Free Camping Near Grand Canyon South Rim

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Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means we will earn a commission on the products or services you purchase using the links. There is no additional cost to you and the earnings help keep this website running. Read the Affiliate Disclaimer for more information.

Make the Grand Canyon your Back Yard – For Free

Yes, you read that right. You can park your home near the Grand Canyon, one of the wonders of the natural world, for free on National Forest land. Free camping near Grand Canyon South Rim is surprisingly easy to find. In this post, we’ll share exactly where we’ve camped and how you can do it, too.

Free camping near grand canyon

Why go dry camping?

At first, it may not sound like dry camping (also known as boondocking or dispersed camping) is all that great. After all, it involves sacrificing modern comforts like “endless” electricity and water. You have to collect waste water in your gray and black tanks and find a place to dump. There’s no general store where you can purchase essentials, and there’s definitely not a swimming pool.

But the benefits are more than worth it.

Imagine being serenaded by bugling elk, the singing of birds, and the tapping of woodpeckers. Antelope prance through the forest right outside your window. Your nearest neighbor may not even be within earshot. At the end of each day, you sit next to a campfire and look up at a multitude of stars, immersed in the sounds of nature.

We experienced all of that and more just a few miles outside the entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in the Kaibab National Forest. It’s still one of our favorite boondocking experiences.

National Forest and BLM Land Near the Grand Canyon

Whenever possible, we look for dispersed camping spots as we travel. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are technically two separate managing bodies for public land in the U.S. For simplicity’s sake, most RVers use the term “BLM land” to mean any public land that’s available for overnight stays.

We were still in our Class A the first time we camped at Kaibab National Forest. It was a relief to see roads that didn’t make us hesitate, even with a much larger RV than the 4×4 truck camper we have now.

Many Forest Service and BLM roads in Utah and Colorado were too rough for our Class A motorhome. Because we lived in our Class A full time and couldn’t afford time in a service bay if we damaged something major, we were extra careful about where we camped and where we drove.

What we’re saying is, you can find free camping near the Grand Canyon no matter what type of RV you have. You certainly don’t need a 4-wheel drive (although if you have one, it’s a lot of fun!)

Forest Road 688 Dispersed Camping Outside Grand Canyon

Dispersed Camping near Grand Canyon South Rim

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon tends to be more popular with RVers because it’s more accessible and lower in elevation than the North Rim. By “more accessible,” we mean that there are options for just about every type of rig. This isn’t necessarily the case on the North Rim, where roads are more difficult and weather tends to be more treacherous.

Here are some of the best, most accessible options for free camping near Grand Canyon South Rim.

Forest Road 688

Forest Road 688 (35.9262, -112.1245) is a well maintained gravel road off AZ-64. On our first visit in our Class A, we scoped out the sites in our four-wheel drive tow car before driving the RV in. The site we found was mostly dirt and pine needles with a large tree that provided some shade.

Forest Road 688 Dispersed Camping Joe and Kait
Our experience in this camping area:

Available campsites are easier to find during the week. There was a day when it seemed like we were the only campers in our part of the forest. On the weekends, most sites were occupied by campers in tents, cars, fifth wheels and even RVs over 40 feet.

At night, the stars were brilliant against the black sky. The only noise was from the forest or the occasional car driving by on 64. The park ranger informed us there were no fire restrictions, so we collected dead wood from the forest one day and enjoyed a campfire for a few hours that evening.

Campfire Joe and Leo
Joe and Leo sitting by the campfire

The road was frequented by hunters during our stay. We did hear gunshots two of the days we were camped. It was hunting season when we stayed, so we expected to see and hear hunters.

On the last day, the area became very busy with vehicle traffic. We didn’t know why it had gotten so busy until the next day, when we went to Mather Campground. As it turns out, when the park campgrounds are sold out, the rangers direct people to this area.

What if FR 688 is Full?

Here are some other Grand Canyon BLM camping options that we haven’t used ourselves, but are very popular.

Coconino Rim Road

Coconino Rim Road (35.9623, -111.9644) is very close to the Visitor Center and the canyon itself. This might mean that you get more traffic passing by, but you also have a shorter drive and easier access to all of the activities the Grand Canyon has to offer. Not to mention that being close to the Visitor Center means being close to a source of water – boondocking gold!

Forest Road 302

Forest Road 302 (35.9681, -112.1185) is also accessible to larger RVs. Some reviewers do mention rutted side roads, so watch out for those, especially if there’s snow or mud present. It also sounds like some people had trouble with AT&T service in this area, so keep an eye on your cell reception if that’s important to you during your stay.

Forest Road 306

Forest Road 306 (35.927, -112.1338) is another option that’s close to FR 688. Reviews of this area mention plenty of large spots and fresh water access close by. As with other free camping near the Ground Canyon South Rim, be wary of mud, and scout ahead with a toad or tow vehicle if you’re unsure.

Still can’t find a site?

Forest Service or BLM Websites

The best resource when looking for a good (and legal) place to camp is often the National Forest or BLM website itself. For the Grand Canyon South Rim, you want the website for the Kaibab National Forest.

They have maps and tips available online, and you can always call a ranger or speak to one when you reach the national forest. We’ve found them to be very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.

Pay to Camp at Mather Campground

There are three established campgrounds inside the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. We camped at Mather Campground after leaving FR 688 and really enjoyed our time there.

Camping Websites and Apps

We wrote in our post on dispersed camping about sites and apps you can use to find great free campsites on public land. For some quick inspiration, here’s a list of our favorites:

All of these sites allow access to user reviews on the accessibility of a campsite, so be sure to do some research before heading out. Many will also tell you about the quality of the cell signal in case you need to work or just want to stay connected.

Additional Tips on Free Camping Near the Grand Canyon

Cell phone coverage was decent. When we stayed at FR 688, we had 3G AT&T cell coverage at our campsite. We kept our phones off most of the time, but it was nice to check e-mail and have the option to make calls if needed.

Stock up on supplies before heading into the area. There isn’t much available locally for groceries, and the food/gas prices in Tusayan (and inside the national park) are inflated for tourists.

Approach muddy roads with caution. We didn’t experience this ourselves, but a lot of RVers get stuck on dirt roads in this area when they turn to mud. Be especially careful in spring when the snow is melting, and in monsoon season. (Yes, Arizona has a monsoon season!)

Summary

Apart from the last night of our stay, FR 688 was one of the best camping experiences we’ve had since hitting the road. There’s just something incredible about being in the middle of the forest and connecting with nature. The peace and solitude you find while boondocking is a world away from the busyness of a campground.

If you’re looking for free camping near Grand Canyon South Rim, we highly recommend this spot. If you camp in this area, leave a comment below and let us know! What are your favorite boondocking spots?

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39 thoughts on “Free Camping Near Grand Canyon South Rim”

  1. Hello & I am so envious of your lifestyle.

    How fun to read what everyone says. I do have a Q you might be able to help with. MY boyfriend and I will be coming to disperse camp hopefully on FR 688 the end of April to hike the canyon. MY 5th…his 1st. We only tent camp for now but absolutely love it. will we be able to have a fire while camping in that spot? Do I need a permit?

    thank you and hopefully you will be able to help.

    Reply
  2. Kait,
    so we are planning on arriving near the South Rim on April 22 (Wednesday) and missed out on Mather…all booked up. What time do you suggest we arrive at anyone of the spots you have mentioned to be assured getting one? Fire Rd 688, Forest/Fire Rd 302 or 306. Hoping that a Wednesday will give us a good chance to get a spot. Thanks for taking the time to help us all out by the way. We have a 16′ Airstream Basecamp and this is our first long trip in it. From Seattle. John and Carolyn

    Reply
    • Hi John and Carolyn – It’s hard to say what time is best because there’s no check out time when it comes to Forest Service land. My advice would be to get there in the late morning/early afternoon. Give yourself enough time to explore a couple places without being worried about it getting dark. I would also suggest checking recreation.gov for Mather Campground on a regular basis (especially closer to your arrival dates) as people will cancel reservations all the way up to the day of. We’ve gotten most of our campground reservations at parks that way. Good luck!

      Reply
      • Thanks Guiseppe (as I call my brother). That will help quite a lot. Again we all really appreciate your dedication to helping all of us out. John

        Reply
  3. Thank you so much for the suggestion, we stayed there for two nights beautiful spot. It was hard to get enough signal strength to work online, so we moved to long Jim Loop near Tusayan.

    Reply
  4. Hi – stumbled across your site and love it! I am looking to take a trip from So Cal to the south rim and this is exactly what I was looking for! Wondering if you have any suggestions for a place to stop on the trip between So Cal and Az – I’d like to break the trip into 2 days to get there so staying somewhere around Barstow or a bit farther along the 15 before getting into AZ so I can do 3 hours first day and 3 the next. Thanks. Lisa

    Reply
  5. Hello
    Just had a 50 gallon water tank fabricated for our Jeep
    Where can we obtain water close to Forest Road 688?

    Thanks,Mitch

    Reply
  6. hello,
    thanks for all the great info and tips – do you have any info on nearby dump station or where you can fill up with fresh water?

    Thanks

    Reply
  7. Awesome spot. Have stayed there too and it was fantastic. It snowed on me though! But please, leave the dead wood on the ground! May not seem like a big deal, but it’s a fragile ecosystem and plays host to many creatures and contributes to biomass. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Hi guys! Thanks for this amazing post! Looking to use this spot on the weekend of the 30th of march. You said you spoke with a ranger to check about having fires? What ranger station is the cloeslt? Id love to call the, ahead of time and check out the fire restrictions!

    Reply
  9. Thanks for the info! We had reservations st the Bedrock Flintsone RV park and when we got there we rilized why they had availability. We are 45ft and 50 amp. We were told we would have no problems. The spaces are tight and they are only 30amp. The place is really run down. We were happy to move on. I googled “blm camping near the Grand Canyon” and this was the first that popped up. It was about 20 miles from Vale where the other RV park was. We could not be happier. Nice wide open camp sites and plenty of places to choose from on a Tuesday 5/23/17. We have a Heartland Cyclone 4200 and we are 45ft long and about 18ft wide with our slides out and out side porch down. No space issues at all and we are about 100yrda from the other RV. Thanks so much! Oh and one last thing. Verizon cell service with 4bars of LTE!

    Reply
  10. Great post! Thank you so much. I’m a travel nurse looking for somewhere cheap or free for my 2 days off on our way down from Colorado. This was extremely helpful, much appreciated!

    Reply
  11. We will be leaving Flagstaff on the 40…where do we turn off to get to the 688 Forest Rd.?
    The area is exactly what we are looking for!! 🙂
    Thank you.

    Reply
      • Hey there! My wife and I are full-timers who are almost to the Grand Canyon currently. We were looking for free camping spots and came across your article which was super helpful! However, we could not locate “Forest Road ” near the grand canyon. When we out in the GPS coordinates you have it says the road is called “Fire Rd 688”. Is it possible you have the name of the road wrong in the article? Just trying to clear up our confusion and help any others that may come after if this is in fact a mistake. Thanks!

        Reply
        • Hi Lauren. Thanks for catching that mistake. It is Fire Road 688 and not Forest Road 688. I’ll update the post to reflect that. Enjoy your time at the Grand Canyon!

          Reply
  12. Just wanted to say thanks for your efforts. Were are new to full time rv life and have a truck and 5th wheel that total 48 ft. Finding an open campground near the grand canyon in the timeframe we needed, and that could accommadate our rig size was proving daunting. Your post helped me greatly!

    Reply
    • Hi Don! You are very welcome and thank you for your comment. We really appreciate the feedback and glad this post helped you. Welcome to full time RV life. Enjoy the Grand Canyon and see you on the road!

      Reply
  13. Hubby and I plan to hit the road full-time in January in a 38′ Thor Challenger. This is all so new to us..may be a silly question but how do you know the spot you picked was a free spot? I am a bit confused about the boondocking rules and how to find spots and to know if they are free or have restrictions.

    Reply
    • Tammy, great question. In terms of camping in National Forests, when you drive onto the Forest Road there will be a sign that says “Camping” along with the day limit, usually 14 days or it will say “No Camping”. This guide on dispersed camping by the National Forest Services is a good read http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/fishlake/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5121831. We usually like to stop in at the Ranger Office and get a Motor Vehicle Use Map which will show where dispersed camping is allowed. If you have additional questions, feel free to send us an email. See you on the road next year!

      Reply

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