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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!)
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?