I’d heard of Buckeye Hills Recreation Area (sometimes called Buckeye Hills Regional Park), and it sounded like an ok place to stay. The Divine Miss M stayed in the recreation area on her way to Ajo. She said it was fine, had pit toilets, and best of all, was free. The park had also been discussed in a couple van dweller and boondocker Facebook groups I belong too. I was passing through the area and decided I would camp there.
However, I wanted to confirm it was truly free before I arrived. I got online and did a search. The information I found grew more and more confusing.
The VisitPhoenix.com website (http://www.visitphoenix.com/listing/buckeye-hills-regional-park/5636/) says,
Park hours are Sun-Thu: 6am-8pm and Fri-Sat: 6am-10pm, 365 days a year.
How can people camp in a park that closes?
The azcentral.com website (http://azcentral.com/thingstodo/events/Buckeye_Hills_Regional_Park_735692500728) does not mention a thing about camping being allowed in the park.
The Free Campsites website (https://freecampsites.net/#!9956&query=sitedetails) showed plenty of reviews by people who’d camped at Buckeye Hills Regional Park, but I wanted something a little more official. I wanted to be sure there was no camping fee. I didn’t want to pay to camp, and I certainly didn’t want some authoritarian dude knocking on my door in the middle of the night telling me I couldn’t camp where I was parked or that I had to pay money to do so.
I did some research on the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation website (http://www.maricopacountyparks.net/). When I clicked on “Buckeye Hills Regional Park,” I went to that park’s page (http://www.maricopacountyparks.net/park-locator/buckeye-hills-regional-park/). The page said nothing about camping, so I decided to call the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation main office. The woman who answered the phone in that office said I’d have to call the office at Estrella Mountain Regional Park to get more information about Buckeye Park. I was beginning to feel as if I were descending into some sort of bureaucratic limbo.
The woman who answered the phone at the Estrella Mountain Park office was very…crisp…just bordering on being rude. I asked if camping were allowed in Buckeye Hills Regional Park. She said yes. I asked if there were a fee to camp. She said yes. She said there was a $6 daily per car fee and a $12 per night fee for primitive camping. I asked her if that meant it cost $18 a night to camp. She said no, it only cost $12 a night to camp. I asked her if there was a self-pay drop box, and she said yes.
Well to hell with that, I thought as I ended the call. I wasn’t going to pay $12 a night to camp.
Buckeye Hills Regional Park was on my way to where I decided to go, so when I saw the sign pointing the way to the entrance, I decided to go in and have a look around. I figured I could share my findings even if I didn’t sleep there.
I saw no sign saying there was a fee to enter the park. I saw no sign saying camping was or was not allowed. I saw no sign saying there was a fee for camping. I saw no self-pay drop box.
I saw the shooting range (signs of the fence proclaimed it as such) to the left of the entrance road. Past the shooting range was a road leading to some buildings. There were no signs saying visitors needed to go to those buildings to check in or pay a fee. I did not drive near those buildings. I followed the dirt road to the right and drove around the loop.
I saw a couple of windblown tents. As I drove deeper into the park, I saw a few travel trailers and 5th wheels parked far apart. I saw some fire rings and a few picnic tables with shade covers. (Most of the picnic tables did not have
shade covers.) Campsites were not numbered or officially designated in any way. It was one of those campgrounds where one could tell someone else had camped in a spot in the past, so one figures it must be ok to camp there today.
I can’t say the view was breathtaking or even all that pretty. There were a few saguaros around, but like shade covers, they were few and far between.
There were only a couple (maybe three) restrooms in the whole park. No signs labeled the restrooms,
so when nature began to call–and then shout–I hoped I was in the right place. I parked the van and went into the rather stinky, rather dirty little building housing a couple of pit toilets in stalls.
When I got back to the van, I almost immediately locked myself out and had to ask a family in a nearby converted school bus to help. (Read that story here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/03/30/good-samaritan/.)
While waiting for the son to bring tools, I told the father about my conversation with the woman in the office of Estrella Regional Park. He grinned and said there was no self-pay drop box and no one paid a fee to camp at Buckeye Hills. He said the campground is patrolled by sheriffs deputies (especially because of the shooting range on the grounds), and none of them ever collected fees. He said a person might get hassled for camping in the park for more than two weeks, and then in practically in the same breath told me about someone who seemed to be hunkered down in the spot he liked. He also suggested I not camp near the front restrooms, as he’d camped there a couple of nights before and 39 of the four dozen Easter eggs he’d stuffed with quarters and hidden for his kids had been stolen.
After I was reunited with the keys to the van, I drove around the rest of the park. I didn’t see anything that would make me want to pay $12 to spend the night, but for free, it looked ok.
If you are interested in staying at Buckeye Hills Recreation Area, it is located at 26700 W. Buckeye Hills Drive in Buckeye, AZ. Free campsites.net gives the following GPS coordinates: 33.293172, -112.642783. There is no running water or electrical hookups in the camping area.
I took all of the photos in this post.