Priest Draw and the limestone rock of the Kaibab Formation

Priest Draw

Priest Draw is a small and shallow canyon about 7 miles south of Flagstaff, Arizona. What makes this canyon unique is that it allows one to get a close up view of the beautiful limestone rock of the Kaibab Formation. You’ll find this same layer of limestone throughout northern Arizona; however, it usually isn’t so accessible.

The Kaibab Formation was formed around 250 million years ago in a shallow sea at a time when Arizona had beach front views. This formation also makes up the top layer of the Grand Canyon. You can also see this rock layer at Walnut Canyon National Monument.

At Priest Draw, you’ll see where softer layers of limestone have eroded away leaving overhanging rock and shallow caves. The blending of dark grey and white rock creates stunning visuals, as do the smooth pockets of eroded rock on the surface.

The rock formations at Priest Draw have made this area popular for bouldering – a style of rock climbing where no rope is used and “crash pads” are placed below to soften a fall. The pockets in the overhanging rock are great handholds and footholds making it possible to rock climb while hanging in a horizontal position.

There is an easy trail through the draw. Easy, as the draw bottom is a meadow and mostly flat. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the draw. It’s a great place to just kick back and relax in a scenic park setting. Green meadows and ponderosa pines make it a nice picnic spot too.

Hike in camping is allowed…however, this is a sensitive area so it’s a good idea to practice stealth camping: before you leave, make it appear you never arrived. Remove all traces of trash, camping equipment, campfires, etc.

There are several great campsites along the forest roads near Priest Draw that are suitable for RV and car camping.

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Where in The World?

Priest Draw is situated in a beautiful section of the Coconino National Forest…and a forest it is! Tall ponderosa pines dominate the landscape. Here at 7,000 feet, it’s mighty refreshing too, especially if you’re coming from the Phoenix furnace.

There are plenty of places to explore nearby. A multitude of national forest roads cover the area, making it easy to get just about anywhere. East of Priest Draw is Anderson Mesa with its many picturesque lakes including Lake Mary, Mormon Lake, and Ashurst Lake.

Directions to Priest Draw

There are two trailheads. The east trailhead sees the most use and has a good sized parking lot. The west trailhead is best for those with a high clearance vehicle as the national forest road leading to it can be a bit rough.

GPS Coordinates:
East Trailhead: 35° 4.894’N, 111° 36.052’W
West Trailhead: 35° 4.663’N, 111° 37.421’W

Priest Draw East Trailhead And Parking Lot Map

Priest Draw Camping

This is national forest land and there are many free campsites in the area. You’ll find campsites deep within the ponderosa pine forest, and others on the edge of serene forest meadows. Some campsites will accommodate large RVs. Many sites have lots of shade, which is great if you want to keep cool – but can be problematic if you rely on solar to charge your batteries.

Campsites can be found to the east off Forest Road 132, accessible via Lake Mary Road – and to the west along Forest Road 700, accessible via I-17 exit 333 and 331.

There are a few campsites off Forest Road 296 next to Lower Lake Mary that have excellent views of the lake (or meadow, as it was at the time I visited). Watch out for sand here, especially if you have 2WD. These campsites are small and better suited for small RVs. There are also some great RV campsites near the west end of Priest Draw at Kelly Canyon.

Priest Draw Area Map

Priest Draw RV Camping Journal

September 12, 2012

I’m camped southwest of Lower Lake Mary near the intersection of FR 132D and FR 6114, off FR 6114. This campsite is suitable for small RVs. The area is a bit sandy and care must be taken to avoid getting stuck, as these are primitive forest roads.

This is a nice spot to camp among ponderosa pine forest. The site is on a small clearing with a good amount of sun to the south/southeast. The opening among the forest is great for my solar panel.

Recreation: The trailhead for Priest Draw and Howard Draw is just northwest of my campsite, off FR 132. Sightseeing, camping, and rock climbing are popular activities at Priest Draw. This area is lovely and a must see. There are several forest roads that are great for exploring on mountain bike. FR 132 is a good road to bike, though there is a lot of washboard heading north to Lake Mary Road. Going south is smoother, but rocky in spots. There are some neat places south including Coulter Park, Coulter Hill, and Antelope Park. Biking FR 296 northeast of here is a great ride with excellent views of Lower Lake Mary.

Weather: I’ve been camping for about 6 days in early September. Most days have had mid 70s for highs, except for yesterday – which was cold and rainy all day with a high in the low 60s. It dropped down into the 40s on a few nights, which is colder than it had been. It’s still monsoon season and clouds build up by late morning. I didn’t have any rain until 2 days ago, so it rained 2 out of 6 days. It’s been a little breezy during the day. Mornings and evenings have been calm enough to fly my micro RC airplane and helicopters…and it’s got to be dead calm to do that.

Wildlife: I saw a small herd of elk just 5 minutes after leaving my campsite while hiking southeast on FR 132D yesterday afternoon. I saw a falcon, turkey vultures, and ravens today. I’ve also seen squirrels and other birds. I found a few baby lizards outside my door, very cute. I also spotted some prairie dogs in the meadows at and near Lower Lake Mary. There’s morel mushrooms down there too, first ones I’ve seen in Arizona! I found them along FR 296.

Insects: I’ve seen just a couple mosquitoes around in the evenings, otherwise no problems. There aren’t many bees, but a few yellow jackets and paper wasps. Certainly fewer insects here than when I was camped near Mormon Lake.

Peacefulness: It’s quiet here. I can’t hear any highway traffic which is nice. There’s just a couple other RV campers further southwest on my road (FR 6114) and a tent camped a little ways southeast on FR 132D. The traffic is very light around here. My campsite is close to the road, as are most sites I’ve found here.

RV Solar: There’s plenty of sun for my solar panel in the mornings and early afternoons at this campsite.

Cell Signal: Verizon cell phone calls cut out often. I’ve biked much of this area and could not find a campsite with better reception. It may be that much of this area south of Lower Lake Mary is too far from a tower. I have no Verizon mobile broadband internet, only extremely slow National Access service.

RV Campsite Rating: 7 out of 10. Unfortunately my Verizon cell signal is lousy. Overall, it’s a good campsite and a nice area to camp with several cool places to explore.

Priest Draw Video Slideshow

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