Camping on Arizona state trust land



By Dave Helgesen

difley-boondock-azFor active boondockers the state of Arizona has it all. The sun shines nearly all year and you have multiple climate zones in which to camp —  from cool mountains to arid deserts. ATV use is permitted practically anywhere you would like to go — from the grocery store to a remote outpost. Then, there are the thousands of places to explore from old mining camps to lava tubes. Best of all are the miles and miles of available land on which to boondock and enjoy the solitude.

Seasoned boondockers know that the federally controlled BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and the USFS (US Forest Service) allow boondocking on most of the lands they manage without fees or permits. However, once you get to the state managed “Trust Lands” of Arizona the rules change a bit.

What are Arizona State Trust Lands and who manages them?

A search of the internet reveals the following:

“The Natural Resources Division administers all natural resource-related leases, Conservation Districts and any natural resource issue affecting State Trust Land. Leasing categories include grazing, agriculture, mineral, mineral material, exploration, and apiary. Other administrative areas include water sales, mineral material sales, water rights administration, dam safety, trespass, recreational permits, environmental contamination, and cultural resources.”

difley-az-trust-tresspassAdditionally, “Trust Land is land held in trust for the benefit of the public schools and 13 other public institutions. (See Trust Beneficiaries) Trust Land predates statehood but is now managed by the State Land Department under the provisions of the federal Enabling Act provided for Arizona’s Statehood in 1912. In FY 2008 the Arizona State Land Department collected $326 million in revenues for use of Trust Land.”

Continued reading reveals, “Arizona Trust Land is land managed by the State Land Department Trust Land is not public land!”

Thankfully as you progress through their website there are some encouraging words: You can obtain a recreation permit is to camp, hike or travel on Trust Land that is designated as open for recreation.

A recreation permit is an agreement between you (the responsible casual user) and the Department, to allow limited recreational activities conditional on your continued responsible behavior (see terms and conditions)

Recreational camping is limited to no more than 14 days per year. A campsite must be at least ¼ mile from any livestock or wildlife water catchments, tanks, drinkers, etc. Abandoned campsites are to be left clean.

Your recreation permit allows you to enjoy non-consumptive recreational activities including: hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, picnics, photography, bird watching, sightseeing, camping (limited to 14 days per year), and limited off highway vehicle use (restricted to designated roads and trails), for non-commercial and non-competitive purposes.

My first experience with Arizona Trust Lands was on a ghost town expedition in the Arizona Outback when I came across a foreboding sign warning of entering State Trust Lands without a permit which threw a damper on my day. However, through my negative experience you can be prepared to explore and boondock Arizona Trust Lands by purchasing a nominally priced permit in advance of your travels. By logging on to this link you can purchase an Arizona Trust Lands permit for you or your family. Individual permits are $15 or $20 for the whole family.

Knowing what agency administers the area where you plan to camp and the related guidelines is a key essential of boondocking. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy the State Trust Lands of Arizona on your next outing.



  1. From the “terms and conditions” section on their website………”Recreational camping is limited to no more than 14 days per year.”

    Up until very recently they wouldn’t allow you to order a permit online, so perhaps they are making some progress.

    But in my opinion 14 days is a time limit that a stingy individual or a small number of individuals would impose, and not a department that exists to serve the public. It appears their emphasis is skewed towards restricting, rather than serving the public.

  2. Is the 14-day camping limit per camping location, or are you limited to 14 total days per year regardless of whether you spend all 14 in one spot or one day each in 14 different locations?

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