May, 2019 we visited Saguaro National Park near Tucson AZ. We had planned to hike into the park at one of their few campgrounds but the office informed us that there was a controlled burn and recommended we not stay in the park and suggested Gilbert Ray as a good option. Gilbert Ray Campground is a great location for visiting the National Park. We arrived to find the office closed for the summer, so self serve option was available, at 10.00 per night for tent camping you can’t beat the price. The bathrooms were clean and as an added plus they have a dishwashing station. We stayed in the A loop. There are no showers and the campsite it all gravel making it next to impossible to put a tent stake in. The sites are fairly close together, for example, I could hear our neighbor unzip his tent. All sites have picnic tables. Cell service is good.
Just northwest of Tucson is this beautiful county campground, located a few miles from Saguaro National Park and the awesome Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (a must see). Hiking and mountain biking trails are all over the area, with the Brown Mountain hike being our favorite as it’s accessible from the campground and has great views all around.
Each site is equipped with electric hookups and there are water spigots throughout the campground, in addition to running water in the clean bathrooms (no showers though) and a nice dishwashing sink. The picnic tables ranged from normal-sized to very small and awkward, depending on the site. There is decent privacy in between most sites, as it is beautifully landscaped with native desert cacti, shrubs, and trees.
It’s important to note that this campground doesn’t take reservations, but if you show up by 8am and get in line, you will more than likely get a spot. You can continue to add nights to your stay before 10am each morning, for up to 7 days total. They also don’t take credit cards, so come prepared with cash or a check.
So close to town, yet feels like you’re way out in the desert. We usually go at the end of busy season and there are plenty of spaces. Bring your own shower as there are none available.
A large campground close to Saguaro National Park, Great views of the cacti and clean facilities.
Give yourself time to explore and enjoy the surroundings.
To get to the campground you must first go through the Saguaro National Park and the drive is just as fun as it is beautiful.
I suggest viewing the aerial map of campsites before hand. I had selected about 9 different sites before arriving and that was good because I ended up at my #6 choice. Which was still a great site.
Very quite and peaceful. However, it's the desert so you should bring an air mattress or cot. Most sites have tables and are close to water and restrooms. The restrooms were very clean and upkeep. Heads up there are no showers at this campground.
I felt very safe there and actually left my campsite unattended for about 10-12 hours and not a thing was out of place.
Tents are $10 a night and RVs are $20. Tents can camp in any RV space but you can't the use power at the campsites (30 amp). You can charge small devices using the power outlets in the restrooms. Also Verizon cell/data service was great out here.
I can't wait to go back next year.
Gilbert Ray is an extremely affordable campground located in Saguaro National Park. It doesn't have showers but it does have rv hookups and a bathroom with hot water dish wash stations.
It is located right next to Tucson AZ but features lots of hiking options in the national park. The best of both worlds. It has very helpful campground hosts and a tourist draw.. old west Hollywoodmovie sets.
I really like this safe quiet and convenient option as a single female traveler
Tucson Mountain Park offers an amazing opportunity to camp among the saguaros, just outside of the west side of Saguaro National Park. The actual park doesn’t offer developed camping, so this is the best option for exploring the area.
Benefits of Tucson Mountain Park include its cost ($10/night for a tent), proximity to the park (less than 10 minutes), and scenery (saguaros everywhere!). The only downside is that during peak season, the park fills up. Luckily, when we visited in February, there were still a few sites left available for our tent.
Our biggest reason for visiting the area was to see Saguaro National Park, and camping here offered easy access to the park. We loved the west-side scenic loop drive at sunset, hiking in the east district, and attending as many ranger programs as we could to get a better understanding of these desert giants. We also spent one night backpacking in the eastern district, which was an incredible way to dive in deeper to see the desert ecosystem up close.
You can read much more about our four days in the park on our blog: Switchback Kids (Saguaro)