Houston Mesa Campground is located in the forested northern section of Tonto National Forest, just one mile north of Payson, Arizona and less than two hours from Phoenix.
With family, equestrian and tent-only campsites, this campground can accommodate a range of visitors and offers plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors, including several miles of hiking and horseback riding trails nearby.
As the fifth largest forest in the United States, the Tonto National Forest is one of the most-visited "urban" forests in the United States (approximately 5.8 million visitors annually). Its boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.
Many visitors come to Houston Mesa to horseback ride, hike, camp and picnic. Houston Mesa Loop Trail is a 9-mile round trip through a pinyon and juniper woodland and can be accessed from the horse camping area. The Houston Mesa Interpretive Trail is a 0.5-mile self-guided trail.
Houston Mesa has 74 campsites, including 29 equestrian sites for campers with horses or mules, and 17 tent-only sites for those who want a quieter experience. There are several amenities to make campers feel at home, including showers (coin-operated) and flush toilets. All of the sites are accessible.
The horse camping section (Mule Deer Loop) is across the street from the main campground and features 29 individual sites with tables and grills. Corrals are also available. Campers who reserve these sites must have horses or mules.
The campground is located at an elevation of 5,200 ft. in a mixed forest and shrub area, with spacious campsites offering both sun and shade. Winters are pleasant and cool with cold nighttime temperatures, while summers are warm and sunny, providing a nice getaway from the hotter deserts around Phoenix. Hawks, eagles, javelina, deer, fox, skunk and coyote live in the area.
Campers who make the quick trip to the town of Payson, one mile south, will find restaurants, shopping and other conveniences.
Scenic driving and outdoor recreation abound in the surrounding Tonto National Forest, which embraces almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacularly beautiful country, ranging from saguaro cactus-studded desert to pine-forested mountains beneath the Mogollon Rim.
ADA Access: N
This campground is within a three minute drive of Walmart, Home Depot, and restaurants. You can have a pizza delivered here. Very convenient, very crowded, but I recommend this spot to families with young kids trying to acclimate them to camping or adults who want to camp but also go out for drinks in town. Water Wheel Falls is a 15 minute drive, where a pool collects beneath a small waterfall, popular for swimming. The campsite has a host and firewood available for purchase.
Easy to find and plenty of sites. Can be a little confusing in the dark, but we found our site! Our site easily held two tents and had a great fire pit!
The campground is RIGHT outside of town which is great if you forget a toothbrush BUT it is also very easily accessible and very crowded. The spaces aren't very far apart so you will hear your neighbors. From about half the campground you will also hear highway noise. The bathrooms are uneventful but present which is a plus. The roads are all well maintained (and paved) so most cars should be fine getting around the campground. The sites had picnic tables and metal fire rings with grills. The sites are fairly level and many have spaces for larger tents. The tree coverage isn't SUPER thick so if you go mid summer you may find it a bit warm during the day. There is water available for fire dousing and washing.
Perfect for the campers that still want amenities , such as showers, flush toilets and running water.. Campsites had campfire ring, picnic table at each site.. had cell service every now and then can hear traffic from a nearby Main Street which meant to close to town for me..
Beautiful retreat in the Arizona forest. Saw many different birds while there, especially hawks. Could smell skunks but none seen at the campground. Was warned by rangers that bears had been spotted in the area, so keep that in mind with food and trash.
Each site I saw had a good amount of space and wasn't right next to other campsites. We were lucky and got shade in our campsite. Plenty of hiking opportunities nearby, and a caves not too far away.
The restroom facilities were clean and included flush toilets. Showers were available for $3 (coin operated).
Gear Review: This contains a review of the LuminAID Packlight 16 and the LuminAID Packlight Spectra, which were provided to me free of charge***
LuminAID's lanterns are a gamechanger. Seriously. They are incredibly lightweight, bright, float when inflated, and most amazingly are solar powered.
The Packlight 16 resembles a pillow and has several settings depending on how bright you want it. I was able to read a book with the Packlight 16 hanging from the ceiling of my tent. Everyday I set it outside to charge for a couple hours and have yet to see it run out of energy, even when left on the dimmest setting for several hours.
The Packlight Spectra is a fun little box shaped lantern that has seven colors (including white) and a color-changing mode (see the video I included in this review). The first color is red, which is nice when you don't want to scrub your nightvision.
I'll definitely be ordering these for my friends. They are great for hiking and the perfect addition to an emergency kit (when folded the Packlight 16 is about the size and weight of an emergency poncho).