Chenery K.
Waddell, AZ
Joined September 2017
I'm first and foremost a day hiker and I love my big comfy bed, so if I camp overnight and give the site lots of stars - that's a special place!
Can’t be beat for miles and miles...

The Wayside Oasis is in the middle of nowhere. I’m not kidding - pretty much the only place to stay between Alamo Lake and Wickenburg. With location being ever in their favor, they don’t have to try very hard to be appreciated out in the middle of the desert, but everyone at Alamo Lake raves about the food here. It’s straightforward bar food but they do it up right and being able to add a cold beer makes it that much better! Plus it’s nice to have access to laundry facilities after getting all stinky catching fish at the lake :)

Plan Ahead - Check the Events Calendar for Wickenburg!

I've been trail riding in the Wickenburg area since I was a kid, and the rodeo grounds across the street from Constellation Park is a gathering site for just about everyone who heads out into the desert on their 4-legged transportation. On my most recent visit to Constellation Park, the park and rodeo grounds were empty, but this place fills up fast whenever there are events scheduled, and the sites are first come, first served with NO reservations system, so plan ahead!

There are 35 dry camp sites along a dirt road north of the rodeo grounds on Constellation Road in Wickenburg - they are primitive dry sites with no tents allowed - all camping must be self contained. Site fees are $8 per night, or $12 per night to have a horse corral included. Yes, I'm confused too - horses are ok, but tents are not? I'm not sure what the logic for self contained camping is for these sites, as they would make excellent car camping/tenting sites, but I'm not the one who makes the rules.

The park opens onto state and BLM land, which you can ride or backpack into with a permit -

https://land.az.gov/recreational-permit-portal

Wickenburg is already a relatively quiet town with not much traffic outside the US 60 / US 93 interchange for people traveling from Phoenix to Las Vegas, so it's nice and quiet up here. The road undulates up over small rises, so unless there's a late night at the rodeo arena, there are no lights to compete with the star gazing show either. Again, tent camping would make so much sense here. . .

I'd give the park 5 stars for the pretty desert views, quiet location and big skies if you were allowed to enjoy them outside of an RV. Oh well, we don't get everything we want, right?

Fantastic hiking! Camping. . . not so much.

Skyline Regional Park, Buckeye AZ

www.skylineregionalpark.com and camping page www.skylineregionalpark.com/camping/ 

This is a brand new park in the city of Buckeye, AZ at the south end of the White Tank Mountains and is located about 20 miles from White Tanks Regional Park in the Maricopa County Parks district (see my review). The park itself is very pretty, all of the amenities are new and fresh, and several of the trails are under active construction. 

This is a very popular and BUSY park for mountain bikers - I was surprised to see the trailhead parking lot nearly full (almost 2 dozen cars) on a Thursday late afternoon/evening, and as people came back to the lot to leave nearly all of them were mountain bikers, with a few hikers mixed in.

The good - 

It’s neat and clean, nice new restrooms with flush toilets and sinks that also have motion lights to conserve energy - they stay dark at night, so there are fewer bugs swarming around the entrances, although the restrooms are marked with bee warnings.

The campsites are level, evenly spaced away from each other on a long loop, and have big sturdy concrete picnic tables along with a fire ring and standing grill. The parking spaces are easy to back into and help to block the view of some of the campsite from the road.

I stayed in site D, which is at the top of the low hill that composes a loop of 7 sites (A-G) but sites E and F would be my choice next time, as they are terraced into the hill as it comes down from the peak sites of C and D - each of the sites E and F have an erosion wall that makes nice seating (see photo)

Site G is currently under construction, and was not available for reservation as of my stay in the middle of October, but will be the site closest to the restroom and trail head when it’s available. Not a big issue, as each site is only a few dozen yards from each other.

The trail head has a nice map of the available trails, covered ramadas with recycle containers along with trash receptacles, and even a shaded horse hitching post area with an automatic horse waterer. There is no potable water for people to drink in this park.

The sites are cleared of brush/cacti and have a nice wide gravel path to the restroom - I carried a UV light but didn’t see any scorpions anywhere near the road or my camp, which is certainly not the case just up the road in White Tanks Regional part, where the campsites are more desert/less groomed (but have water&electric).

The less than good - 

It’s pretty boring. There are 7 sites that are basically identical with the same view of the trailhead parking lot - it’s nice that the restroom is close, but there’s not much privacy for any of the sites. No trees of any significant size, so none of the sites have appreciable shade available.

I’m not sure who these sites were designed for - they are deep enough for RVs to back in, but there is no electric or water, and they recommend driving 5 miles away to a truck stop as the closest RV dump site and pay showers, so that can’t be very convenient for non-tent campers. 

The campsites have a nice flat area for a tent, but it’s next to the “driveway” rather than at the back of the site so your tent has NO privacy from the road/trailhead parking lot, and the entire camping loop is located on a very uninteresting section of terrain. 

The park is far enough from the freeway (2 miles) that it’s quiet, and tucked into the foothills enough to block the city lights from Phoenix, so stargazing is quite nice. However, it’s under a flight path from Phoenix to San Diego/Los Angeles, so every few minutes a jet blinks through your sky space. It’s also apparently under a flight path for Luke Air Force Base, and I had several noisy jets pass overhead just as I was settling in for the night. I live in the area so those jets are a constant background noise in my life and they were no big deal to me, but might be unsettling for someone who was really looking for a “peace and quiet” camping experience.

There was a fire ban in effect during my stay and they don’t announce them on their website - you have to remember to call and ask before you get there. However, even during a fire ban you can use your fire pit and grill, so it’s really not a big deal unless you were planning to set up camp way out in the desert somewhere.

My least favorite -

The mountain bikers take these trails seriously and are out on the trails with head lamps and bike lights until LATE at night, and their voices carry all over the park so this is NOT a quiet place to camp. 

The signage all says that the trails are open from sunup until sundown, and that the park gates close at 10pm. The reality is that the hikers and mountain bikers wear lights and stay out on the trails until far after sundown because even though my campsite reservation said I would need to use a gate code to leave the park after 10pm, that is not the case. The gate leaving the park has an auto-opening feature, so you can drive up to it in the middle of the night and it will be triggered to open and let you out. Day-use park visitors can and do stay until very late, as there is no consequence for being in the park after the trails “close” or even after 10pm, since they don’t risk being locked in. I didn’t see any park employees driving around to enforce the park closing time, and I did become a little concerned (as I was the only camper that night, and alone with my dogs) when someone drove up to use the restroom at the trailhead at 11:30pm (car headlights shining directly into my camp of course) - again, not much privacy.

All in all - I’d come back to this park to hike any day of the week. The trails are wide and new and well maintained, and it’s a new area to explore. As far as camping goes, there are plenty of nice parks not far from here, so I’d probably recommend driving an extra half hour to one of the Maricopa county parks at Estrella Mountain or White Tanks to take advantage of the same or better mountain views with more amenities.

NASCAR, Rodeo, Golf, Camping? No need to decide.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park feels like it’s out in the desert, but it’s close to everything. It’s right down the street from Phoenix International Raceway, so you can go see a NASCAR race. It’s right next to a rodeo arena, and there’s usually an event scheduled there if the weather is nice, and it’s flanked on the west side by a golf course - a win for everybody in your camping party.

This feels like the most “park like” campgrounds in the Maricopa County parks system with big expanses of grassy fields and eucalyptus trees, and it has a huge collection of shaded playground equipment on the east end. There’s lots of open camping areas that are often used by scout troops and other groups, and numbered campsites along the southern edge of the “flat” park, up against the base of the Estrella Mountain range. Campsites are typical for the county parks system.

Wear orange. Lots of orange.

This is a regional park along Hwy 85 south of Phoenix - one of those stretches of freeways that Arizonans cruise past glassy-eyed on their way to or from San Diego…

What a great place to stop for a picnic during nice weather, or a camping trip to get away, but not too far away. The campgrounds is filled with gentle rises that give nice views of the west valley of the Phoenix metro area, and I’ll bet the city lights are pretty from here at night.

This park is flanked by a Sherriff’s firearms training range, as well as open desert hunting grounds. I visited during dove season and hunting was audibly present around me as well as several warning signs. Keep that in mind if you are sensitive to the sounds of shooting and hunting.

Typical RV park. Snooze.

This is an RV Park not far from my home, so I reviewed it so I’d have some practical advice for friends and family members traveling through the area. It’s nothing exciting - just a big paved RV parking lot crossed by paved streets. The speed limit in 1/2mph increments was entertaining, but I think I’d recommend this place only if all the local county parks happened to be full. Boring.

Cute Campgrounds + Golf

This is a cute little place to camp if you are in the middle of your way across the desert southwest and want to get in a round of golf as well!

It's a bit boring and I can only imagine enjoying a stay in the middle of winter, as it's hot and flat and there are no trees to speak of, but in October-March it's probably lovely. I was here on the last weekend in September and highs were still in the mid-90s so a round of golf early in the morning would be nice and then maybe a jaunt across the street to the local library to beat the heat for the afternoon. . .

The grounds have electric, water, and grills with basic campsites. There's also a Pro Shop for the golf course, a playground (that looked dreadfully hot this afternoon), and I saw a baseball diamond and basketball courts in the distance. A very nice gentleman who I assume works the grounds stopped to chat with me and was very welcoming, I'd certainly consider staying here if it made sense during my journey, but at least for me, this is not a "destination" campground.

Great for Large Groups

My visit was to the Cave Creek Regional Park (since there's no "official" description of what Cave Creek Rec Area is defined as, and the website link goes to an outdated Maricopa County webpage).

This is another great park in the Maricopa County Parks network, very similar to Estrella or White Tanks in design and layout, in north Cave Creek/Carefree area (take 32nd Street north from Carefree Highway and you basically dead-end into the park. . .

They have a large Nature Center with lots of desert creatures inside including a big fat rattlesnake, gila monster, black widow spider and some scorpions to safely check out up close, plus a big outdoor enclosure for a desert tortoise. The best part of this park is the outdoor theater seating for events and HUGE picnic area with paved parking, shaded tables, and even a basketball hoop. The camping area is the first turnoff, just inside the park, and has an RV dumping station and about 30 multi-use sites laid out in a big loop. One cool extra is that several of the sites have a 16x16 foot pipe corral on them, so you can camp with your horse without keeping him tied to your trailer overnight. They also have horse rentals just outside the park (seasonal, no summer rentals) and several events monthly such as guided hikes that you can find on their online events calendar.

Donkeys and hiking and camping - oh my!

This is my favorite campground in the Phoenix area. Water to play in, several boat ramps, lots of well-marked hiking trails including one that has a floating bridge, and a whole herd of wild donkeys to watch!

I joined a guided hike in September and had an excellent ranger who pointed out birds and plants, gave advice about snakes and lizards, and explained the history of the park. It was an great way to be exposed to trails I may not have chosen on my own. After the 4 mile hike, we visited the Discovery Center and saw more desert creatures and had an opportunity to take in more free education.

The camp sites are spacious, the restroom facilities are up to date and generously numbered, and most of the sites have a view of the water. You can also camp right on the water's edge, but keep in mind the lake's water level is full early in the season, which means less waterfront parking so the park does fill up on busy weekends. I'd say reservations are a must for holidays!

There's a private marina on the west side of the lake within the county park (Lake Pleasant Regional Park) which is where the campsites are located. There's an additional marina (Pleasant Harbor) on the south east area of the lake with a separate entrance and entrance fee that does NOT have access to the campgrounds, but does have an RV park, two 2-lane boat launches, kayak/SUP rentals, and a restaurant. There's water access to Pleasant Harbor, so you can camp in the park, launch your boat and cruise over to access the restaurant, get gas for your boat, and buy ice from their little store.

Hidden Gem

Every time I mention Alamo Lake, even people who have lived in Arizona forever say "where"? It's quite a drive to what feels like the middle of nowhere, but totally worth the trip. It's like a mini-Lake Pleasant without all the jet skies and power boats. Campgrounds are basic but serviceable and the far side of the lake has nice sandy beaches for additional camping outside the official park.

I just returned from a camping trip here this weekend and the lake was totally different from my last visit. This lake is not fed by any dedicated water source and it was designed for flood control, so it's level varies greatly from year to year based on winter rain/snow fall during the previous winter. The lake this weekend was THREE TIMES bigger than when I saw it in the spring of 2016 - about 17,000 acres and close to full right now. I'd love to give the park a one-star review just so no one will go there and it can be my great little secret! The drive there is a bit boring, and it's funny to note that while driving the 30 miles or so out Salome road, the "watch for cattle" signs are paired with warnings painted on the road AND rumble strips about every 300 years while in Maricopa county, but as soon as you cross into La Paz county the yellow signs and road paint continue, but the rumble strips disappear :)

There are 5 camping sections with different amenities for each - I prefer the B section because most of the sites have views of the lake, but section A has showers near the cabin rentals (they are only a short walk from B, so it makes staying closer to the lake a win still). Sections C, D, and E are off the first road you can enter and are much more primitive, although they are serviced by their own launch and fish cleaning station. Sections A and B are near the ranger station/camp store that sells all kinds of stuff you might forget and snacks, and has a gas pump outside (I did not inquire about purchasing gas and the pump looks like it's quite an antique. . .)

It's a bit desolate and can be hot and to be honest, kind of boring if you don't have a plan. I love taking my kayak because it's so quiet and it's a great lake for birding - I saw tons of migrating water birds this weekend, as well as an osprey, Harris hawks, and an owl early this morning. There are also tons of wild burros, coyotes, and other desert creatures. This is a fishing lake and pretty much everyone who drives all the way out to Alamo Lake is going for the same reason - to sit in a serene lake on a quiet boat and catch a ton of fish. This is not a hiking lake - I did not see any trails other than just paths here and there through the park.

Stargazing in the city

Fantastic park for seeing the stars and getting away from Phoenix city lights. Lots of well marked trails and access to water and facilities as well as access to a county library and education center at the entrance.

I just camped in this park last night in space 17 - the family camping is about 35 sites in a big loop with a central restroom and marked pathways from each campsite to the facilities. Some sites are pull-in/back-in, and others are pull-through along the road. The lowest and highest numbered sites are closest to the staff "residences" with their RVs. Each site has a fire ring, grill, concrete picnic table and water/electric posts. I think site 18 is my favorite, and sites 17-21 are closest to the family campground trail leg that leads to the Ironwood Trail for hiking access.

I've also joined two ranger-led hikes here (Black Rock Loop for sunrise hikes) as well as a county-sponsored astronomy night with access to multiple large telescopes and an astronomy presentation. Check the park website for their activities calendar as there's a good chance you can take advantage of some organized education during your visit.