Quartzsite, Arizona is probably unlike any other place on earth. During the summer months, the sleepy little desert town looks like hundreds of others you may encounter in the desert southwest. However, a complete transformation of Quartzsite takes place in late Fall as hundreds of thousands of Recreational Vehicles (RV’s) and their “snowbird” owners migrate to the area to boondock over the winter. This massive migration increases the population of Quartzsite from 3,300 people to well over 750,000. Seeing hundreds of thousands of RV’s camped in the desert is a pretty amazing sight to behold the first time you gaze upon it. It’s pretty neat.
Due to this massive influx of RV’s each Fall, the “Q,” as the town is affectionately called, is known as the Boondocking Capital of the World. You may be asking, “why Quartzsite?” That’s a great question. There’s nothing really special about the town. It’s actually kind of ugly. It’s where the town is located that makes it special. First, the town is easy to get to as it’s located on the I-10, an important interstate linking the major cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix. Two, the town is surrounded by enormous plots of federal public land where free camping is not only allowed, but it’s practically encouraged. Third, due to the elevation and southern latitude, the weather during the winter months is darn near perfect with daytime temperatures consistently in the 60s and 70s. These facets combine to make Quartzsite an ideal location for a low-cost, winter retreat for RV’ers.
Before discussing the public lands around Quartzsite it will help to know more about the geography of the area, not to mention where some of the BLM camping areas get their names. At an elevation of 879 feet, Quartzsite lies on the western portion of the La Posa Plain and is nearly surrounded by mountains. The Dome Rock Mountains overlook the town on the west with Granite Mountain located to the southwest and Oldman Mountain located to the northwest. The Plomosa Mountains lie across the La Posa plain to the east. Quartzsite receives very little rainfall, just four inches per year, and enjoys very moderate temperatures between November and April and triple-digit temperatures from June through September. The area is also prone to high winds and dust storms year round, especially in late summer and in the fall.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has set aside six areas for dispersed camping or boondocking around Quartzsite. The largest area, called the La Posa Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA), is located just south of town off the US-95. To boondock at the LTVA you must purchase either a $40 permit for two weeks or a $180 permit for seven months (September to April). This fee includes garbage, potable water, and dump station access. The remaining five BLM camping areas, strategically located around town, are completely free, but the stays are limited to 14 days. The Plomosa Road and Hi Jolly areas are located a short distance north of town off the US-95, while the Scaddan Wash, Dome Rock, and Roadrunner BLM areas are located south of the I-10. For those not staying at the La Posa LTVA, a few locations in town, like The Pit Stop, provide water, sewer, and garbage services. A free refuse station, located between mile markers 111 and 112, is also open to the public. Trucks providing mobile sewer and water services are available as well.
Finding the entrance to each BLM camping area is pretty easy. Each is well-marked with a small sign, though the areas are large enough that several entrances can be found for each like at Dome Rock. With the exception of the west end of Dome Rock, each area is relatively flat and will accommodate all sizes and types of RV’s. Washes, however, cut through some of the areas, so you may need an RV with a decent clearance to traverse some of them. While the surfaces around Quartzsite are fairly level, it’s also advisable to have some kind of leveling system or blocks to level out your RV. Directions to each BLM camping area are provided below:
- Plomosa Road: Located about 5.5 miles north of Quartzsite on the north and south sides of Plomosa Road. Take AZ-95 north from Quartzsite to the Plomosa Road turnoff and turn right at the entrance.
- Hi Jolly: Located about 3 miles north of Quartzsite. Take AZ-95 North from Quartzsite to mile Marker 112 and turn right at the entrance.
- Dome Rock: Located about 6 miles West of Quartzsite. Take I-10 West from Quartzsite to the Dome Rock exit. The camping area, with numerous pull-offs, is located south of the I-10 with the main entrance located at the first right.
- Scaddan Wash: Located about 3.5 miles East of Quartzsite. Take the I-10 frontage road from the Mile Marker 19 Exit East. The camping area is south of the frontage road.
- Roadrunner Wash: Located about 6 miles south of Quartzsite. Take AZ-95 South from Quartzsite to Mile Marker 99. The camping area is west of AZ-95 between the gas line road and La Paz Valley Road.
- La Posa LTVA: Located less than 1 mile south of Quartzsite. Take AZ-95 south of Quartzsite to the brown brick Contact Station at the entrance to each section. The camping area has four sections: La Posa North, La Posa West, La Posa South, and La Posa Tyson Wash.
The rules and regulations for boondocking on public lands are pretty limited, but are very important. If you plan on boondocking in a BLM camping area for 14 days, you’re required to sign in with the area host first. Signing in, however, is not required if you plan on staying for just a single night or two. Leaving behind garbage or dumping your black or gray water tanks while camping is strictly prohibited. The Bureau of Land Management website reminds RV owners to take care of the public lands like they’re our own. That’s a great reminder because they are. All too often inconsiderate RV owners leave behind their garbage after spending a week camping. It’s not a big problem around Quartzsite, but it is in less used public areas in Arizona.
While the camping regulations are limited, observe the Golden Rule while you boondock. Respect the privacy of others and don’t park too close to other RV’s unless you’re with family, close friends, or holding a rally. Most areas have plenty of space to accommodate your RV, so there’s no need to park like you’re at a NASCAR race. And if you must run a generator run it during daylight hours only, and use a whisper quiet, inverter generator rather than a teeth-rattling, industrial type. Few things irk RV’ers more than hearing a generator run all day; the loud ones will certainly raise their ire. If you observe these few simple rules you and your neighbors will enjoy a much more enjoyable and pleasant stay in Quartzsite.
The Big Tent RV Show
By far, the biggest attraction in Quartzsite is the annual “Big Tent RV Show,” This popular show is held from mid- to late-January every year. In it you’ll find several RVs on display and hundreds of vendors selling and advertising their RV related products and services. It’s a great place to score on the latest RV-related tech items. Unless you love crowds, the best tip I can give you is to avoid the show during the first weekend. It’s a madhouse. Since the show covers two weekends it’s best to attend the last weekend or during the week.
Where are the best places to boondock if you want to attend this show? Due to the crowds and traffic, I recommend boondocking south of the I-10. The La Posa LTVA is the closest BLM area to the show, but it’s also the busiest. If your plans are to attend the show only, then I recommend setting up camp at Scadden Wash or Dome Rock, though the Roadrunner Wash is a good alternative, too. Because parking is limited, don’t take your RV (unless you own a small RV like a truck camper), use your toad instead.