Sleeping In The Great Outdoors

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If you're thick-blooded and have a sense of adventure, opportunities abound in the Rim country for cold-weather camping.

Unlike the summer months when a prime camping spot may be tough to find, winter camping and picnic sites are not crowded and relatively easy to locate.

One of the most popular campgrounds, Houston Mesa, is located just north of Payson.

According to Payson Ranger District officials, the campground will be open throughout the fall and winter.

The campground, which is at an elevation of 5,200 feet is on the north side of Forest Road 199. On the south side of the road is the Houston Mesa Horse Camp.

Both sides are developed and equipped with coin-operated shower facilities, grills, rest rooms and a dump station for recreational vehicles.

The campground also has a one-half-mile self-guided nature trail.

Fees, which are charged year-round, are $10 a night for family units and $65 for group sites.

The horse camp features a water trough, pens and hitching trail.

Continuing along Houston Mesa Road and Forest Road 199, you'll find a 12-mile stretch of campground sites including Water Wheel, First Crossing, Second Crossing and Third Crossing on the East Verde River.

The quiet pools of the Verde are lined with large shade trees and sandstone cliffs. Camping, angling, hiking and picnicking are favorite fall activities at all these sites.

Less than a mile off Forest Road 199, on the Control Road, is the Verde Glen campsite. All the Verde River sites are open well into the winter and sometimes year-round.

Head east

On Tonto Creek, 16 miles east of Payson off Highway 260, there are two campgrounds the Upper Tonto Creek and the Lower Tonto Creek.

They are open nearly all year, but nighttime temperatures reach subfreezing levels and no water is available.

The best group campgrounds are the Ponderosa, 15 miles east of Payson on Highway 260, and a similar site at Christopher Creek.

The first campgrounds to close for the winter are usually those on top of the Mogollon Rim in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Some, however, are still open and will remain so until the Rim Road, Forest Road 300, is closed due to snow.

The most popular campgrounds during the fall months are Crook and Sink Hole, just off Forest Road 300.

Options and information

Visitors to established campgrounds may make reservations through a computerized system at the National Reservation Center, 1-800-280-CAMP.

Information about campsites in the Tonto forest can be obtained by calling the Payson Ranger Station at (928) 474-7900.

Visitors to the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest, on top of the Mogollon Rim, can call the Heber Ranger Station at (928) 535-5200.

National Forest officials recommend campers make precautionary reservations, but say they are often unnecessary in the less-hurried fall months.

During the fall and winter months, there are often no camping fees nor water, nor trash pickups. To keep our forests beautiful, campers should be prepared to "pack it in, pack it out."

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