Nolan S.
Mesa, AZ
Joined May 2019
Always been into any outdoor recreation and just starting to adventure out again in our completely rebuilt Coleman pop up.
Coon Bluff

No camping. This area appears to be day use only now. There are several posted signs that say no camping. Throughout Coon Bluff there are several picnic tables fire pits and grill areas. Fire restrictions are in place right now so there’s no fires or grilling which is typical for the summers.

This could be a fun spot to sit down and have lunch. I’ve gone out a couple times with our families and played in the water. Depending on the water flow, the water can be kind of dirty,not great for swimming.

Tonto passes are required for any parked vehicles. We use this spot as a finishing point for kayaking. There is plenty of wildlife in the area, and a lot of activities to do including mountain biking, hiking, fishing, kayaking, and swimming.

Bear Flat Day Use

Bear flat is situated right on Tonto Creek. First thing you should know, this is a day use only site. There is no overnight camping at bear flat Campground!

We intended on camping there with our pop up and luckily ran into a local at the top of FR Rd 405A on our way down. She told us that it was day use and that the road down is a one way, very steep and winding road, not trailer friendly. SO glad we talked to her first!

We ended up setting up camp at one of the many dispersed sites along FR Rd 405 which actually turned out to be great. There wasn’t a ton of traffic and there are so many pines that we had plenty of shade. Each dispersed site had a fire pit only.

The next morning we drove down to Bear Flat Campground. The drive is one lane and very steep. Watch for oncoming traffic and be ready to squeeze by another car. Once down, it is beautiful. The Tonto Creek literally runs right through the site. This was a great place for our family to play in the water.

There are a few cabins very near by and although I enjoyed this spot, I had that feeling like I was in someone’s backyard.

Overall. We had a great time getting out of the valley heat for a couple days but we were slightly disappointed that we couldn’t camp as close to the water as we planned.

Bearhide

Bearhide is a group site located on FS Rd 405A on the way to Bear Flat day use area. I found this on the way there and intend to go with a larger group. The site opens to a large area with 5-6 fire pits. There are plenty of pines throughout and lots of shade!

This site is about 2 miles up from bear flat trail head and Tonto creek. Dispersed camping, no reservations needed.

Phon D Sutton

Phon D Sutton is one in a series of picnic areas along the salt river. This is for daytime use and not available for overnight camping. The only area available to camp is Coons Bluff.

The picnic areas starting from power road moving east are Granite reef, Phon D Sutton, Coons Bluff, Blue Point on the north, Pebble Beach on the south, and the Water Users or main drop point at the end. All of these require a Tonto pass which is $8 at nearby convenient stores or you can buy a year pass for $88 I believe at the rangers station.

We kayaked from the Water Users drop point to Phon D Sutton in a couple hours, stopping along the way.

Phon D Sutton, along with all the other picnic sites have vault toilets and you can get cell service. Every time I have been, the trash cans are overfilling and there are piles of trash left behind by weekend holiday tubers. If you go on the weekend, expect to hear loud music and drunk people.

Weekdays are great and you might be one of the only one out there.

The salt river wildlife makes up for the sometimes messy picnic area. I have never been out there and not seen the wild horses, various birds, fish, and plant life that this area has to offer. There are a few good swimming pools along this beach area and all throughout the river too.

Three stars for the picnic area because I mainly use it as a pick up point but five stars for the salt river(especially not on a holiday weekend!!!)

Mesquite Wash/Sycamore Creek

Mesquite Wash is located approximately 20 miles northeast of Fountain Hills, Arizona. Follow the Bee Line Highway, SR 87, a few miles past the Four Peaks turn off. Watch for the Mesquite Wash sign. The main area is on the west side of the highway and is used primarily by off road vehicles. The east side of the highway is quieter and has several pull offs available for dispersed camping.

There are no facilities; no restrooms, hookups, or trash. Pack it in, pack it out. The best time to go is in the winter months but with the weather being pretty fair it’s not too bad. You can have a fire but it depends on fire danger for the day. Pretty much if it’s hot and or dry, you won’t be able to have a fire.

It is free and first come first serve, although there are plenty of spots to go around!

All that being said, this is one of the most beautiful spots in the Sonoran desert! There are so many amazing views! Great for hiking or off roading.

Side note: Please clean up after yourself! Forest Service has put so many restrictions on this area because people leave their trash out there.

Bear Canyon

Bear Canyon campground and lake located off AZ260 north east of payson. Near Woods Canyon lake(larger and more accessible), and Knoll lake(smaller than Bear Canyon)

Bear Canyon campground is easily accessible and free. No reservations. No water/electric hookups. No picnic tables. No trash service-pack it in, pack it out. It will fill up on weekends during the summer as the weather is so temperate. We came up on a weekday and stayed to the beginning of the weekend and it wasn’t too crowded.

Pros: The weather was amazing. High of 75-78 in the day and high 40’s at night. There was a constant breeze which kept it cool and fresh feeling. The lake is a short hike(0.2 miles) from the trailhead. And provides good fishing from the shore. There is plenty of free firewood’s around; just bring a saw and splitting axe. Near the Rim and other lakes (Woods Canyon and Knoll). Pit toilets were a far walk depending on where you camped but they were clean.

Cons: This entire area is very rocky! We have a pop up but I can’t imagine tent camping without an air mattress. Each campsite maybe has a fire pit and that’s it. Boats and Kayaks would be a real challenge to bring down and up as the trail is very steep, rocky, and loose.

Overall, we were disappointed that we were unable to use our kayaks but the weather make up for it and it was a great, relaxing trip.

Great camping!

We brought our pop up camper and stayed at the lower burnt corral shoreline over the week days. I heard from other campers who were more regular that it gets busy on the weekends and tends to fill up, but we did not have that problem. We ended up having plenty of room and privacy.

There was plenty of shade. Pit toilets, although some of them were pretty nasty

We were told by the ranger there that Tonto passes are valid, although signs are posted that stated otherwise.

There were also spots with pads and water spigots spread every few sites. Tables with benches at every site.

This instantly became a favorite spot with nearly every spot located right on the water. Great for swimming, kayaking, fishing, and boating.

Warning: DO NOT TAKE APACHE TRAIL ROUTE! Take AZ87-AZ188.

Photos titled ‘aerial view’ are from a private helicopter tour of the lakes I took about a year ago but they are so amazing that I had to include them. They are all of Apache lake where Burnt Corral is located.