Swansea Wilderness is a little-known gem in Arizona, not far from the California state line. It was designated as a wilderness area in 1990. The 16,400-acre wilderness has since been managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It’s a mountainous area with volcanic dikes, cliffs, and the Buckskin Mountains. Elevations range from 670 to 1,900 feet.
Six miles of the Bill Williams River runs through the center of Swansea Wilderness. Though it is hardly seen by humans, the river forms a riparian area and is the primary water source within the wilderness. The river provides a fantastic opportunity to see burros and other wildlife that thrives in the desert climate. Summers are harsh in the wilderness, making the cooler months of October through April the best time of the year to visit.
The side canyons and Buckskin Mountains provide many opportunities for hiking, climbing, and horseback riding. Hiking is also popular along Bill Williams River. The old mining community and now ghost town of Swansea is just outside of the wilderness boundary, offering much to explore. There are some BLM campsites near Swansea as well as many private campgrounds nearby for visitors wanting to stay overnight.
Swansea Wilderness extends from La Paz to Mohave counties in Arizona. It isn’t far from the California state line and is near Parker, Arizona. Parker is a small community with many services. It’s a great spot to fill up your gas tank and pick up any groceries and other supplies you may need for your visit.
If coming from Parker, it’s about 25 miles to reach the wilderness area. The road is paved for about 13 miles and turns to gravel when you reach a county sign directing you to Swansea. The last several miles are on a graded gravel road. While four-wheel-drive isn’t necessary, the road should be traveled with a high-clearance vehicle only.
The rough nature of the gravel road makes it difficult to navigate with most RVs and travel trailers. Visitors to the wilderness may want to first set up camp and leave their rig at a campsite before heading to Swansea Wilderness.
There are many privately-owned campgrounds and RV parks within 60 miles of Swansea Wilderness. In addition to Swansea Wilderness Area, these campgrounds aren’t far from other points of interest such as old mines, rockhounding, and petroglyphs. There are endless exploration opportunities at your fingertips, all within a short distance.
Many of these private campgrounds have modern amenities like full hookups, restrooms, and showers to help make your stay comfortable. Pull-through sites are available at some, making parking accessible to large rigs. Other campgrounds are semi-primitive with very few amenities. Most are pet-friendly and campsites can be reserved. Check with specific campgrounds for pet rules and reservations. You’ll want to plan in advance if visiting during the winter months. Campgrounds can fill up quickly with snowbirds in search of warmer weather.
There are BLM campsites near the ghost town of Swansea, just outside of the wilderness boundary. These primitive campsites are perfect for those wanting to explore the ghost town and also make the most of their visit to the wilderness area. Near the wilderness boundary, you won’t be far from hiking, rock climbing, and other recreational opportunities the wilderness provides. The bumpy boundary roads can be tough or impassable for many RVs and trailers. It may be preferable to set up camp, then head down the dirt and gravel roads in a high clearance vehicle.
The campsites are well-spaced and surround the town. All campsites are primitive with very few amenities. Each campsite has a fire pit for cooking or to relax around on chilly evenings in the desert. A picnic table is also at each site. Not far from the campsites there are a couple of pit toilets. Campers planning to stay at one of these sites will want to come equipped with plenty of water.
Hiking through Swansea Wilderness is a great way to experience all it has to offer. While there are no designated trails within the wilderness area, there are still plenty of possible routes to explore.
Hike along the riparian zone created by the Bill Williams River or instead, hike along or up the many side canyons. With elevations reaching as high as 1900 feet, there are plenty of opportunities to find vistas over the surrounding landscape.
Horses are permitted at Swansea Wilderness. Equestrians with horse trailers will want to take caution on the bumpy wilderness roads. The last few miles aren’t recommended with low-clearance vehicles.
Once inside the wilderness, you’ll find there is much to explore within the 16,000 acres of BLM land. Ride on horseback through the desert brush, past cacti and Joshua trees. Keep an eye out to see what types of desert wildlife you may see!
Rock climbing is another activity that attracts visitors to Swansea Wilderness. Bring your gear, knowledge, and plenty of water for your climbs. There are many potential routes to explore within the side canyons and the Buckskin Mountains, which sit in the western portion of the wilderness. October through April are the best times to climb in order to avoid the desert heat the summer temperatures bring.
Though water is scarce in the wilderness, there are still many types of wildlife that visitors may see. During the spring months, desert iguanas make an appearance. Burros and mountain lions also roam through the area.
There are some dangers to keep an eye out for while hiking and climbing. Venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes and sidewinders may be basking along the desert terrain.
Perhaps one of the most popular activities at the wilderness is exploring the ghost town of Swansea which is located just outside of the wilderness boundary.
Swansea is an old mining town that was also known for smelting copper that was mined nearby. At its peak, Swansea had a population of around 500. The post office in Swansea shut down in the late 1920s with many of the residents leaving soon after. The current population is zero, with the exception of visitors that come to see what remains of the town today.
Don’t forget to charge your phone or pack a camera for your trip to the wilderness. The desert vegetation and mountainous terrain present many photo opportunities for both amateur and experienced photographers. Along your hike near the Bill Williams River, take a photo of the wildlife you may see at the wilderness’ primary water source. Hike or climb the canyons to snap photos of the surrounding mountains and landscape.