One of the best things about Flagstaff is its setting among so much forest. Coconino National Forest nearly encompasses the city, providing free recreation and camping space everywhere you look. Freidlein Prairie Road is one of the many Forest Service roads near town, but this area is unique because it has designated campsites with fire rings. It is centrally located to Flagstaff, the San Francisco Peaks, and Highway 180 toward Grand Canyon. Check out Freidlein Prairie, off Snowbowl Road, if you are looking for convenient free camping.
What Makes It Great
Camping is allowed throughout most of Coconino National Forest for no charge, but often the best spot you can find is a bumpy forest road pull off. Along Freidlein Prairie Road, the Forest Service has generously provided 14 cleared campsites complete with metal fire rings. They did this because camping got so popular that there came to be problems with erosion and disturbing wildlife. By staying in the designated spots, campers can enjoy the solitude of the forest without loving it to death.
Nestled at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks in mixed conifer forest, this area is home to an abundance of wildlife. In the evening you may spot mule deer and elk grazing nearby. In the morning you may awake to the eerie cackling of coyotes. This is known habitat for the federally threatened Mexican Spotted Owl. In fact, some of the campsites are closed for part of the year to avoid disturbing a nesting pair.
By camping here, you will be close to some great hiking as well. Continue up Snowbowl Road to get to Humphreys Trail and Kachina Trail at Arizona Snowbowl. If you drive to the far end of Freidlein Prairie Road, you will get to a trailhead that connects with the lower ends of Kachina and Weatherford Trails.
Who is Going to Love It
People visiting Flagstaff from elsewhere in Arizona often choose Freidlein Prairie Road as a convenient weekend basecamp. The sites aren’t huge, but big enough for a small family to spread out. Locals come out here too, sometimes to camp and sometimes just to drive and hike around for the day. Rock climbers sometimes camp here to spend a weekend at The Peaks sport crag. Not everyone will want to take their car on this road, however. It is a bit rough. 4-wheel drive is not required, but high clearance is recommended.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Flagstaff, drive about 7 miles on US-180/Fort Valley Road to the right turn for Arizona Snowbowl. Take Snowbowl Road for about 2.5 miles. After you pass a small concrete building on the left, take the right turn onto Freidlein Prairie Road/FR 522. The first campsite is about a quarter mile in, and the rest are further down the road. Look for the sign that maps where they all are.
Camping is allowed only in designated sites, of which there are 14. They are all made obvious by a numbered signpost next to the road. Campsites 10-14 are closed from March to August for Mexican Spotted Owl nesting.
The road itself is not open all year. Forest Service closes the gate after the first major snowfalls, typically in mid to late November, and reopens it once the snow clears in Spring. Check the Land Website link for closure information.