Sleeping Under The Stars


What better way to escape the summer heat than relaxing under the shade of pine trees or beneath a clear, starry night's sky in one of Rim country's campgrounds.

Visitors who prefer to stay on the edge of Payson can stay at the Houston Mesa campground and horse camp off Highway 87, north of town. The site offers the feel of being in the wilderness while being within the town limits.


There are countless places throughout the Rim country where you can pull over and pitch a tent. Check with the Payson Ranger District for guidelines and the latest fire restrictions.

To access the Houston Mesa campground, turn east on Forest Service Road 199 (Houston Mesa Road). The campground will be on your immediate left, and the horse camp is directly across the road. Both sites are developed and equipped with coin-operated shower facilities, tables, grills, rest rooms and a dump station for RVs.

The campground also has a self-guided nature trail and interpretive programs are presented in the amphitheater on weekends during the peak season.

Other more primitive camping areas can be found farther down Houston Mesa Road along the East Verde River. The Water Wheel and Second Crossing campgrounds have no facilities and no fees. Campers are asked to pack out more than they pack in.

Flowing Springs campground, also along the East Verde, is off Forest Road 272 off Highway 87 heading north of Houston Mesa Road. This, too, is considered a primitive campgound and has no facilities.

If higher elevations are appealing, a drive up Highway 260 offers several camping spots in the pines.

Among the most popular are the upper and lower Tonto Creek campgrounds, 17 miles east of Payson off Forest Road 289 near Kohl's Ranch. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, both campgrounds have most of the amenities to make campers comfortable, and the cost is $5 a night.

Hikers can catch the Highline, Horton Creek and Derrick trails close by or stop in at Kohl's Ranch for a horseback ride.

Tackle, snacks and other supplies are near, with the Christopher Creek store just up the highway.

Those who want a night off from cooking can get a hearty meal at Kohl's Ranch, Creekside Steak House or Landmark restaurants.

Another popular campground off Highway 260 is the Ponderosa site, about 15 miles east of Payson. The fee is $12 per night, with a seven-day stay limit.

Less than an hour south of Payson on Highway 188 is Roosevelt Lake which offers several camping options and some great fishing as well.

Cholla Campground is the largest solar-powered campground in the nation and has 206 sites to choose from. With running water, fire rings, showers and toilets, the campground makes life convenient. Campground fees are $10 per night. For information on the many camping areas near the lake, visit the Roosevelt Lake Visitors Center, located 15 miles past Tonto Basin on Highway 188.

For a complete list of Rim country campgounds, visit the Payson Ranger District Office at 1009 E. Highway 260.

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