A Rolling Rockhound Boondocking Site Review
Stumbling upon history, wildlife, and cholla.
Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the US Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, is located just off US Highway 95, 40 miles north of Yuma and 30 miles south of Quartzsite, Arizona. It is bordered by the Yuma Proving Grounds and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).
When we were staying near Quartzsite, Arizona a couple of years prior, I’d noticed Kofa National Wilderness Refuge on the map. Unfortunately, it wasn’t convenient to visit at the time. But in the winter of 2020, we had some time to explore on our way between California and Tucson. We had reservations at Anza Borrego State Park, California (another absolute favorite), which were canceled on us at the very last minute due to COVID restrictions. With some time on our hands and nowhere to stay – I was able to convince Don to at least give Kofa a try.
Boondocking Palm Cyn Trailhead vs. King Road/Stone Cabin
Palm Canyon Trailhead Road
Researching the area for boondocking, the road to the Palm Canyon Trailhead (leading 7 miles from Hwy 95 to the trailhead) receives a lot of attention. However, it is a popular boondocking site, meaning it is densely populated and even has a camp host. This is a good spot for the more social boondocker and those that feel safer in a more populated area. Besides, you are just moments from the only “official” hiking trail in Kofa.
However, this is not where we stayed.
King Road aka Stone Cabin
We prefer to boondock away from the crowds, so we decided to try King Road aka Stone Cabin (what I am reviewing in this post) instead.
We planned on an overnighter but ended up staying a week (and have been back on numerous occasions, staying 1 week to 10 days at a time). The Refuge has a 2-week maximum in any 12-month period. One could, however, also spend some time on BLM land along King Rd. adjacent to the refuge boundary.
Before crossing the park boundary, approximately 2 ½ miles from US Highway 95, there are numerous sites available on both sides of the road. There is plenty of room for any size rig. As one crosses into the refuge, the sites become less numerous but are wide and flat with fire rings and are on either side of the road. There are very few campers beyond the park boundary which makes for some nice, secluded camping under wide-open starry skies.
King Road is a wide well-graded gravel road that travels across the refuge, west to east. Not familiar with the area, we didn’t go much further than about 3 miles in on our first visit. We chose a wide flat spot on the north side of the road, on a hilltop with a wonderful view deep into the refuge to the west. Once we’d set up our rig and campsite, we discovered that it was also situated in the midst of a teddy bear cholla forest! With that said, we probably won’t utilize that site again. I do recommend it for the views but if you have pets or children, it is not worth it.
We now stay on the west side of the hills on BLM land. Here, we have great AT&T cell signal (4 bars of 5Ge) and ample room to spread out.
There are no campgrounds within the park but there are 2 primitive cabins, the Kofa and Hoodoo Cabins, available on a first come first serve basis. What a fun way to explore the park and its history!
The refuge provides many recreational opportunities; hiking, gravel biking, ATV/Jeep trails, wildlife viewing, photography, hunting, minimal rockhounding, and historical exploration.
As mentioned, the only official hiking trail is the Palm Canyon Trail (half-mile one-way). The trail leads into a canyon where you can see the California fan palm, the only native palm in Arizona. It is quite a scenic, enjoyable and shady trail with options to scramble further back the canyon if you choose.
We chose to take some cross-country hikes instead, exploring the park from our campsite in all directions. We saw several mountain sheep and almost stumbled over a wild tortoise.
There are a lot of interesting geological features, canyons and 2 small mountain ranges, Kofa and Castle Dome, to explore.
We also rode our gravel bikes on some of the smaller dirt roads. Cycling is a fun way to get further out into the wilderness without a vehicle. The roads are in great to decent shape (some a little rougher than others) and there is a variety to choose from. We did not yet have an ATV but sure wished we did. There were several that came and went daily. An ATV would be an excellent way to get even further out into the refuge.
The refuge allows regulated hunting for quail, bighorn sheep, mule deer, cottontail rabbit, coyote, and fox. We were there during the bighorn sheep hunting season, making them very skittish. We saw hunters enter the refuge in the morning and depart in the evening but didn’t see or hear them at all otherwise. Trapping is also allowed on the refuge.
Recreational rockhounding is limited to a 1.5 square mile area at Crystal Hill on the northwest border of the refuge. Possession of rocks is limited to 10 specimens or 10 pounds (whichever occurs first) in any 12-month period. Digging or the use of tools is not permitted. Collection of rocks or minerals elsewhere in the refuge is not allowed.
Before the limitations were put into place, fire agate was collected in the refuge. I did not see any fire agate on our hikes, but I did see quite a few small pieces of chalcedony. When in areas where recreational rockhounding is not allowed, I take pictures of the interesting rocks and minerals I find rather than stowing them away in my pockets.
The Sonoran Pronghorn Recovery Program
We took a drive in our pickup truck one day to explore the refuge. We came upon a signboard explaining the refuge’s Sonoran Pronghorn Recovery Program. The Sonoran Pronghorn is an endangered subspecies of pronghorn that is smaller and lighter in color. Also referred to as the “desert ghost”, the Sonoran pronghorn is endemic to the Sonoran desert.
Large herds of Sonoran pronghorn were once common along the Arizona-Mexico border. By 2002 there were only 21 adult Sonoran pronghorn left in the United States. The refuge now has a protected area dedicated to the pronghorn.
In addition to the pronghorn recovery program, the refuge also manages a bighorn sheep conservation program, a water resource program for wildlife, and has installed bat gates at mine entrances for their protection.
The name Kofa comes from the now-defunct King of Arizona Mine. The mine was most active from 1896-1910. The refuge is rich with mining history. I won’t bore you with all the details here but look for future posts if you’re interested. Here are a couple tidbits from our pick-up exploration combined with our research.
We look forward to returning to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in the future for more hiking and exploration!
- Boondocking Site Name: Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
- Lands Jurisdiction: US Fish & Wildlife, National Wildlife Refuge, 9300 E. 28th Street, Yuma, AZ 85365, Phone: 928-783-7861, Fax: 928-783-8611
- Description: Desert wilderness, with valleys and small mountain ranges. Historical mines.
- The refuge entrance is located 30 miles south of Quartzsite, Arizona, on the east side of State Highway 95 and 40 miles north of Yuma, Arizona on US highway 95.
- Google Map: Beware, if you search Kofa on Google maps it takes you to the trailhead area for the Palm Canyon trail at the end of a dead-end road. There are Boondocking sites there that we have not checked out in person. That area gets good reviews, but we noticed driving by on the highway that it was busier than the King Road area. It is also a shorter dead-end road with fewer options in my opinion.
- Fee: No fee
- Stay Limit: 14 days in any 12 month period.
- Facilities: None
- Dogs/Pets: Allowed on a leash.
- Big Rig Friendly: Yes
- Road Condition: Graded dirt, wide enough for 2 way traffic
- Environment: Desert
- Water Source: There are not any potable water sources in Quartzsite
- Dump Station Source: There are many paid dump stations located nearby in Quartzsite
- Garbage Facilities Nearby: Quartzsite Transfer Station, Open Wed. – Sunday 7am – 2:30 pm,
- *Limited Rockhounding, Recreational rockhounding is NOT allowed in most of the refuge.
- Wildlife Watching
- Limited Hunting
- Historical exploration
- Other Resources: