While many in Arizona escape to Flagstaff, Payson or Prescott during the summer, there is another, high, cool mountainous place. The White Mountains along the eastern edge of the state are teeming with elk, beautiful lakes, and majestic Ponderosa pine. It’s a great getaway, and there are plenty of places to boondock too.
Getting to the White Mountains
If you’ve spent the winter boondocking in the Arizona desert, the best way to make the trek to the White Mountains is across US 40. You can pick up US 40 in Kingman, AZ and drive straight across the state. And there are plenty of great stops along the way.
Along US 40, you can stop in Williams and Flagstaff, both of which are nestled in cool forests of Ponderosa pine. Just east of Flagstaff, make a stop at Meteor Crater.
Then it’s onto Winslow; you can spend the night at the Homolovi Ruins State Park. Then it’s south on Hwy 180 at Holbrook for a visit to the Petrified Forest; the colors and vistas here are stunning. You can spend the night at the Crystal Forest gift shop parking lot; the gift shop is more like a museum, with tons of interesting things to see.
From the Petrified Forest, continue on Hwy 180 to Show Low. There are shopping and a few nice RV parks in town. From Show Low, take Hwy 60 to Springerville; Springerville is the jumping-off point to the White Mountains. There is some free camping right out of town off of Hwy 191.
Another route is US 10 from Tucson; go across the southern part of Arizona to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Then take Hwy 90 to Siver City. From there, get on Hwy 180 north to Luna, New Mexico, then go east on Hwy 180/191 to Eagar, Arizona.
A good stop along Hwy 180 is Bill Evans Lake; it’s free camping. There is also free camping around Luna, New Mexico. From Luna, you’ll enter Arizona near the charming little community of Alpine. There is a forest service campground at lovely Alpine Lake, as well as a few RV parks in the area.
At an elevation of 8,000 ft, Alpine is true to its name, and rarely gets above 80 degrees in the summer. Be prepared, there are often thunderstorms and heavy rains here during the summer, which is a welcome relief from the brutal heat of the Arizona desert.
Springerville is the Centerpoint
Springerville/Eagar will be your jumping-off point for free camping around the White Mountains; however, there is no free camping in town. But this is where you will go to buy groceries at the Safeway. There is also propane and an RV repair shop in town.
A very unique shopping destination in Springerville is Western Drug; you will be stunned by the vast array of mounted animal heads on the wall. Besides a drug store, this establishment also sells a nice selection of camping supplies, clothing, and lots of firearms.
You may notice the town of Springerville has a John Wayne obsession; that’s because “the Duke” had an off-grid ranch nearby, and often came into town.
While in Springerville, be sure to check out the Casa Malapai Ruins; you’ll need to make a reservation for a private tour. You can do that at the Springerville Heritage Center, a small but very interesting museum. Not only does the museum house relics from the Casa Malapai Ruins, but also the fine art collection of Renee Cushman.
Two Choices: Around Alpine or McNary
When it comes to free camping in the White Mountains, you can either go south on Hwy 191 between Alpine and Hannagan Meadows, or Hwy 260 between Eagar and McNary.
If you’re towing a car or have a motorcycle, it’s recommended that you spend a few days, or even a week, at an RV park in the area, then explore the forests for a boondocking spot that will be safe and accessible for your rig.
Boondocking Around Alpine
There are a lot of forest roads branching off from Hwy 191 between Alpine and Hannagan Meadows, that can accommodate nearly any size rig.
There is an RV park up at Hannagan Meadow, which is a high point in the region at 9,100 feet. However, don’t take a motorhome or pull a trailer past Hannagan Meadow; the road is very steep and twisty, definitely not RV-friendly.
Another good place to explore from Alpine is the Big Lake Recreation Area. There are paid forest service campgrounds around the lake, as well as boat launches. And yes, you can catch some big fish here!
You can also find free camping along the road into the recreation area from Alpine; however, most of these spots are rather rough, and may not be suitable for a larger motorhome. You’ll also want to consider the heavy summer rains, and choose a spot that won’t potentially leave you stuck in the mud.
The forests around Alpine are full of elk, and its a popular place to hunt in the fall, so you may want to avoid it during hunting season. Also, if you need cell service, it’s pretty spotty or nonexistent up here. However, Verizon is good in the town of Alpine.
Boondocking Between Eagar and McNary
There are a lot of lakes along Hwy 260, and some are under the jurisdiction of the forest service, and some are under the jurisdiction of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Be sure you know where you are; the Apache do require a permit to stay on their land.
The town of McNary is on the White Mountain Apache Reservation; there is also a casino with an RV park and a gas station here. However, most of the land north of Hwy 260, before you get to McNary, is in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
Driving along Hwy 260, you can see lakes; as stated before, some are on forest service land, and others are on Apache land. Be sure you know where you are, and scout out the dirt roads before you drive your rig in.
Once you get past the resort town of Greer, be on the lookout for forest roads on the north side of Hwy 260. This is where you will find lots of free camping. Most of the roads are pretty good, and there are spots that can accommodate just about any size or type of rig. Most of the free camping areas are between Greer and McNary.
The White Mountains are a surprising, alpine oasis in Arizona, full of lakes, elk, and lush forests. There is also a lot of history here, from the prehistoric Native Americans, the settlers, and even John Wayne. It’s a great place to spend a summer, away from the big cities and summer heat.