How to RV Camp in Phoenix (With Kids) On The Cheap

We knew lodging was going to be a challenge for the Phoenix/Scottsdale portion of our trip. It was mid-March so we had to contend with snowbirds, spring breakers, and MLB spring training attendees (yes that’s a real thing, I can’t imagine anything more boring). State park campgrounds around the metro area were all completely booked. In addition, many if not most of the RV parks are either 55+ or don’t allow kids. Even if we could find a spot in an RV park it would have been cost prohibitive.

Our experiment with casino camping in Tucson was such a success we decided to continue the streak in Phoenix. After all, casino camping is free (usually), and we’re on a fixed income dammit! We scoped out a few promising leads and decided to try the Desert Diamond Casino in Glendale. We weren’t sure what to expect, or if camping was even allowed, but we arrived to find a nice parking lot full of other RVs. Victory! Shortly after parking, a friendly security guy came over to welcome us and let us know how to register. Double victory! Jackie walked into the casino to register and I loaded the boys into the RV to eat lunch.

While I was putting up the windshield shade, the security guard approached again and asked if there was anyone under 21 years old present. I said yes, and he asked us to leave immediately. Defeat. Tip to any parents trying to casino camp: Hide your kids! If you have two kids, buy a long trench coat, dark glasses, and a fedora. You know the rest.

Look at the damn camera! About to eat some pie at the Rock Springs Cafe.

Dejected, we regrouped in a Target parking lot to assess our predicament. Jackie checked our Harvest Host options and found the Rock Springs Cafe, about 45 minutes north of Glendale. Bingo! We drove up I-17 and found the large camping area next to the cafe. We picked a spot, parked, and leveled the RV, before exploring the grounds a bit. The Rock Springs Cafe is a minor tourist attraction, Arizona’s version of Wall Drug. It features a saloon, event center, souvenirs, and of course a cafe. The big attraction is pie. We decided to spend our obligatory Harvest Host dollars on a few slices of pie. It was excellent. We’re not typically pie people, but we walked away with full bellies and smiles on our faces.

Nice large camping area next to the Rock Creek Cafe

After pie, we researched our options for camping the rest of the week. We decided to try the Pleasant Harbor RV Resort at nearby Lake Pleasant. The full hookup sites were upwards of $50 so we opted for dry camping at $16 per night. Such a deal! We could run the generator until 10:00 PM so electricity was covered. Dump station and fresh water fill were also included in the price of admission. There were actually three separate dry camping areas, two closer to the lake and one closer to the main road. We chose the less populated area closer to the main road and are glad we did. The area next to the lake was party central, with thumping music, revving ATVs, and barking dogs.

The resort was very nice though. The marina is open to the public and features a bar and restaurant. There are kayaks, paddleboards, and jet skis for rent. There’s also a sightseeing cruise. There’s even a nice mountain biking trail right next to the campground that’s part of the 315 mile long Maricopa Trail. To top it all off, there’s 24-hour security with gated access. Overall, Pleasant View Harbor RV Resort was a cheap base camp for our Phoenix exploration. One downside is that it is a bit out of town, so some driving is necessary to see the rest of Phoenix. Speaking of driving, Phoenix drivers are horrible.

Our camping spot next to dry docked boats at Pleasant Harbor RV Resort dry camping area

We spent the rest of the week visiting Tim’s parents who were vacationing in Scottsdale. Highlights included free meals, free laundry, free showers, free swimming, as well as some free babysitting which provided some much-needed mommy/daddy time.

Goldwater Brewing, Barry would be proud

With the kids gone, we decided to tour old town Scottsdale. Scottsdale is rich, old, and white. Teslas outnumber non-AARP members by at least two-to-one. It is clean though, I think we were the only homeless people in town. We dodged Segways for a while, then hit up the Goldwater Brewing Company for some suds. The beer was excellent and it was nice to be kid-free, even if just for a few hours.

Scottsdale: So white we didn’t allow Catholics until 1933

So after our rough start getting booted from the casino, we successfully recovered and enjoyed our week in Phoenix. The good: nice weather, nice landscape, and of course family time. The bad: traffic, white privilege, and the guy who lived beneath Tim’s parent’s condo who kept pounding on the ceiling every time we made even a slight noise. Next, we’ll be moving on to Quartzite Arizona next for some free BLM camping.

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