Changes are coming to the fees at the Tonto National Forest Lakes, and here are some FAQ that relate to bass fishermen, the Tonto National Forest provided these answers. I should probably qualify the following information as my best attempt to provide accurate information, I do not work for TNF, but am a simple fisherman trying to get good information for my fishing club, Midweek Bass Anglers, and thought I would share it with others who likely have similar questions.
When will the new fee machines be in place and operational? This year. Hopefully before summer.
How will the fee machines work? Credit / Debit Card only. You will be able to purchase Day-Use ($12), Watercraft Launching ($18), or Campground Camping (variable). We expect them to be similar to the machines currently in operation on the Red Rock District / Sedona.
Will I still be able to purchase passes through local vendors or at a TNF Office? Yes, and they will be less expensive than onsite through the machines. However, Tonto passes will no longer be valid for camping once the fee machines are installed.
Daily Use Passes
Daily passes will be sold through the Fee Machines and will cost $12 and Water Craft Upgrade will be $6, so if you pay onsite to launch your boat it will be $18. These machines are expensive to operate but requested by the public. These machines are intended for the occasional user, so if you are a frequent user, you are better off purchasing an annual pass, which is now called the Discovery Pass.
I still have leftover Tonto Daily Passes (Blue and Red ones), how long are they good for? These passes will be valid for day use privileges until June 30, 2016. However, for improved campgrounds and overnight camping, these passes will only be good until the fee machines are installed (April or May). Please note that refunds will not be issued for the older passes once the new system is fully operational.
The new annual pass is called the Discovery Pass. This pass covers day use and launching at all TNF lakes. You will no longer have to purchase a separate watercraft sticker, it is now included in the Discovery Pass.
I purchased an annual pass in 2015; will it be valid until its expiration in 2016? Yes
How much does the Discovery Pass cost?
The Discovery Pass price is $80 for people under 62 and $60 if you're 62 or older. This is a day use only pass, so overnight camping at improved campgrounds will still require an additional pass. However, boat launching in is now included in the camping fees. So, if you’re camping at BC, Schoolhouse, Windy Hill, you can launch on your camping fees. You’ll end up with a receipt to hang at your campsite and a receipt to put in your truck.
Where can I purchase the Discovery Pass? Tonto Supervisor Office and District offices only.
Sometimes I use different vehicles when travelling to TNF lakes, will I need a different Discovery Pass for each vehicle or is the pass portable so I can simply use it on whichever vehicle I am driving? The Discovery pass is a card, so it is portable, you can use the provided sleeve to hang it from the rearview mirror.
Overnight Camping Passes
What will it cost to camp at Burnt Corral and Cholla Campground and other Improved Campgrounds?
Once the Automated Fee Machines are installed on site (April - May), overnight camping fees at Burnt Coral will be $12/night until 2018. In 2018, they will go to $20/night. 50% discounts will be given to those who are 62 years or older who also possess a “Senior America the Beautiful Interagency Pass.” Until the fee machines are installed the campgrounds will continue to accept the Tonto Daily Pass. Fees will vary for the different campgrounds, for example: Burnt Corral $12, Windy Hill $20. Keep checking www.fs.usda.gov/tonto for updated information. There may be campsites that are considered “double” and the rates for these sites are also “double.”
For local bass anglers, which are the Improved Campgrounds requiring the use of the fee machine or online reservation?
Roosevelt Lake – Cholla, Schoolhouse, Windy Hill Campgrounds
Apache Lake – Lower Burnt Corral Campground
Bartlett Lake – no Improved Campgrounds at Bartlett Lake, the Discovery Pass is all that is needed.
Saguaro Lake – no Improved Campgrounds at Bartlett Lake, the Discovery Pass is all that is needed.
Canyon Lake – no Improved Campgrounds at Bartlett Lake, the Discovery Pass is all that is needed.
Horseshoe Lake - no Improved Campgrounds at Bartlett Lake, the Discovery Pass is all that is needed.
Will I be able to purchase the overnight camping pass at local stores or at TNF offices? No, because the new system reserves individual campsites, these passes will only be available through the machines located on site or online through recreation.gov.
How do I purchase the pass to camp at Burnt Corral and Cholla or other improved campgrounds?
Once the machines are installed, passes can be purchased one of two ways, either through the onsite fee machine or through a reservation website at www.recreation.gov. One major advantage of either option is that the Fee Machine receipts will print the campsite number on the receipt, which will secure your campsite for your use. If you use the reservation service, your site will be reserved in advance, but there is an additional $6 fee to use recreation.gov. Until the machines are operational, you will need the old blue or red passes.
In 2015 everyone who camped at an improved site like Burnt Corral needed to hang a blue or red pass. Once the new fee machines are installed, how many vehicles will be allowed per campsite? Essentially, you can have a maximum of three (3) wheeled units within your campsite AND all of them must fit within the designated parking area of the individual campsite. So that means you can have two trucks and a trailer. Other examples of 3 wheeled unit combos would be (1) a motorhome, a runaround ATV, and trailer, (2) a motorhome, boat trailer, and another vehicle, (3) A 5th Wheel, tow vehicle, and trailer or other vehicle. Additional vehicles will need to be parked somewhere else such as a boat ramp lot and displaying a Tonto pass or at another “paid for” campsite.
Are the overnight camping passes valid from 24 hours of purchase or is there a daily schedule? Check-in at 12-noon and Checkout at 10am. If you have reserved your site through recreation.gov the campground host will take care of marking the site reservation for you. All of this will roll out with the Fee Machine installations.
When do I not need to purchase on overnight camping pass? You do not need to purchase an overnight camping pass if you are simply fishing and parking your vehicle at the ramp. If you camp at an Improved Campground, see list above, you need an overnight camping pass.