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Roosevelt Lake, Tonto National Forest, AZ

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s hardly a spot in central Arizona that isn’t scenic. Our drive from Prescott east brought us through hills and valleys, past buttes and wilderness area, and through parts of the three national forests: Prescott, Coconino, and Tonto. Every minute brought another spectacular view, studded with tiny hamlets named Pine, Strawberry, Rye, and Punkin Center.

We wanted to visit Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, but got skunked by a 14% grade on the entrance road. I didn’t remember the website mentioning that “¦ but there was a “trailer drop-off area” and then signs warning of a 14% grade ahead. That exceeds our comfortable maximum of 10%. We could certainly go down a 14% grade using low gear and the disc brakes (on both truck and trailer), but getting back up it would be a challenge that I don’t need.

Tonto Natural Bridge.jpg
Parked for lunch

So we parked in the “drop off area” for lunch, and continued down the road to Payson, where we got our second surprise of the day. The Houston Mesa campground in the National Forest just north of town must be very popular in season, because it charges an exorbitant $18 per night for sites with no hookups.

Yes, boondocking for eighteen bucks. I suppose that seems reasonable to heat-plagued Phoenix residents (Phoenicians?) in the summer, but we decided to pass. So we continued south, descending from 5000 feet to 2200 feet and watching the temperature rise from upper 60s to over 80 degrees.

In the Tonto National Forest, there is the beautiful blue Roosevelt Lake, with about half a dozen nice campgrounds surrounding it. Some are directly on the water, while others have views or are a short distance from the shoreline. To camp here, you stop at a retailer outside the National Forest (for example a grocery or gas station) and buy a “Tonto Pass” for $6 per day. Then you drive down to the lake and pick out a campsite, self-serve.

Lake Roosevelt pano.jpg
Camped at Roosevelt Lake. Click for larger

These campsites don’t have hookups either, but they do have a great setting and at $6 a night they’re a bargain. Where else can you see saguaro cactus beside a lake?

We’ll stay here a couple of nights. My Verizon phone doesn’t work inside the trailer due to weak signal here, but the backup Sprint phone works just fine. Likewise my Internet card doesn’t work, but I’ve found I can get it to connect ““ slowly — by sitting outside in a particular spot. (That’s why this blog entry has only two photos.) With limited connectivity, it will be hard to get work done. I guess we’ll have to just call this a three day weekend. What a shame.

1,114 Responses to “Roosevelt Lake, Tonto National Forest, AZ”

  1. Roger Says:

    I guess you need a ‘real’ tow vehicle. (Kidding) 14% would be a nice challenge.

    Try out, if you haven’t, the entrance road to Great Basin NP. It may not be 14% but it has to be over 7% but it is at least 5-10 miles long. A nice long haul.

    [Reply from Rich: We did that haul! See our entry from November 5, 2005 at .]