by Blake Herzog
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
— Albert Einstein
We’ve been struggling to understand a lot of things this summer, one of them being why our options for a vacation to get away from all these things are so limited. Even camping, which has been called “the social distancing activity of the summer” by Vox, has gotten tricky with large-scale closures of some public areas.
The desire to get away from civilization and other people is strong, and there are proven benefits to spending time in natural settings that everyone could really use right now. It just takes a little bit of homework, which really isn’t different than researching any other year’s fire restrictions.
Watson Lake Park
3101 Watson Lake Road, Prescott
The only campsite maintained by the City of Prescott is just a five-minute walk from the granite-walled beauty of Watson Lake. It is open from the first week in April through the first week in October and has been particularly busy this season because of the closure of developed campgrounds on U.S. Forest Service property.
Camping is available Thursday through Monday nights at $20 per space. Reservations are required for 19 of them, while another 15 are first come, first served. All are restricted to four-person occupancy, which is defined as one RV/trailer and one tent or two tents, with a maximum of two vehicles.
All spaces are for dry camping only. The campground has a public restroom and showers available to paid guests.
Reservations must be made at least seven days before arrival by calling the Recreation Services office at 928-771-1121. Cancellations must be done at least 72 hours before scheduled arrival.
More information: www.prescott-az.gov/recreation-events/recreation-services/facility-rentals/campsite-rentals.
Willow Lake RV Park
1617 Heritage Park Road, Prescott
This 12-acre, privately managed campground near the shore of Willow Lake accommodates tents as well as RVs, and it’s open year-round. It has shaded spaces, restrooms, laundry facilities, Wi-Fi and a country store, with access to the extensive hiking and biking trail system around the lakes and into the Granite Dells, the Heritage Park Zoo, amenities in Watson Lake Park, downtown and everything else cool that Prescott has to offer. More info: www.willowlakervparkaz.com.
Prescott National Forest
Dispersed camping: Allowed in designated areas of the national forest, dispersed camping generally lacks modern services including water, restrooms and garbage pickup for a more “rugged” experience and the perks and perils of being closer to nature and wildlife.
Dispersed camping is permitted in designated spaces to the west, south and east of Prescott, along roads including Thumb Butte Loop, Copper Basin Road, Wolf Creek Road, Senator Highway and Trittle Mountain Road. It’s also available in select areas of the Verde and Chino Valley ranger districts of the Prescott National Forest.
More info: www.fs.usda.gov/activity/prescott/recreation/camping-cabins/?recid=67155&actid=34.
Developed Campgrounds: As of press time, most developed campgrounds in the national forest are scheduled to reopen Aug. 1, except for group campsites. See www.fs.usda.gov/prescott for details.
These campgrounds have at least some modern conveniences available to visitors such as restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, grills, fire pits and garbage service.
Yavapai (Granite Mountain Recreation Area), White Spar, Powell Springs (near Cherry) and Alto Pit are open year-round but are subject to weather closures, reduced services and limited capacity in the winter. The other developed campgrounds are Lynx Lake and Hilltop in the Lynx Lake Recreation Area; Lower Wolf Creek in the Groom Creek area; Mingus Mountain and Potato Patch in the Mingus Mountain Recreation area; and Hazlett Hollow in the Crown King area.
In most cases, campsites are $10 a night. Reservations are accepted for some spaces at some campgrounds including Lynx Lake, Hilltop, White Spar, Yavapai, Potato Patch, Groom Creek Horse Camp, and Alto Pit OHV Campground.
Off-roading is one of the most popular activities for campers once they are settled into whatever type of accommodations they have found. Alto Pit to the northwest of Prescott is designated for OHV camping, with 10 campsites suitable for RVs starting at $14 per night. Day use passes are $5 and include access to the 400-acre open riding area with two gravel pits, 20 miles of motorized trails, two cross-country areas and a children’s area.
Several trails are designated for OHVs in the Iron King, Groom Creek, Jerome Mountain, Wilhoit, Poland Junction areas and particularly in the Crown King area (Horsethief Basin). There is a second OHV day use area at Hayfield Ranch northwest of Camp Verde. More info: www.fs.usda.gov/activity/prescott/recreation/ohv; www.azgfd.com/OHV (for decal requirements and other regulations)
Fishing is permitted at several locations in the national forest including Lynx Lake, Granite Basin, Horsethief Basin, Mingus Lake and several sites along the Verde River. Beyond the Forest Service, the City of Prescott has Watson, Willow and Goldwater lakes and Prescott Valley’s got Fain Lake. More information is available at: www.fs.usda.gov/activity/prescott/recreation/fishing; www.azgfd.com/fishing/locations/prescott.