Horseshoe Cienega Lake Campground0
Location: East of McNary, Arizona.
Elevation: 8,225 feet
Season: May through October
Access: Dirt road
Fee: $9.00 per camp site per night
Reservations: No reservations. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Days Limit: No
Amenities: 70 single unit sites, tent camping, trailer camping, trailers and motorhomes up to 10 foot, no hookups, picnic tables (at most campsites), potable water faucets, vault toilets, pets must be restrained or on a leash
Directions: Travel east on State Route 260 nine miles east of McNary. Take a right at the lake entrance and the campground lies 1.3 miles away.
Horseshoe Cienega Lake Campground is located few miles past McNary off hwy 260. The entrance is marked with an old damaged sign about a mile past Rd 473 leading to Howley Lake. Enter the dirt road and go through the gate. Follow the road through an open field and over a dam. Drive by a small store and a boat ramp and follow signs to the campground. Follow the sign asking you to check in with the camp host. The host’s camper is on your right and is marked with a sign. You will not be able to buy your camping permit from the host. All permits must be purchased at the Hon Dah store before you arrive at the campground. As of writing this post, daily camping permit is $9.00 per vehicle. Fishing permit is $9.00 per day as well. You need to purchase separate permits if you plan to do some hiking or use any water craft.
The campground follows a main dirt road and consists of 9 loops with about 10 campsites on each loop. The loops and almost all campsites are located on the north side of the main dirt road, by the lake. The are a couple of spots on the south (right) side of the road, but they are right next to the cliff dropping down to the White River. There is no access to the river from the campground. Additionally the river is within the closed part of the forest as of 2018.
Unfortunately most camping spots are taken by parked campers and trailers. Apparently a lot of people rent out the spots for the entire summer and come whenever they wish. There are however still few spots available for a casual visitor. You might however have difficulty finding a campsite with a picnic table. There are water pumps with faucets throughout the campground and each loop has few vault toilets or porta potties.
The lake is only a short walk from the campground. There are several spots on the lake shore with direct access to water, ideal for fishing, however some of the shore is sticky mud. I’m sure the shore depends on the water level too. You will meet many people fishing off the shore and on boats, however I did not have much luck fishing at this lake, camping for two days, at the end of June.
While you’re camping you will see cows grazing throughout the campground and by the lake. During the day but also after dark. They are not aggressive but you might get surprised if you’re not used to it. You will most likely see many squirrels or chipmunks and lots of birds. At night you might hear wolves howling in the distance, since you are right next to the national forest where they are being reintroduced. The hosts will most likely ask you to share with them if you end up seeing a black bear. They are rare but they live around here, and if you cook meat or other delicious food, they might follow their strong sense of smell.
If you’re visiting during a week and not on a busy weekend, you should not have issues with annoying and loud neighbors.
All in all, if you’ve never been to the Horseshoe Cienega Lake Campground, and you like to visit new places, you should spend a couple of days here.
I don’t however plan on returning there, since I like to try new locations each summer and there are plenty of campgrounds still to visit.
If you’re ready for a next adventure and want to plan it right, check out some of these camping guides – Arizona has so many awesome destinations to explore!