The Tonto Natural Bridge is one of the coolest hikes in the Payson area, and a must-see for those driving through the area.
Located about 8 miles north of Payson below the Mogollon Rim, the Tonto Natural Bridge is a state park with a small entry fee. The park includes a small museum, plenty of parking, and lots to see from the parking lot! So, even if you don’t know if you want to hike down to the bottom of the valley you can see the bridge from the parking lot.
There are four vantage points accessible from the parking lots. Each viewpoint offers a different view of the natural bridge from the top parking lot level.
There are several trails from which you can choose. The main hike down to the waterfall is called Gowan Trail and at the bottom is a nice observation deck.
Somehow I convinced my 8-month-pregnant wife to hike down to the bottom and see the natural, bridge from the bottom. So, if you’re wondering if you can do it… you can! The walkway to the bottom is paved the entire way, and includes plenty of handy benches along the way.
The hike is about a mile down, and has a 15% grade. It’s not suitable for wheelchairs, based on the length, however there are viewing places for the visitors at the top of the rim by the parking lot. The whole park is really well maintained, and there are lots of sweet places to picnic and walk around.
At the bottom of the trail you’ll be able to look up and view the waterfall and hike into the cave. The cave is absolutely huge and has lots of slippery rocks, so be careful! The waterfall is constantly dropping water into this area, so it’s cooler than the air above. There are lots of viewing places along the trail.
Entry is $5/person (kids under 7 are free, and older than 7 are $2). No pets are allowed on the trails. There is no internet or phone signal at the park.
Get up to date information about the park online: http://azstateparks.com/Parks/TONA/
If you are planning a camping trip to the Mogollon Rim, or are just driving through Payson, I highly recommend stopping here for a quick view of the Tonto Natural Bridge. If you have time, take the hike! It only takes a hour or two, at most.
Hours: From May 23rd through September 7th, the park opens at 8 am and closes at 6 pm, with the last entry being at 5 pm. During winter/fall the park opens at 9 am, and closes at 5 pm daily (last entry at 4 pm).
Driving directions and GPS information is available here: http://azstateparks.com/Parks/TONA/map_driving.html
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Payson, Arizona
Hwy 87 North of Payson
Payson, AZ 85547
Phone: (928) 476-4202