Explore natural wonders and historic landmarks
Payson's a great place to relax, but there's more to do in this small town than watch the clouds blow by. Among the attractions nearby are:
Green Valley Park
This 32-acre town park includes three lakes, four ramadas, a children's playground, 17 acres of turf and four miles of walking paths. The Arizona Game and Fish Department regularly stocks the lakes with trout and bluegill. This quiet, scenic spot at the end of West Main Street is ideal for fishing, picnicking, walking, running, playing or just lying in the sun.
Rim Country Museum
The museum, at 700 E. Green Valley Parkway, brings the past to life with lively displays and artifacts.
Colorful stories about the people, places, industries and events that shaped the history of the Rim country are told with vintage photographs, rare pottery, cowboy saddles, and ranching and farming tools.
Permanent exhibits highlight bootlegging, logging, the Tonto Apaches, the U.S. Cavalry, the U.S. Forest Service, blacksmithing and ranching all major influences on the area. A temporary exhibit for the summer features Roosevelt Dam, a pictorial overview of the first 50 years.
The exhibit hall itself, which was built on the site of Payson's first ranger station, is a replica of the historic Herron Hotel, which burned to the ground on Main Street in 1918.
The museum is operated by the Northern Gila County Historical Society. A guest speaker is featured the fourth Monday of every month at 9 a.m. at the society's regular meeting, which is open to the public.
The museum is open from noon to 4 p.m Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $3 for adults, $2.50 for those 55 and older, and $2 for children 12-17. Children under 12 are admitted free. The gift shop includes a bookstore that is well stocked with titles of local interest.
Just five miles northeast of Payson, visitors can explore the prehistoric past at Shoofly Village Ruins, an archeological park off Houston Mesa Road.
The 79-room complex was occupied between A.D. 850 and 1260 by a tribe with cultural ties to the Hohokam and Salado people.
The settlement contained a two-story pueblo, oval-shaped houses, separate square buildings and an outer compound wall. All that remains of the village are rock mounds, a four-foot high corner wall and broken pottery. The compound wall is visible on the surface of the ground. Signs along the barrier-free trail that winds through the park display diagrams, drawings and explanations about the intriguing culture that built the compound. Brochures also are available on site. The park is open from sunrise to sunset and there is no admission charge.
The oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona can be found in the small hamlet of Strawberry, about 20 miles north of Payson. The one-room school was built in 1885 with huge, hand-squared pine logs.
Today, it has been fully restored and equipped with period desks, chalk boards and school books, giving visitors the feeling that they've stepped back in time.
The schoolhouse, located on Fossil Creek Road, about 1.5 miles west of Highway 87 in Strawberry, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays between the months of May and October.
The Pine Museum features displays and artifacts that date back to the 1800s when pioneers first settled the small mountain villages of Pine and Strawberry.
Located in the Pine Community Center, the museum is housed in one of the historical buildings originally used as a schoolhouse in the 1900s. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 2 p.m. Sundays. Pine is 17 miles north of Payson on Highway 87, and the Community Center is on the west side of the highway in the middle of town.
Tonto Natural Bridge Park
The world's largest natural travertine bridge spans Pine Creek just 10 miles north of Payson in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The 183-foot-high bridge is 150 feet wide inside, and shelters a 400-foot-long tunnel. The bridge is open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until Memorial Day weekend and then is open until 7 p.m. through Labor Day weekend. Admission is $5 per vehicle. Two main trails lead to and from the bridge. All are steep and strenuous so visitors are encouraged to wear sturdy shoes and bring drinking water. For more information, call (520) 476-4202 or (520) 476-2261.
Tonto Fish Hatchery
The Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, raises hundreds of thousands of rainbow, brown and brook trout each year to stock the streams around Arizona.
The fish nursery houses thousands of trout in all stages of life, from egg to sac fry, to fingerling to adult. Visitors can take a self-guided tour that explains the hatchery process between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., except on holidays. Admission is free. Bring quarters for feeding machines to feed the big fish.
To visit the hatchery, take Highway 260 east to Forest Road 289 (a mile past Kohl's Ranch). The hatchery is at the end of a scenic, four-mile drive to the base of the Mogollon Rim. For more information, call the hatchery at 478-4200.
Tunnel to Nowhere
In the late 1880s, Chicago attorney James Eddy set out to build a statewide railroad from Mexico to Utah. The only thing standing in his way was the towering Mogollon Rim.
Not easily discouraged, Eddy hired a crew of men to build a railroad tunnel through the rocky ridge. The crew blasted its way 70 feet into the Rim before Eddy's money ran out, forcing him to abandon his dream.
To hike to the Tunnel to Nowhere, take Forest Road No. 300 to the Washington Park Trailhead. It is 12.2 miles east from Highway 87 and 31.1 miles west from Highway 260, and you will find a monument commemorating the Battle of Big Dry Wash. Follow Colonel Devin Trail No. 290. It is a strenuous one. If you go, wear sturdy, comfortable hiking boots, carry plenty of water, and allow yourself two to four hours for the round-trip.
Dude Fire Auto Trail
The Dude Fire, sparked in 1990 by a lightning strike near Dude Creek northeast of Payson, burned 24,000 acres of land, destroyed 63 homes and killed six firefighters.
Today, nearly 10 years later, the Dude fire area serves as a reminder of the unrelenting power of nature, while the amazing regeneration of the forest proves its resiliency.
To begin the hour-long car tour, take Highway 260 east out of Payson 15 miles to Forest Road No. 64 (Control Road). After about four miles, turn right on Forest Road No. 29. This road is not recommended for low-clearance vehicles. More information on the Dude Fire is available at the Payson Ranger Station on Highway 260, just east of Payson. For more information, call (520) 474-7900.