Facility Rules and Policies

In order to safeguard both wildlife and refuge visitors, please observe the following rules and regulations:

Rules and Regulations at Cabeza Prieta NWR

In order to visit the refuge, visitors must first obtain a permitPermits are free and can be obtained online.

Instructions for obtaining a permit: 

  • Visit the permit website
  • An all areas permit will pop up. Click on "Create account" to make a Recaccess account. You will enter your information as well as any vehicles you will bring onto the refuge. 
  • If you have more than one vehicle, use the dark blue plus (+) to add multiple vehicles to your permit. 
  • You will be required to watch the safety video and agree to the hold harmless agreement, after which you'll be able to obtain your access permit. 
  • Keep a copy of your permit with you at all times. 
  • You can print off the appropriate land management map from the site, and hardcopy maps will be available at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. In addition to the Hold Harmless Agreement you agreed to online, you must be familiar with local rules and regulations specific to each land management jurisdiction you access.

Special use permits

At the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, wildlife comes first. For this reason, Special Use Permits are required in order to conduct the following types of activities:  

  • Commercial activities 
  • Hunting  
  • Stock animal usage  
  • Research  

Contact the refuge to discuss your potential need for a Special Use Permit. 

To protect the fragile desert ecosystem, we do not allow any of the following activities: 

  • Camping is not allowed within ¼ mile of any water source, as it may dissuade wildlife from accessing this critical resource.
  • Trailers are not allowed
  • Dumping of litter, sewage, or liquid waste on the refuge.  
  • Prospecting, rockhounding or removal of sand, rock, gravel or minerals.  
  • Excavating or removing objects of antiquity, cultural artifacts, or paleontological artifacts.  
  • Trapping, collecting, disturbing, injuring, destroying, removal, or transportation of any plant, or animal, or part of the natural flora and fauna on the Refuge is prohibited.  
  • Pets must be leashed and under control at all times. Owners must clean up after their pets. 

Fires and Firewood 

Charcoal or propane stoves are recommended on the refuge. However, wood fires are permissible by adhering to the following rules: 

  • Wood fires are allowed at the designated primitive campsites at Papago Well, Tule Well and Christmas Pass.  
  • Visitors must bring their own wood into the refuge. It must be readily identifiable as wood that is not native to the refuge, for example: pine, juniper or construction lumber.  
  • Do not use wood with any metal hardware attached to it, such as hinges or nails.  
  • Due to the scarcity of wood and valuable wildlife habitat, the collection of firewood or vegetation of any kind is prohibited within the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The only exception is for backcountry hikers. They may use dead and down wood for campfires.  
  • Use established fire rings or fire grates at each site listed above. Some sites have more than one fire ring or grate in order to accommodate multiple visitors.  
  • Do not create new fire rings.  
  • After you are done with the campsite, make sure the fire is out and cold and take any trash with you. 
  • You may leave extra wood at the campsite.  
  • Undesignated camp sites must use charcoal (with ground pan) or propane stoves. 

Rules of the Road 

  • Vehicles are only allowed on designated public use roads. All vehicles (including motorcycles, off-highway vehicles, and bicycles) must stay on El Camino del Diablo, Christmas Pass and Charlie Bell roads.  
  • Travel into the wilderness is not permitted by any motorized vehicle or mechanized transportation of any kind. Government Use Only trails are administrative trails used for the official purposes of administering the refuge and wilderness, as well as border security efforts. 
  • The speed limit is 25 mph on refuge roads and is strictly enforced. The exception to this speed limit is the stretch of road near the pronghorn recovery pen on Charlie Bell Road. Visitors are asked to slow down to 15 mph to avoid any wild pronghorn in that particular area. This area begins approximately 11.5 miles west of the Cabeza entrance and ends one mile later. 
  • Only street-legal motorcycles and off-highway vehicles (OHVs), as defined by Arizona state law, are allowed on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.  
  • All vehicle operators are required to have proof of insurance and a current registration.  
  • Motorcycles and OHVs must be fitted with a mast displaying an 80 square inch orange flag that extends a minimum of eight (8) feet above the ground surface.  
  • Groups of more than 4 vehicles are not allowed on the refuge.
  • If a road is impassable due to flooding, deep sand or a lawful closure, do not drive off-road to get around such areas.  
  • When camping or parked along the public roads, vehicles must be parked within 50 feet of the center line of the road.  

El Camino del Diablo and Christmas Pass Roads:

Vehicles must be four-wheel drive with high clearance to use these roads. 

Charlie Bell Road:

Two-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance may use this road. 

Know Before You Go

When planning for a trip to Cabeza Prieta, remember to come prepared! 93% of the refuge is designated wilderness, and you won’t find any services or cell reception. This means no fuel, restrooms, or drinking water. Pack ample water and food for your excursion. If visiting the refuge during the summertime, bring at least two gallons of drinking water per person, per day. Protect yourself from sun exposure by wearing sunscreen, dressing in long sleeves and pants, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat. Please help keep your refuge pristine by packing out all garbage and following Leave No Trace guidelines.  

It is recommended that all visitors carry two spare tires and spare mechanical parts in case of a vehicle breakdown.  

When visiting Cabeza Prieta, please be aware that you are in a desert environment, as well as near an international border. Temperatures in the summer time can soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and drop as low as 20 °F on winter nights. Please plan your visit accordingly.