Camping Ashurst Lake (Flagstaff Area)
|Ashurst Lake, a great place to spend a weekend. Here's my photo album.|
Recently, after finding the Arizona Highways issue of best places in Arizona to camp, my desire boiled over and one of the biggest impediments (location) was removed. I picked a location, took a couple days off work to make it more pleasurable, and gathered up the gear I thought I'd need (more on that below).
I picked Ashurst Lake as my destination. It's quite an easy trip to make, from Scottsdale it is about 2.5 hours one way--the campground is only about 30 minutes outside Flagstaff, so don't listen to your nav telling you that it's an hour drive off the 17. Be warned, the last 5 miles on FR82E are dirt road that is significantly washboarded (not waterboarded), so you might not want to take your new sports car for this trip. The drive itself is beautiful, aside from the typical secenery en route to Flagstaff, you get treated to about 7 miles of driving alongside Lake Mary...which heretofore, I didn't even know existed.
PRO TIP - when driving on washboarded roads, going faster rather than slower makes them smoother to navigate. It causes your tires to just hit the tops of the bumps, lessening the effect of the ruts. By way of example, think of how when Mario runs, he can run across one-block gaps in the floor (that's how you easily navigate the levels where the floor looks like this _ _ _ _ _). Same principle applies to the washboards. I'd say 25MPH or more will get you a decently smooth ride.
As you come in on FR82E, you will pass forest camping. This is a viable option, especially if you're particularly budget minded, but the campsites seem closer together, you're not by the water, and there's still a $7 day-use fee to go to the lake. When you get to the lake, there are two options for camping: to the right, Ashurst Lake Campground (as featured in AZ Highways); or to the left and across the lake, Forked Pine Campground. I chose Forked Pine--mainly because I didn't realize there were two campgrounds--and after walking around the lake to Ashust Campground, I'd say it's the superior choice. Google Maps/Navigation will get you right to either campsite.
Regardless of your choice, just pick an open site out of the 25 combined options and start setting up. The fees are $16/night/site with a max of 8 people per site,, $7/day/site for an extra vehicle. There's no need to check in with the camp host, he will drive around and find you to collect the fees; he also sells firewood for $6/bundle or 3 for $15. The sites have fire rings for cooking, etc., but also a charcoal grill if you're into that and bring charcoal. The campgrounds do not accept reservations, so it can be risky if you're showing up on a Friday evening, but there are multiple other campgrounds in the area if you need a backup.
I prefer Forked Pines because it is further away from the boat launch/day use area, making it quieter and more serene. Most of the campsites at Forked Pines have lake views and a couple are sort of lake front. Loop C has the best overall choices, but Loop B has a great option too. On the Ashurst Campground side there is a cluster of 3 sites that are nicely tucked away in the woods and would make a great area for a group, but I hear it goes fast. No matter where you are, pick your campsite wisely-keeping in mind rain (mud) and the rocks under your tent. Be prepared for several daily appearances by Vic, the friendly 74-year old host for Forked Pines.
After your camp is set up, you're pretty much ready to start relaxing and enjoying the great outdoors. Ashurst Lake is managed for trout, which can be caught from the bank as easily as from a boat. There's no need for a lot of fishing gear; a hook and Berkley PowerBait seems to be the go-to, and I have to agree after watching a couple kids catch 3 keeper-size trout in 20 minutes on it. The lake is (supposedly) 230 acres large so there is plenty of space for recreational boating. Motors are limited to 8hp, so no need to worry about being run down by skiers. There are plenty of woods and meadows surrounding the campsite that are easily explored on foot and offer beautiful sites and photographs. The forest roads can be explored by bicycle and many bikers travel scenic Lake Mary Road, as well. Your imagination is really your only limit...you may even want to bring bocce or horseshoes for downtime.
Unfortunately, my trip was cut short because of massive thunderstorms. On day two I had just made a quick trip out to buy PowerBait and checked my weather apps to see if the ominous clouds were just fronting (weather pun intended)...immediately after SkyMotion said "no rain for the next 117 minutes" a huge thunderclap rang out. For the next several hours there were downpours and the most terrifyingly close lightening I've ever experienced. I checked the radar map and saw rain for hours and the National Weather Service warning about storms and forecasting rain and thunderstorms for day three, I packed it up and came home. If you're going to stay and camp, here's how to stay safe: National Outdoor Leadership School instructions (PDF download) or National Weather Service lightening safety
Thanks, Arizona Highways, for the tip. Ashurst Lake campgrounds are a great midpoint between backpacking-style camping and the crowded recreational campsites that are more easily found.
My camping gear (remember, this was still "car camping").
My probable necessities:
- Comfortable tent. I'm 6'4", so most 1-person tents are jokingly small. This one offered me plenty of room to lay down and the ability to keep my things away from the edges of the tent in downpours.
- A couple pillows from home. Or a comfy and much smaller camp pillow (I prefer the Sea to Summit pillow).
- 45 degree sleeping bag, perfect for the overnight lows of 55 degrees.
- A tarp to put under the tent.
- A lantern for broad lighting.
- Mini Mag Light
- Cast iron skillet.
- Big jugs of water to refill my water bottle and Camelbak.
- A variety of Cliff bars.
- Bug spray.
- Baby wipes (cause there's no shower).
- Hand sanitizer.
- Camp Stove
- Cooler (I use an RTIC roto-molded cooler. Canyon Coolers are also legit and Arizona based).
- Mountain bike and tire pump
- Camelback backpack
- Bear Grylls paracord knife and ultimate knife (one for each backpack) (you might judge for the BG products, but they're the best fixed-blade knives I've seen for a decent price and they attach easily to your pack).
- Fishing pole.
- Power Bait - for trout.
- Hiking boots.
- Trail shoes.
- Chaco sandles - great for around the camp and in the water.
- Several books.
- Hammock purchased at Babbits Backcountry in Flagstaff (my favorite store in Arizona) - be careful setting this up due to the rocks.