Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, in Payson, is home to one of Arizona's most treasured spots. An enormous (largest one in the world) natural travertine bridge. It is hard to describe the magnitude of the bridge at 183 feet high and over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. You can stand on top of it, view it from above or hike to the bottom and explore under the bridge. The Tonto Natural Bridge State park is 10 miles north of Payson.
After paying the fee to get in the park we looked for a spot to picnic, there are plenty of shaded picnic tables to choose from in the meadows. The first thing I noticed about the park is how peaceful the surroundings are. While eating lunch we were able to watch the javelina's eat as well.
Viewpoints and Trails
There are four viewpoints to see at the park as well as four trails to hike. We hiked three of the trails:
- Waterfall Trail
- Anna Mae Trail
- Gowan Trail
The park is surround by national forest and all hikes lead to water, which is a treat in itself when living in the desert. Each trail has it's own beauty.
Hiking in the Park
The best part of the hike is exploring under the bridge. You cannot walk directly under the waterfall, but you can walk along the rocks to the side and then behind the waterfall.
There are pools of water and small waterfalls splashing over rocks underneath the bridge. High above you are numerous caves where back in 1877 David Gowan hid from Apaches. Later he claimed squatter rights on the land.You almost will feel like you are entering some secret place when going from the bright light outside into the filtered light which feels somewhat like exploring a cave. Under the bridge there are many pools of water.
Looking back you can see the waterfall from behind streaming down the rock and hitting the mossy boulders below. It is almost prettier from this view. You can then take the Anna Mae trail back up to the parking lot area from here.
Viewpoints 3 & 4
If you want to see the Tonto Natural Bridge with a minimal of hiking Viewpoint 3 & 4 is where you should head. The last parking lot will put you close to the trail. You will walk across a small creek, one that could be easily overlooked but take note as this same water flows down from the top of Tonto Bridge.
From this viewpoint you can view the top of Tonto Bridge and the waterfall. And if you are lucky a rainbow too! Now that you've seen the top, take the Gowan trail hike to see it up close!
Note: wear some good hiking boots and don't forget to bring bottled water.
Phone: (928) 476-4202
Address: P.O. Box 1245 Payson, AZ 85547
Directions: from Phoenix take the Beeline Hwy (State Route 87) to Payson, 10 miles north of Payson turn left on US forest 583
Adults admission $3, Kids under the age of 14 free