

McDowell Mountain Regional Park is a mecca for mountain biking enthusiasts with over 50 miles of trails, suitable for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The trails range in length from 0.5 miles to 15.3 miles.

The trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

The trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Amanda Watson

All of the trails are wide with gentle curves and views for miles. Most of the trails either gradually go up, or gradually go down, adding a bit of challenge to the otherwise easy terrain. With so many miles of trails to choose from, there’s an endless variety of combinations and loops to ride or hike.

For an easy hike, try the relatively flat 3.1-mile North Trail.

For a longer, more strenuous challenge ride the 15.3-mile Pemberton Trail.

Nearby Attractions

Head over to the community of Fountain Hills and enjoy a stroll through Fountain Park. Here you can witness the world famous 560-foot tall fountain in action. An impressive plume of water shoots into the air every fifteen minutes before tumbling back down into the large lake below.

Related: How To See the Grand Canyon the Right Way

The park also boasts a playground with splash pad, an 18 hole disk golf course, stroller-friendly walkways, and a quirky collection of animal sculptures.

Are You Ready for a Trip to the Wild Side of Phoenix?

Phoenix is so much more than simply a destination for retirees seeking a warm winter escape. Try out one of these public parks on the outskirts of the city. You’ll discover the wild side of Phoenix where the fascinating desert landscape comes alive, and the opportunities for outdoor activities are endless.

Here are a few more public campground options in the area:

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