Dry Camping at Hilltop Campground in Prescott National Forest, AZ

Differing elevation leads to diverse environments and climates in central Arizona.  A two-hour drive from dreadfully hot Phoenix can bring a person to the much cooler ski town of Flagstaff, the red rock country of Sedona, or the pine forests and cool breezes of Prescott.

Prescott may have one of the best climates in the country in my opinion: average high temperatures reach the upper 80s in the peak of summer (July) and the around 50 in the pit of winter (January) with virtually 0% humidity and the warm AZ sun all year.

After spending a good bit of time in the greater Phoenix area we wanted to see some woods and nature.  Prescott National Forest was a great spot to find that!


Hilltop Campground

The campground sign and map

Hilltop campground is managed by the National Forest Service and is only open spring through fall.  The current status is listed on the NFS website. The campground has three loops, two of which (B and C) have recently become reservable online.  We stayed in a first-come, first-served site in loop A.

The campground has no hookups and does not have a dump station.  Even the water spigots are limited since they have to bring in the water by truck – they have signs up saying they’re only for filling containers, not RVs (and they’re not threaded, so you couldn’t put a hose on them even if you choose to break the rules).

Containers only!

The only real hiccup we had at Hilltop happened immediately upon arriving.  The campground host was friendly and talkative but seemed overwhelmed by the abrupt and unexpected move to allowing reservations.  Apparently the NFS didn’t designate sites properly and one of the campground host sites was reservable.

Anyway, the overwhelmed campground host informed us that check-in time was 2pm and that since it was only 12:30pm we’d have to pay the fee for the prior night if we wanted to occupy a spot immediately.  The other option was to hang out for 90 minutes and then pull into a spot.  After repeating the situation back to him several times to make sure he was serious we chose option two.  It wasn’t worth it to fight over 90 minutes.

Parked by the pit toilets, waiting for check-in time. Fortunately Paw-Paw kept us company.

We temporarily parked the Fox, popped the slides a bit, and had lunch.  Fortunately the welcoming committee arrived – the campground host’s cat, PawPaw – and kept Calla occupied.  He made daily appearances and was always on her mind and a topic of discussion!

“Check-in time is 2pm!” -associate campground host PawPaw

Once 2pm rolled around and the campground host had completed his background checks and called our references (kidding), we backed the Fox up about 20 feet and officially had a spot.  They had standard back-in spots with small tent pads and picnic tables but we chose to live on the wild side and selected a site parallel to the road.  The host put cones out for visibility (it was at the end of loop A with little traffic anyway) and we were set.

Our spot at Hilltop Campground in Prescott National Forest, AZ

The site didn’t look like much at all from the road but it really opened up on the other side.  It had lots of privacy and space for Calla to safely play and explore.  There was even a tent pad off to the side which made for a great trial night for my backpacking setup for Supai.

The rest of the site.  Lots of privacy and space to play.
Playing at the site. She’s always pushing her boundaries!  Soon we’ll introduce a blindfold (kidding).
Play pen or tent? That’s open to interpretation!

There was also a nice fire ring near the picnic table.  We rarely have fires but opted to have one at Hilltop since it was so nice outside and we had a great spot for it.  It was Calla’s first campfire and of course she was entranced by it.

The site had a great campfire area. We had our first fire in months here.

Hilltop campground was close to a small lake and also surrounded by trails.  Prescott National Forest is big so we ended up driving to some trailheads.

Calla’s happy place – throwing rocks into water
She’ll even accept throwing rocks into bushes occasionally

Hannah and I did one solo hike each here.  Both were interesting and fun but not mind-blowing.  They both wound up mountains and offered great views of the surrounding areas.

The trails in Prescott NF offered lots of nice views

The perfectly blue skies and warm sun combined with the tall pines and cool breezes are magic.  There’s no humidity, the sun is warm, and the breeze is cool… bu the best part of hiking here was the SMELL.  The sun warms the pines and they fill the mountainside with their sweet pine scent.  It was fantastic and something we looked forward to elsewhere out west.

Hannah after defeating the Smith Ravine trail
Hiking in Prescott National Forest
One of many ranch gates we encountered while hiking out west

We visited downtown Prescott one day as well.  It’s a cool little town and has lots of cool little shops and restaurants.  We found an outdoors store that had a going-out-of-business sale going on and stocked up in preparation for Supai.  We even found a great Indian restaurant for lunch.

Our stay in Prescott National Forest kicked off a series of stops without hookups.  We boondocked or dry camped for the following month or so, staying in some of the most beautiful spots we’ve seen yet in Arizona and Utah – stay tuned for more on that.

Of course Calla would tell you the best part of this stay was PawPaw!


PawPaw was always on her mind

Date visited: April 2018

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