I’d previously seen the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge on a map. Still, I never thought much about it before we headed out to western Arizona for a weekend under the stars and away from city life.
Situated south of Quartzite, between the I-10 and I-8 highways, the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is a desolate yet beautiful place. Its sprawling desert is quickly upended by towering peaks, reaching nearly three thousand feet above the desert floor. In all, it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Phoenix, which is about the same if you’re looking to go camping in Flagstaff or on Mount Lemmon in Tucson.
Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
Camping in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
You’re in a National Wildlife Refuge, so there are rules, but it’s also dispersed camping, so there aren’t rules.
Along the 10+ mile Palm Canyon road, there will be various pull-offs off the dirt road where you can set up your campsite. As you enter the official “refuge,” the road splits. Straight, and you’ll head toward Palm Canyon. Head left, and you’ll make your way to Kofa Queen Canyon. This has better views once you get far enough in, but the road is also trickier, and you’ll need, at worst, higher clearance and, at best, 4×4/AWD.
We kept going straight and snagged one of the closest sites to the mountain range. It was wonderful.
The only people we saw were the occasional car or truck driving by, but that was it. As I mentioned above, it was a nice break from city life.
Things to do in Kofa
There are plenty of things to do in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, but hiking and photography rise to the top.
Hikes in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
- Palm Canyon Trail is a short hike, maybe 1.5 miles round trip, which gets you into a lovely canyon. We didn’t do that this time around. Instead, on our first full day, we headed south around the mountain and enjoyed the nice weather and lovely scenery. This had a trail but not really, and was more meandering in the desert.
- Signal Peak is probably the main attraction for most who venture into Kofa. It gets you to the top of the range and gives you 360-degree views across Arizona. We also didn’t do this, but we did hike all the way to Skull Cave. If you have a high-clearance vehicle with a 4×4, you’ll be able to drive all the way to the Signal Peak trailhead. We didn’t have that luxury, so from where we parked, it was a 5-mile round-trip hike to Skull Cave. I’d estimate it was another mile walk to get to the trailhead.
- The Kofa Queen Canyon is remarkable and a photographer’s paradise. There are countless chollas, jagged peaks, and an endless display of wildflowers (if you get there at the right time).
I would be remiss to mention that it did POUR on us on night one, and the wind was pretty gnarly most of the weekend. But other than that, it was spectacular. It had been a while since I had camped – probably since backpacking in Colorado – and it was really nice to get the tent out again.
Before it gets too hot, I’d recommend finding your way out to Kofa and its lovely scenery.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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