As the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park becomes an increasingly popular tourist attraction, and off-season visitors to the Rim country need to remember one thing now is the perfect time of year to visit the bridge. locals
Not only are the crowds down, Park Ranger Susannah Cernojevich said, but the temperatures are more comfortable as well. And your chances of encountering some of the park's wildlife including the herd of javelina that likes to frolic on the lodge lawn is enhanced for the very same reasons people find it an ideal time of year to be out and about.
"The park is a designated Arizona Department of Game and Fish wildlife viewing area," Cernojevich said. "There are ringtails, skunks, mountain lions, whitetails and mule deer, raccoons, squirrels and more. When the colors are changing around Pine Creek it's really beautiful, too.
"Then when the weather gets cold, icicles form underneath the bridge and along the Waterfall Trail. It can look just like 'Dr. Zhivago.'"
The park is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through March.
"We're open every day except Christmas," Cernojevich said.
Located 10 miles north of Payson on Highway 87, the park covers 160 acres in a small, picturesque valley surrounding Pine Creek. The bridge itself 183 feet high with a 400-foot tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point is thought to be the largest travertine bridge in the world.
In addition to four viewpoints and an observation deck, visitors can experience the park via three hiking trails:
Pine Creek Trail is approximately one-half-mile long and is considered "strenuous." The initial 400 feet follows developed trail, with the remainder along undeveloped creek bottom.
Waterfall Trail, where the icicles form, is approximately 300 feet long, ending at a spring-fed waterfall and fern grotto.
Gowan Loop Trail is approximately one-half-mile long, highlighted by an excellent view of the bridge from the observation deck. This trail is considered "steep and strenuous."
Park fees are $5 per vehicle with up to four persons over age 11, and $1 for each additional person over age 11, walk-ins and nonmotorized vehicles.
For more information, call the park office at (928) 476-4202 or the gift shop at (928) 476-2261.