In the fall and until winter snow closes forest roads, camping will remain a popular Rim country outdoor adventure.
Because most campgrounds and picnic areas are less crowded than in the summer months when desert dwellers are scurrying to escape the searing heat, many prefer fall and early winter camping.
Both the Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests offer campgrounds that are open as long as the weather permits. In most, there are no fees, no services and no trash pickups. Some in the lower elevations, however, continue to offer limited services through the winter.
One of the most popular of the campsites, the Houston Mesa campground, is located just north of Payson. Completed in 1996, the campground features equestrian sites, group sites and horse and hiking trails.
Farther east on Houston Mesa Road along a 10-mile stretch of Forest Road No. 199 is a trio of campgrounds that are well used year around. Known as Waterwheel, Second Crossing and Third Crossing, the campgrounds feature riparian areas with waterfalls, wildlife and plenty of scenic views. For the hearty few, a wade in the cold stream waters can be an eye-opening experience.
About one-half mile off FR 199 on the Control Road is the Verde Glen campsite. It is also a well-used year-round picnic and camping area.
More Verde campsites can be found four miles north of Payson near the Beeline Highway and the East Verde Crossing located one-quarter mile off the Beeline on FR 622.
Those opting for camping on the east side of Payson might choose the upper Tonto Creek campground that is usually open year-round.
Located 15 miles northeast of Payson on FR 289, the campground is at an elevation of 5,500 feet. The site is open to camping, picnicking and serves as trailheads to Horton Creek and Derrick Trails.
One of the most popular developed sites is the Ponderosa Campground located 15 miles of Payson on the southside of Highway 260. The area features 16 units, and a waste-disposal facility ($5 fee) is nearby.
In the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest along the Rim Road (FR 300), campers can find the Crook and Sink Hole campgrounds that are open as long as weather permits. The Rim Road is closed every winter due to snowfall, but the dates the road shuts down are difficult to predict.
Other camping areas visitors might want to check out include Horton Creek (17 miles northeast of Payson on FR289), Flowing Springs (3 1/2miles north of Payson on Beeline and FR 272 and Christopher Creek (21 miles northeast of Payson) on 260 and FR 159).
A highly recommend visit during any Rim country camping trip is to the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery. The 50-year-old facility has been remodeled and now stocks Payson area creeks and lakes with trout. A self-guided tour will show you how the fish are raised. The hatchery is located on paved FR 289 off Highway 260 just east of Kohl's Ranch resort.
When using any campsite, remember it is the responsibility of the visitor to know and abide by the laws, rules and regulations of the national forest. Copies of the rules may be obtained at any Forest Service office.
For more information on camping or picnicking, Call the Payson Ranger Station of the Tonto National Forest at (928) 474-7900.