free campsites prescott az - thumb butte

If you’re looking to camp for free around Arizona, Prescott, offers one of the largest selections of no-fee dispersed camping areas you’ll find anywhere.

Managed by the Prescott National Forest Service, the Prescott Basin area features no less than 11 distinct camping areas averaging a dozen inpidually marked campsites each, with a 7-day stay limit. What I particularly enjoy about camping in Prescott is that a few of the camping areas are relatively close to town, allowing me to “commute” to Wifi at any of three Starbucks (or my new favorite - Wildflower Cafe, block from Whiskey Row).

The free campsite in the video below is located near the peak of the Thumb Butte Loop on the west side of Prescott — a large area featuring over 20 numbered primitive mountainside campsites, the first of which is only a few miles from downtown. Getting there involves only driving westwardly out from Gurley Street at the center of town, winding through some neighborhoods, towards the iconic Thumb Butte. (Which is a nice hike, with some great views!) Soon after you pass Thumb Butte, the road will become a dirt-packed forest road curving up into the mountains.

 

Watch The Video

How would I “review” the free campgrounds?

For the ability to get quickly out of town into nature, the Thumb Butte campsites are hard to beat. In terms of camping experience… they really vary. While there are a few prime campsites behind Thumb Butte — I’m thinking especially of Campsite #7, #10 where the video was shot, and those in the #15-20 range — for me most of the rest of the 20+ sites are best for convenience only, to get a night’s sleep before heading back to town. What I don’t find appealing enough to “rate” higher are that 1) many are built on a slight incline, 2) many don’t have good AT&T data reception (I’m one of those iPhone early adopters who’s stuck with AT&T for the unlimited data), and 3) most are right by the main road, which gets a lot of camping traffic. But really I think it’s a matter of taste — Besides the other commuting campers like myself, the Thumb Butte campsites especially seem to attract locals in their “big trucks” who like to have camping parties on the weekends, so if that’s appealing to you, you might really enjoy this set of sites!

Click On The Image To Download The Prescott Basin Dispersed Camping Map

map of prescott free campsites

Prescott Basin Campsites (Click Image To Download Full Map From USFS Site)

As alternatives, though… Another set of close-to-town sites is down White Spar Road/Ponderosa Road. Again nothing much as far as camping experience goes, but I prefer it for the flat parking and 5-bar AT&T signal, though there are fewer sites available. You’ll also see on the map a set of sites up Copper Basin Road at the bottom of the  Thumb Butte Loop, but my experience of those sites was lots of trash and guys who drive there late at night to drink and blast music.

If you want a fuller camping experience in the Prescott Basin, you’ll need to get further out of town. There are two different roads to approach from. Nearest to town, you can turn south on Walker Road from Costco (on 89 east towards Prescott Valley) past Lynx Lake — which is a great place to spend a day! — and check out the Enchanted Forest Trail and Bannie Mine Road. Both of these involve driving DOWN steeply from the main road into a ravine. Between the two, I thought Enchanted Forest Trail has some pretty sites, but I overall preferred camping on Bannie Mine Road, which has some nice variety and large sites with some good separation, along with a walkable creek.

There are also numerous sites down Senator Highway, which is kind of an adventure in itself as it winds around between the mountains. I think my favorite sites may have been the ones down Trittle Mountain RoadWolf Creek Road has a stretch of campsites which aren’t much more than turnoffs from the switchbacking mountain road, but still attractive, especially if you plan to hike around the area. There are also a few sites on the map I couldn’t even locate!

In any case, there’s a lot of dispersed camping to explore in Prescott. Remember the seven-day limit, and please help keep it clean! Great places to visit in the daytime are Thumb Butte, Watson Lake (particularly the nearby Granite Dells), and Lynx Lake.

If you're interested in a list of personal Top Free Campsites in AZ, NM, TX, UT, CA, and NV -- including favorite destinations like the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Sedona -- you'll want to check out this collection of Free Campsite guides from Frugal Shunpikers:

books - free campsites sedona zion grand canyon

 

make a self-contained micro cook kit

Want fresh ideas for simpler more economical ways to cook when you're living off the grid?

Look into the cheap and powerful homemade backpacking stoves used by inventive campers like this guy. They're made to be easy to assemble from common items in your recycling bin for just a few bucks at most, and they run off alcohol or free wooden twigs you find lying around. All in all, much quicker and more efficient than setting up a whole campfire just to boil some water!

But what if you live in a camper like me?

As a matter of fact, my truck camper's cooking system is designed around backpacking principles exactly like the ones you see in the video!

When building a small camper, you want to keep things small and light. There's so little space inside that you'll do yourself a huge favor if you can find ways to eliminate unnecessarily bulky items. And when you apply backpacking principles to your cooking, you can really boost the overall efficiency of your operation.

For instance...

  • Small lightweight cook pots will heat up much faster than your standard household pots, saving you lots of fuel. I personally use an anodized aluminum backpacking cook set that fits inside a 1 lb. coffee can sized ditty bag (about the same size as in the video). While I often use "bowls" (that are actually just those little plastic "Twist n' Loc" food storage containers), I'll just as often eat straight out of the pots.
  • While I do have a small homemade "range" made out of a portable propane burner for when I need to cook inside, I'll more often cook outside on my mobile workbench using a wood gasifying version of the Hobo Stove from the video. And likewise, it's made to compactly nest together into a 1 lb. coffee can sized ditty bag for storage.
  • You might not think you have any use for a "wind screen" when you're cooking inside your camper, but you'd be wrong! A metal "wind screen" serves double-duty as a heat-reflector, containing the heat close to the pot so as to dramatically improve your fuel efficiency, allowing you to get considerably more usage out of every ounce of fuel, whether it be propane, butane, alcohol, white gas, or wood.
  • Use a lid! Even a simple lid made from a tin can or cut of aluminum foil will improve your cooking time and conserve more fuel.
  • Little alcohol burning stoves like the DIY Pop Can Stove in the video are really handy to have around as clean-burning backups that can be used indoors (with proper ventilation of course). Backpackers love them because they pack light and tiny along with a few ounces of fuel (denatured alcohol from the paint section), so you can easily use them for day-hikes.
  • There are even great lessons in backpackers' food choices. When prepping for long trips, ultralight hikers focus on foods that are lightweight, easy to prepare, and don't require any special storage arrangements like refrigeration to stay edible. So they'll typically pack 1) dry foods that can be eaten as is, like trail mix and crackers, 2) dry foods that can be cooked or reconstituted with water, like noodles or freeze dried foods, 3) heat-and-serve meals like MRE's -- which are basically the same as canned meals but in a pouch rather than difficult-to-pack tin cans. The lesson is that by focusing on these types of foods, along with vegetables and other foods that don't require refrigeration, you can dramatically reduce your energy requirements. (ex. Vegans have it easiest, because animal products almost always require full refrigeration, whereas uncooked plant-based foods generally do not.)
  • The pot cozy in the video isn't just for keeping your coffee warm. You can also use a good cozy instead of "simmering", saving a lot of fuel. (Not shown: You can use a thermal food jar stuffed into a sleeping bag when you need to simmer for a really long time. I do this all the time to cook rice. It's called "thermal cooking." Instead of boiling and then simmering for a half-hour, I just spend four minutes boiling, then stuff it all into the center of the roll and pull it out a few hours later completely done and still steaming.

The Takeaway Lesson (Big Hint!):

If you're a vehicle camper and want to reduce your boondocking expenses, look into what backpackers do. Not necessarily the ones who spend thousands on equipment (though you can get ideas from them too), but specifically research "DIY backpacking gear". What I've learned has been invaluable.

P.S. That chair he's sitting on, the one he calls the "Amazing Wilderness Camp Chair", is also part of it! It's a clever piece of fabric that takes up zero space in his pack, but is designed so that he can use it to quickly construct a tripod hammock chair out of four branches wherever he goes. Gotta love it!


make char cloth tinder

Never worry about starting a campfire again!

If you've ever experimented with alternative "survival" fire-starting methods -- like rubbing sticks together, focusing a magnifying glass, flint and steel, etc. -- you know that no matter how "dependable" the method, it can still take a while to get a spark to catch your tinder and get it glowing enough to actually get a fire going. Heck, if it's wet and rainy, it can be difficult to get a fire going even if you're starting with a lighter!

The key is in your source of tinder. Out in the wild it can be really tough to scrounge up the perfect combination of thin and light and totally dry. That's why those with Bushcraft experience always carry an emergency kit (like the famous "Altoids Kit") and always include in their supplies a pack of dependable all-weather fire-starters. One of the favorites is Vaseline-soaked cotton balls. Another is Char Cloth.

What's Char Cloth?

It's a funny word, right? Char Cloth is just cloth that is turned into charcoal. Why? Because charcoal burns very hot, and compared to ordinary wood, paper, or cloth, it's a more pure concentration of volatile carbon. And the great thing about using cotton cloth for your charcoal source is that your charcoal will be made of very thin fibers which will catch a spark even faster!

You can easily prepare your own quick lighting emergency "char cloth" with just a tin can, a cotton T-shirt, and a large source of heat such as a barbecue grill, campfire, or if you want to be tricky, by using the sun and a big magnifying glass like he does in the video below. The idea is to place your cloth in the can, heat up the can enough to release and burn off all the cotton fibers' biogases, and then simply collect what's left -- ie. pure charcoal.

If you're already pretty schooled in Bushcraft, you might be thinking ahead... What if we substituted cotton balls for the T-shirt? Would that work even better? Watch the video to the end! (He has you covered.) 

Digging Deeper...

As cool as this is, I find it fascinating to think about what's "wasted" in this process.

What if you didn't just burn off the escaping gas and actually used it for something useful? Like, say, cooking?

Essentially the video above describes the same principles used to make a DIY wood gasification stove -- like the ones many backpacking survivalists use to cook food, and which I personally use when I'm out boondocking in my camper. But rather than use the gases to cook dinner, the focus of the char cloth project is simply to get at the valuable leftover charcoal. 

The process in each is the same, though. The idea of a wood gasifier is to separate the natural combustion process. Contrary to the common assumption, wood doesn't actually burn. When you make a campfire, what you're actually doing is heating up the wood to release the gases (a stage called "pyrolysis"), then burning the released wood-gas.

Pyrolysis (gas release) happens in the absence of oxygen. That's why he puts the cloth in a tin can, leaving only a small hole for the gases to escape. A gasifying cook stove (like the SoloStove) uses the same idea to separate the pyrolysis process from the combustion process, first heating up wood in the central chamber to release the hot gases, then introducing "secondary air" from side chambers to combust the gases at the top of the stove. The result is a very clean-burning wood-gas stove that can cook dinner very quickly using only easy-to-find twigs.

To circle back around to char cloth...

If you already have a charcoal-producing gasifying camp stove -- like the SoloStove or another homemade version -- then you can make your own emergency kit char cloth without even being wasteful! All you have to do is use a cotton T-shirt or cotton balls in your fuel chamber while you're heating up leftovers, and you'll be ready for your next out-of-lighter-fluid emergency. (Helpul note; To get the purest charcoal you need to make sure your gasifier stove restricts oxygen to the fuel chamber and lets in plenty of secondary air.)



build a truck camper cheap

Why spend thousands on an RV, when you can learn to Build Your Own Truck Bed Camper!

If you have some basic construction and carpentry skills, you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn just how easy and totally inexpensive it can be to slap together your own simple pickup truck camper from hardly more than a small bundle of 2x4s, some plywood, a bucket of screws, and some paint. Bolt it all onto your truck bed, and depending on your design choices, you could conceivably have an actual working "RV" for less than $200.

build a truck camper welcome

Seriously, it doesn't have to be difficult!

It naturally seems like there must be something special about building an RV, but if you really think about it, a "mobile home" is really nothing more than a very tiny house -- And in this case, it happens to be sitting in the bed of your truck. Constructing one is actually a lot like making a shed.

Depending on your design decisions, it may be even easier, or a lot more complicated -- And that's entirely your choice!

You'll probably want your little "truck bed shed" to be light-weight, and it should be built to withstand high winds and mild earthquakes... both depending on how you prefer your driving experience. 🙂 The best thing is.. It's entirely up to you.

For myself, the pop-up slide-in camper I'm aiming to build for my 2003 short-bed Tacoma Prerunner, is going to be doing a lot of off-roading to fossil digs and rockhounding sites. I'd like it to stay light on the tires, but $1000+ in aluminum framing is completely out of the question. Fortunately, since I don't intend to fill it with much in terms of built-in furniture and a humongous water tank, I can afford to use some heavier-than-typical construction. Hence, I'll be making mine from cheap and super-sturdy 2x4s. Like I said -- It's a truck bed shed!

 

Listen To My "Radio Show" Episode:
How To Build A Truck Camper For Dirt Cheap

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Find out how I built my own truck camper for my Tacoma Prerunner in just 2 days for under $250. (Click below to open the link in a new tab.)
Mobile Rik's DIY Truck Camper Plans.

camp sink from home depot buckets

Have a clean sink wherever you go!

In the category of "things most people haven't thought much about"... One problem with faucet sinks -- and I mean virtually *any* sink, whether in your home, at work, in your RV, or in your camp -- is that the need to trigger the faucet valve makes for a very unsanitary operation. 

  • You go to the sink to wash your hands.
  • You put your dirty hands on the faucet to turn it on.
  • You wash your hands.
  • Then you put your clean hands back on the dirty faucet to turn it off!

Seriously, why do we do that?

Of course one of situations in which you're most likely to have frequently soiled hands (and other body parts) is when you're camping. Especially for some of us who prefer a less "glamping" and more "close to nature" experience, at some point every day, you're going to go dig a hole, deposit a mound of decomposed gut rot and E Coli directly into said hole, then attempt to wipe with some excuse for toilet paper, and then in attempt to be "sanitary," go stick your hands on a faucet or even directly on the clean water end of a water jug. 

Wouldn't it'd be nice to have a more sanitary option?

One solution you might have come across is to use a foot-pump to pump water so that you never have to touch anything to get your hands clean.

    In the video below, Travis from 2brothersadventures shows how he turned a few ordinary Home Depot buckets into a clever and sanitary foot-pump-activated camp sink that even saves your greywater.

Note: It was inspired by this brilliant Instructables design.

Hey, can I put one of these in my camper?

I was so impressed by this simple idea that I've been intending to put a version of this in my camper. My idea has been to add on the functionality of a biosand filter under the sink basin to recycle the greywater. There are a few complications to figure out, but mostly I just haven't gotten around to it yet.