Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Learn about camping and boondocking at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Camping Rules

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Camping Rules


The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge camping rules published below were gathered from information published by Cabeza Prieta NWR and from laws and regulations adopted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service…

blm map overlay BLM  national forest overlay USFS  national park map overlay NPS  national wildlife refuge map overlay NWR  wilderness area overlay Wilderness [CTRL + Left Mouse Click] for 3D Tilt

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Camping Rules

Areas Off-Limits to Camping – There are currently no areas off-limits to camping. You may set up camp anywhere within the refuge. However, the refuge “recommends” camping at one of three established primitive camping areas…

Note that Cabeza Prieta NWR recommends using a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle to reach each of these three camping areas.

Area Off-Limits to Vehicles – All vehicles (including bicycles) are not allowed within the wilderness portion of the refuge (shaded area depicted in above map). The wilderness portion comprises of nearly the entire refuge, aside from the three roads themselves (El Camino del Diablo, Christmas Pass and Charlie Bell) and the far northeastern border.

  • The “roads” refers to the actual driving lane of the road, including about 50 feet on either side (as measured from the centerline of the road). Vehicles must remain within these boundaries.
  • Lands beyond 50 feet of the centerline is classified as “wilderness”, which by federal law, prohibits vehicles.

Passes and Permits – A permit is required to set foot on Cabeza Prieta NWR. This applies only to persons 18 years of age or order. All such person in your camping party is required to have a permit. Permits can be obtained…

  • Cabeza Prieta NWR visitor center in Ajo.
  • Online at
  • At a self-serve kiosk located at entrances into Cabeza Prieta NWR.

Maximum Length of Stay – The maximum length of stay for camping at Cabeza Prieta NWR is 14 days within any 28-day period. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)

Campfire Restrictions – Campfire via fire ring is permitted only at the above three “recommended” campgrounds. However, you can still have a campfire anywhere else in Cabeza Prieta NWR as long as it is restricted to a metal container, or barbecue grill, or gas-burning stove. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)

  • Gathering dead and down firewood is prohibited. Campers must bring in their own wood.
  • Backcountry campers (campers who are hiking and pitching tents), are allowed to gather dead and down wood, and are allowed to build a fire ring with rocks anywhere in the Refuge.

Camping Setbacks

  • Water – The State of Arizona has a law prohibiting anyone from camping within 1/4 mile of a body of water (lakes, rivers, et al) or from a livestock watering container. This law is published under Arizona Revised Statute, Title 17 Fish & Game. (Reference, ARS § 17-308 Unlawful camping)
  • Roads – Vehicles may not travel any more than 50 feet from a road, however you can still pitch a tent or setup a camp anywhere inside the refuge. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)
  • Other – There are no other required setbacks from developed areas or buildings within the refuge.

Weapons – Firearms are allowed into the Refuge. Shooting firearms is prohibited with the exception of hunting or self-defense. Shooting under any other use, including target shooting, is prohibited. (Reference, § 27-42 Firearms)

  • Air guns, bows and arrows, crossbows, spears, gigs, or other weapons are not allowed into the Refuge, except for use with hunting. (Reference, § 27-43 Weapons Other Than Firearms)

Vehicle Rules – All vehicles are restricted to designated or numbered roads. All vehicles must be street-legal, including being registered with current license plates. No vehicle can drive beyond 50 feet from either side of a road. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)

  • All vehicles, including dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles, are limited to just three roads: Charlie Bell Road, El Camino Del Diablo, and Christmas Pass Road.
  • High-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles are required along El Camino Del Diablo and Christmas Pass Roads.
  • All vehicles with modified exhaust systems are prohibited. (Reference, § 27-31 General Provisions Regarding Vehicles)

Removing Objects

  • The collection of any rocks or minerals is prohibited on Cabeza Prieta NWR.
  • You are prohibited from removing plants and animals from the refuge. (Reference, § 27-21 Taking Violations)
  • You are prohibited from removing any other objects of antiquity, value, or treasure (arrowheads, old mining tools, coins, jewelry) from the refuge. (Reference, § 27-62 Search for and Removal of Objects of Antiquity)
  • You are prohibited from removing any precious metals, buried treasure or treasure troves. (Reference, § 27-63 Search for and Removal of Other Valued Objects)

Disorderly Conduct

  • Being under the influence of alcohol to the extent that one endangers himself or others, or annoy others nearby, is prohibited. (Reference, § 27-81 Alcoholic Beverages)
  • A controlled substance that was not prescribed by a physician is prohibited inside the Refuge. Being under the influence of a controlled substance, even if it was prescribed by a physician, to the extent that it poses a threat to oneself or others, is prohibited. (Reference, § 27-82 Possession and Delivery of Controlled Substances)
  • Any act of indecency or disorderly conduct that is already prohibited by state or local laws, is prohibited within the Refuge. (Reference, § 27-83 Indecency and Disorderly Conduct)
  • Interfering with other visitors or Refuge staff is prohibited. (Reference, § 27-84 Interference with Persons Engaged in Authorized Activities)
  • Any form of gambling, or operating any kind of gambling device, is prohibited. (Reference, § 27-85 Gambling)
  • Asking for money or begging is prohibited. Soliciting support for a cause is prohibited. (Reference, § 27-86 Begging)

Disposal of Waste – Dumping sewage holding tanks (gray tank, black tank) on Refuge grounds is prohibited unless dumped into a container designed for that purpose. (Reference, § 27-94 Disposal of Waste)

  • Pooping into a hole that you dug is still permitted, but cannot be done within 200 feet of a body of water or campground. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)
  • Geocaching is prohibited. Leaving behind any man-made objects or personal property is considered to be littering. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)


  • Pets must be confined or leashed at all times. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)
  • The operation of field trials for dogs is prohibited. (Reference, § 27-91 Field Trials)

Flying Drones – Drones may not be flown within the Refuge. (Reference, § 27-34 Aircraft)

Hiking, Climbing, and Exploration

  • Entering into a mine is prohibited in Cabeza Prieta NWR. (Reference, Cabeza Prieta NWR Brochure)
  • Entering into caves has not been addressed by the Refuge.
  • Rock climbing has not been addressed by the Refuge.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Map

cabeza prieta national wildlife refuge road map

Additional Information


Phone Numbers

More About Boondocking in Arizona

More About Boondocking in National Wildlife Refuges

Leave a Comment