In August of 2017, I had one of those “this is exactly where I am meant to be right at this moment” moments. It was about 10pm on the last night of our 17-day road trip across the Western United States, and we were camped a super remote spot a few miles south of the South Rim entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. The night was warm and calm, but in the distance, we could hear a faint lightening storm and coyotes howling to the moon. Before long, fat rain drops began slowly hitting our tent. While the lightening stayed at bay in the distance, the night felt so electric. That night is honestly my favorite memory of our whole trip (and maybe that whole year!).
While planning for our trip, I knew that we would be dispersed camping in Arizona. The perfect combination of not wanting to tightly schedule our road trip by making reservations and knowing how FREAKING easy it is to find a dispersed camping spot in Arizona* led us to Fire Road 688: the absolute perfect spot for dispersed camping!
*made possible by my prestigious education at Northern Arizona University, where I quickly learned that basically any forest road turns into a perfect spot for a “forest party” if you open your eyes wide enough. Go Jacks!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with dispersed camping, the US Forest Service defines it as, “camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground.” Dispersed camping is completely FREE, and if you know where to look, is much easier finding room to camp than in established campgrounds. Because you aren’t in a campground, there are no services – for the most part, you’ll be camping without water and without a toilet. The Leave No Trace principles are EXTREMELY important while dispersed camping – no one is going to clean up after you when you leave! ALWAYS pack out your trash, camp in established campsites, and bury your waste at least 6 inches down!
Fire Road 688 is located 10.5 miles south of Mather Point and 3.7 miles south of Tusayan. We watched the mileage once we hit Tusayan so that we wouldn’t miss the road; however, from the north, there is a big sign showing where the turn-off is. The road is also searchable on Google Maps. Once you turn onto the dirt road, it is in impeccable shape – we saw tons of HUGE RVs finding their perfect spots. After traveling about a mile down the road, you will start to see the established camping spots. The spots are absolutely massive, yet they have plenty of space in between each of them, so you never really feel like you have neighbors.
Our spot was a few hundred feet off the fire road, was perfectly flat, had a ton of trees for hammock-hanging, and even had an established fire ring! While we saw a few cars passing our spot on the fire road, we couldn’t see another camping spot while standing in ours. It was quiet, remote, and most importantly, FREE. We had lots of cow friends pass through our site, and even heard elks bugling at night!
Each national forest has their own rules for dispersed camping, but they tend to be pretty lax. This spot is in the Kaibab National Forest. We checked the national forest website to make sure that we knew the regulations regarding dispersed camping in this area (always check and see if there is anything special you should be aware of!). Like many national forests, the rules on dispersed camping were pretty lax – you can stay in your campsite for 14 days in a 30-day period, but then must move on and cannot come back to your original campsite for 7 days. If you wanted to have a fire, you are encouraged to use an existing fire ring, and you could not camp within one mile of a designated campground.
The Kaibab National Forest actually created their own cutie “Dispersed Camping Guide” with their nine rules for camping. Download it here:
Although each of the camping spots have plenty of room in between them all, this fire road was very popular for camping. We spoke to a ranger at Mather Point who, when we told him where we were staying, mentioned that he always recommends to visitors to camp off of Fire Road 688 instead of staying at the campgrounds at Grand Canyon National Park, even when there are spaces open in the park!
One last thing – if you are going to camp here, please please PLEASE adhere to the Leave No Trace principles! Leave it better than you found it to ensure that we can all enjoy our public lands in the future.
The seven Leave No Trace principles, courtesy of a quick google search and Earth River SUP!
If you have any questions about camping outside of the Grand Canyon South Rim park entrance, please comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! More than happy to help!