Catalina State Park & Roosevelt Lake: RV Camping in AZ

It didn’t take us long after we returned from our summer travels to get the itch to run off in our RV again. So, before the holidays, we packed it up and headed to Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona, to do some winter camping, and on the way back we stopped at a longtime favorite, Roosevelt Lake.

Catalina State Park RV Camping + Roosevelt Lake RV Campground


Catalina State Park is nestled up against the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains and is loaded with beautiful, classic Sonoran Desert scenery. Saguaro cacti stand sentinel throughout the park, watching over the arid landscape with arms held high, and waving to each other on the hillsides.

Golden hour at Catalina State Park Arizona

The Santa Catalina mountains light up at the end of the day.

Catalina State Park Arizona at sunset

A pink blush of sunset settles over Catalina State Park.

The campsites at Catalina State Park are suitable for RVs of any length and have water and electric hookups at each site. This is an extremely popular campground in the cold months, and reservations book up months in advance.

We managed to snag a site in December for 5 nights, and we were very glad we did because the place was booked solid from January through March!

Saguaro cactus slow dance Catalina State Park Arizona

Sweet embrace.

This is a campground we knew and loved from before we began living in an RV full-time. Back in 2006, we took our popup tent trailer there for Thanksgiving, and we fondly remember putting a shallow pan of water at the edge of our campsite under a bush and watching cardinals, roadrunners and a chipmunk stop by for a drink.

One day, as we enjoyed some late afternoon refreshments, Mark put down the jar of shelled peanuts he was munching from, and that brazen little chipmunk came over and helped himself to a few!

That memorable campsite was in a back corner of “A Loop.” This year we got a space in the middle of “B Loop” which was just as lovely but not as conducive to luring animals in for a visit.

All the campsites in Catalina State Park are roomy and have plenty of space between neighbors.

RV camping at Catalina State Park Arizona

Our site in “B Loop” at Catalina State Park.

As soon as we got set up, we hit trails and paths that surround the campground, happily snapping pics here and there.

Saguaro cactus at Catalina State Park Arizona

Wild arms!

Cactus at Catalina State Park Arizona

A barrel cactus listens to a saguaro.

The Santa Catalina mountains tower over the campground and are wonderfully jagged. Buddy was much more interested in what was going at ground level, however.

Photography at Catalina State Park Arizona

“Those mountains are pretty, but what’s back here?”

We went back to that same spot on the trail for more pics late in the afternoon and the mountains were glowing.

Hiking at Catalina State Park Arizona

The afternoon glow was magical.

There are a lot of popular hikes in these mountains, but we decided to head up the less visited 50 Year Trail which starts near the campground. Buddy was our Trail Scout, of course.

Happy dog at the lake

“I’ll show you the way!”

The trail climbs steadily for quite some time, offering wonderful saguaro-filled views of the mountains across the valley.

Saguaro cactus at Catalina State Park Arizona

This saguaro has a great view!

We turned a corner on the trail, and suddenly a saguaro cast a long shadow in front of us and held us up.

Saguaro cactus on the hiking trail Catalina State Park Arizona

“This is a hold up. Put ’em up, Cowboy!”

One morning we woke up to a dusting of snow in the mountains.

Snow in the mountains at Catalina State Park Campground

A thin veil of white blanketed the mountain tops.

Catalina State Park Arizona saguaro cactus in storm clouds

Stormy skies and a touch of snow at Catalina State Park.

At sunset the mountain peaks turned pink.

Catalina State Park Arizona at sunset


We will definitely take our trailer to Catalina State Park again!

RV campground at Catalina State Park Arizona

Catalina State Park is a great spot for a winter retreat.

On our way home we stopped at Roosevelt Lake, a fabulous recreation area we enjoyed for weeks at a time back when we were full-time RVers.

Roosevelt Lake was formed by a dam on the Salt River that was constructed between 1905 and 1911 (Arizona became a state in 1912). A pretty suspension bridge marks the spot.

Roosevelt Dam Bridge Arizona

The bridge at Roosevelt Dam.

Roosevelt Lake is a big lake, some 12 miles long and 1 to 2 miles wide. The drive alongside it is one of our favorites.

There are several wonderful dry camping campgrounds along the south side of the lake. Cholla Bay and Windy Hill are the two largest, and we always end up at Windy Hill.

Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Roosevelt Lake

Windy Hill Campground has 9 campground loops that offer fantastic first-come first-serve campsites that are either near the water and boat ramp or up on a bluff overlooking the lake from a distance and are very spacious.

Unfortunately, only 3 of the 9 loops are open nowadays. Years ago, we remember times when 5 of the 9 loops were open. But now those additional two loops are open only for overflow camping a few times a year on holiday weekends. We’ve never seen the other 4 loops open.

Great Blue Heron at Windy Hill Campground on Roosevelt Lake in Arizona

A great blue heron fishes for dinner at Roosevelt Lake.

Sadly, whereas Catalina State Park books up months in advance, the campgrounds at Roosevelt Lake stand vacant.

During our stay at Windy Hill Campground, out of 351 total campsites less than 25 were occupied. About 8 or so of those campsites were occupied by work camping volunteers.

All the rest of the campsites were empty.

RV campground at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

The campsites at Windy Hill Campground on Roosevelt Lake are spacious and are equipped with shaded picnic ramadas and campfires rings. There are bathroom buildings with flush toilets and showers, and there are water spigots in every campground loop. All the campsites are lovely!

Up until a few years ago, camping at Roosevelt Lake cost $6 per night and just $3 per night for seniors, an unbelievable bargain. With prices like that, lots of senior winter RVers would spend a few weeks at the lake because it was gorgeous and dirt cheap.

When we arrived this year, we discovered the camping rate had jumped to $50 per night for a “double” site and $25 per night for a “single” site. With the senior 50% discount, it was now $25 or $12.50 per night in “double” and “single” campsites respectively.

Oddly, despite the price differences between “double” and “single” sites, the campsites are generally all the same size as far as an RV and tow vehicle or toad are concerned! The sites are plenty long enough for big RVs and are well spaced out in most of the loops.

However, “double” sites have two picnic tables instead of one and they are usually located in a more desirable spot, for instance at the end of a row of campsites.

Whereas everyone used to camp in the so-called “double” sites in the old days, now no one camps in them because they aren’t worth paying double the price of a single site, especially for working age people who would have to pay $50 a night!

Roosevelt Lake Arizona red rocks at sunset

Red rocks on the far shore light up at dusk.

Fishing on Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Fishermen drifting by at dawn!

It was quite shocking to go from a super popular campground where people book months in advance to an equally beautiful (if not more beautiful) campground where nobody goes and we had our entire campground loop to ourselves.

Ironically, the new rate of $25/night for a dry camping site at Roosevelt Lake–which is 50 miles from the closest city and 100 miles from either Phoenix or Tucson–is now the same as for a campsite with both water and electric hookups in Catalina State Park’s “A Loop” which is just minutes from downtown Tucson.

No wonder Catalina is packed and Roosevelt Lake is vacant! But it’s a shame because Roosevelt Lake is a fantastic place.

Four Peaks at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Mist and fog swirled around Four Peaks in the early morning hours.

Unfortunately, the US Forest Service, which operates the campgrounds at Roosevelt Lake, has decided that because so few people are camping at Roosevelt Lake these days, they must remove some of the campground loops all together.

That deconstruction is currently underway. Some of the campsites at Windy Hill Campground with the most spectacular lake views are already dismantled: picnic tables gone, campfire rings removed, and gravel camping pads overrun with thigh high weeds. They will soon remove the posts with the campsite numbers on them and, as one volunteer told me, they’re encouraging these entire campground loops to “go wild.”

Windy Hill campsite being removed to go wild at Roosevelt Lake Arizona

Tall weeds, picnic table and campfire ring gone…picnic shade ramada and campsite number post soon to go!
But what a beautiful view this Windy Hill campsite once had!!

Hopefully that trend will not continue. However, a few years ago we watched the Forest Service remove an entire campground on the north side of the lake…

One positive sign is that they are building an RV dump station at Windy Hill Campground, so now you will be able to dump onsite before you leave, a big plus.

Sunrise at Roosevelt Lake Arizona


Whatever the USFS decides to do in the long run, Roosevelt Lake is a gorgeous place to take your RV and is well worth a visit. The ancient Indian cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument are right across the street too. As always, we loved our stay.

Roosevelt Lake is also an awesome place for a work camping gig. The volunteers do all kinds of work for the Forest Service besides campground hosting. So, if you don’t want to be a campground host there are other options, and you’ll still get a fabulous campsite in one of the scenic campground loops that is closed to visitors.

If you can work the Grapevine Group Campground a few miles away from Windy Hill Campground, you’ll get a fabulous campsite and have very little work to do since almost no groups ever camp there. I chatted with a very happy volunteer who had been doing just that for a few winters!

There are pretty hiking trails that wind along the edges of the Windy Hill Campground loops, criss-crossing here and there, and Buddy just loved scampering down those trails, his nose following the enticing scents of rabbits and ground squirrels.

As we got ready to go home, I asked him if he’d enjoyed our little winter vacation RV trip. Absolutely — he was ready to go again!

Puppy love

“Did you have fun?”
“Oh, YES!”

We made another pit stop in the mountains as we towed our rolling home back to the homestead. The dusting of snow in Tucson had left a nice thick blanket of snow higher up in the mountains.

Buddy jumped for joy.

Puppy plays in the snow

Buddy loved the snow in the mountains.

And he sprinted across the snow in sheer delight.

Puppy runs in the snow

“Look at me — I’m flying!”

Until next time, happy trails!!

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Here are some links for Catalina State Park and Roosevelt Lake:

Other blog posts from the Roosevelt Lake area:

Blog posts from southeastern Arizona (including Tucson):

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18 thoughts on “Catalina State Park & Roosevelt Lake: RV Camping in AZ

  1. Your timing is impeccable, Emily! I’m in the midst of planning a trip to the southwest for later this year, and we’ll be needing a place to land somewhere between Tuscon and Bisbee. Catalina sounds like it would be an excellent option, so your post is very much appreciated!

    Coincidentally, I’m in the process of catching up on a two year backlog of Trailer Life/RV magazines (pitiful, I know). When I turned to the last page in the September 2020 issue yesterday, there was a photo of a man “in a tree.” I thought, “That looks like Mark!” – and so it was, at Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area. Great pic – as is the last one in today’s post of Buddy flying through the snow and air!

    • You will love Catalina State Park. It’s a pretty campground and you are surrounded by these fabulous mountains. I imagine that the most popular hiking trails that go into the mountains are stunning, and we’ll check them out next time, but we were very happy hiking the 50 Year Trail that has the views of the mountains from across the valley. It’s also really nice to be so close to Tucson. Old Town has some fantastic old adobe houses…

      How wonderful that you are reading the old Trailer Life and RV Magazines. Mark is in the midst of reading old issues of Arizona Highways. They don’t get old — it’s just a date on the cover. If you are ever in Montana, the giant Ross Creek Cedars are a sight to see. When Mark climbed into that tree and grinned at me it was the perfect photo op!

      Happy trails on your trip to the southwest!

  2. Thanks for the AZ reviews. We’re turning our nose westward from FL after our first season of snowbirding across the country and soon will be concentrating on the SW.
    We met in Stehekin and have been following you ever since — keep on posting, please.

    • What a great trip you must have had so far! We have loved all our trips to Florida and visiting the many interesting points that lie between the west and east on that southern route! When you head back west you’ll find tons of beautiful places in the Southwest. Catalina and Roosevelt Lake are favorites for us, but we have dozens of other faves too…between the exotic, lush vegetation and the exquisite red rocks, there is excitement and beauty around every corner. Have a blast in your travels and thank you very much for following our blog since we met in Stehekin. I’ve wanted to write so much more here but have been busy with magazine article deadlines too…it’s hard to fit it all in!!

  3. Great to see RLT again…it’s been a while ! I will be sharing this post with my French friends….the photography is stunning and there is a nice shot of you and, of course, several of Buddy ! Welcome back….Love, Mom

    • Thanks, Mom! I’m glad you liked the pics. I’ve had a lot of magazine article deadlines in the past few months so it has been hard to make time for blogging. I hope your French friends get a kick out of seeing a little bit of the southwest in its winter finest!!

  4. Yes, love Catalina. A great campground with beautiful scenery and tons of fabulous hikes. It was one of my first extended stops shortly after beginning to full time a few years ago.
    I am going to be parking my 2010 Discover America HitchHiker permanently at a fabulous resort I have found in Yuma where I will spend 5 or 6 months each winter. I will be traveling the rest of the time all across the US in a truck camper I will soon be purchasing.
    2 quick questions: How easy or difficult did you find it to load and unload a truck camper?; and Did you or Mark come up with any sort of neat method to make loading it any easier?
    Thanks so much. So happy you continue to post. Very few of the blogs which I followed when I first entertained the idea of full timing several years are still active. Though I have never had the pleasure to meet you guys, the longevity of this blog makes you feel like old friends!

    • Wow! What a heartwarming comment. Thank you, Peter. I really appreciate knowing that the longevity of this blog has meaning to you. We certainly feel close to all of our readers and missed that connection for the 2 years we didn’t publish anything here. The world has gone through a seismic shift, and RVing was affected along with everything else. It’s too bad that the blogs you enjoyed in past years are no longer active, but when we “rediscovered” the thrill of RVing last summer, we realized we’ll be at it (and blogging) for many years to come!

      As for loading and unloading a truck camper, we never did find an easy way. Perhaps you saw our post about the pros and cons of truck campers (here) where we talk about how challenged and frustrated we were. What we found is that if the truck and camper are well matched (sizing and vintage), then things go swimmingly. But if you have an oversized newer truck and a smaller older truck camper like we had, it’s not a good combination, and loading and unloading becomes a white knuckle affair.

      When you get geared up, we highly recommend the Torklift tie-down system (ours is for sale, by the way). This is a very solid way to secure the camper to the truck bed. The Torklift Talon tie-downs are specific to each year and model of truck, but the Torklift FastGun clamping system works on all trucks/campers and is super easy.

      Enjoy your “winter home” and “getaway rig!”

  5. Another great post. We love Catalina State Park, and from the sounds of it we just missed you two. We were in Tucson in December and actually at CSP in early December visiting my sister who was staying in the park. Then the rest of your journey north to Roosevelt Lake, it’s another on the list we really enjoyed. We even had a chance to check out the old stomping grounds at Phon D Sutton. Miss seeing you guys. Hope all is well.

    • Oh gosh, I can’t believe we just missed each other, Ken! And you hit Roosevelt Lake too! They’re such a great one-two punch — so beautiful and so different. We haven’t been to Phon D Sutton in a while. I imagine it was pretty quiet! It’s great to hear from you. Enjoy your travels and thanks for dropping us a line!!

  6. Sorry about putting comments on all your trips, but did you ever try to fossil hunt in AZ? All that used to be under water millions of years ago, and I was able to find a couple crustation fossils.

    • How totally cool is that?!!! No, we have not been fossil hunting, but it would be a blast to find a crustacean fossil. Lucky you!! And keep commenting wherever you wish on our website. We love comments!

  7. hi em and em. a little blast from the past. its rainy minus dan. Dan passed away on jan. 4, so i am traveling in my mini winie by myself, but taking a break and going to spend 3 weeks in LaPaz. visiting friends and seeing if i want to settle there after the winter season in quartzsite, az. how are you two doing. would love to hear from you. mark, do you still play air guitar, lol. take care and stay safe.

    • It is wonderful to hear from you again, but so heartbreaking to hear your news. We think of you two often and can’t imagine you not being together. A few weeks in La Paz sounds fantastic. Have fun there! It could be a wonderful place to settle. We miss Mexico and the sunny seaside life in La Paz a lot! Mark still plays air guitar and jokes about Dan and that night with Upchucky every time! Hugs and love to you!!


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