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Tonto Natural Bridge, Payson, Arizona

Updated on January 30, 2016

How are Natural Bridges Formed?

It took, literally, billions of years. In fact, 1.73 billion years ago, Payson, Arizona was "ocean front" property! For the next several billions of years, it alternated between sea life and volcanic eruptions. While millions of years of geologic study are missing, it is known that new continents moved in and dinosaurs roamed the area. Cut to only a few million years ago and see how the bridge was formed in this great pictorial explanation. Check out The Arizona State Park website, Geology of the Bridge.

What is the Natural Bridge?

It is a natural bridge that has been thousands of years in the making. It is believed to be the largest travertine bridge in the world standing at 183 feet high over a 400 foot tunnel that is 150 feet at its widest. It is an overwhelmingly awesome sight, incredible to imagine how it came to be!

Award Winning Park!

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has won three "Best of Rim Country" awards. They are:

  • Best Historic Site
  • Best Place to Visit
  • Best Day Trip

A view of the bridge from above.
A view of the bridge from above. | Source

Location, location, location.

The Tonto Natural Bridge is located between the towns of Payson and Pine. It is a little under two hours from Phoenix and the same distance from Flagstaff. It is on Highway 87. If you happen to be following the Historic Route 66 trail, it is only a couple of hours away and a very worthy stop!

tonto natural bridge, Payson Az:
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Tonto National Forest, Hwy 87 North of Payson, Payson, AZ 85547, US

get directions

To read about more this and other Natural Rock Formations

Park amenities

The park can easily be done in a couple of hours or you can spend the day there with beautiful picnic areas and various scenic views of the bridge and waterfall. There are several different trails. Most of the trails are rated moderate to difficult because of the steepness. They can be tricky to maneuver. The park is open year round with fairly mild weather. If you are not up to the hike, you should still go for a visit. There are many viewing spots on a flat level with paved paths that are stroller, walker and wheelchair friendly.

Average Daily Tempurature and Precipitation

Daily Averages
Temp. High
2 inches
.66 inches
2 inches
1.8 inches
While I missed the descent to the bridge, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the waterfall up close and personal!
While I missed the descent to the bridge, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the waterfall up close and personal! | Source

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is opened 7 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm. The last hikes down to the bridge are at 4. This gives ample time to hike down, look around, get some pictures and climb back up again, There is a 2200 foot descent, so be prepared. It is also important to wear the right shoes because the trails can be slick and the steps uneven.

The spectacular waterfall.
The spectacular waterfall. | Source
There are beautiful sights no matter which direction you look!
There are beautiful sights no matter which direction you look! | Source

Hiking Trails.

There are four different trails at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park:

  • The Gowan Trail is about 2200 feet long. It takes you down to an observation deck on the creek bottom. It takes about an hour.
  • The Pine Creek Trail is about 1/2 mile long in the undeveloped creek bottom. It takes about an hour.
  • The Anna Mae Trail is about 500 feet long and leads to the Pine Creek Trail and the Natural Bridge. It takes about an hour.
  • The Waterfall Trail is about 300 feet long ending at waterfall cave. It takes about 20 minutes.

All the trails are strenuous and proper hiking shoes are recommended.

Park Fees and Amenities

In addition to the trails and viewing areas, the park boasts a visitors center that houses a museum and gift shop. It is a warm and lovely building, rich in history with friendly volunteers who can give you tips on the area. The gift shop also sells drinks, snacks and walking sticks.

The park is open seven days a week. The entrance fee is $5 for adults, $2 for children 7-13 and free for children 6 years and under.

There is an ample parking lot with spectacular views.

Payson, Az

The town of Payson is nestled between two majestic mountain ranges in the Mogollon Rim. It is a quiet, naturally beautiful town, lined with trademark, Arizonan saguaro cacti. Payson is a friendly community. Residents like to brag that they are one of only three pure air ozone belts in the world! The proximity to the Tonto National Forest is one of its major attractions and the mild weather allows for many outdoor activities, including:

Hunting, fishing, camping and hiking, as well as cross country skiing in the winter.

The town hosts the world's oldest continuous rodeo along with many other museums, events and attractions. And at an elevation of 5000 feet, you can imagine how amazing the star gazing can be!

There are first rate, modern accommodations and the town is convenient to the Natural Bridge!

Exploring the Back Roads

For more articles like this, please check out the following link. This is a series initiated by Billybuc and contributed to by many hub authors!

Exploring the Back Roads of Washington State

and, please check out sallybea and read her amazing hub:

Exploring the Back Roads of Paris and a French Market: Marche Pyrenees.

And don't forget to see Tillsontitan with Exploring the Back Roads of New York State: A Quick Visit to Rosendale


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