The Rim country is graced with striking natural wonders, impressive ancient ruins and important historic locations.
Payson's central location puts visitors within easy driving distance of lakes, streams, hiking trails, Indian ruins, cultural centers, historic buildings and other points of interest.
This summer, some parts of the Tonto National Forest may be subject to closure during fire season. Call the Payson Ranger District at (928) 474-7900 for a list of forest closures and fire restrictions.
Below, you'll find a guide to some of the area's hidden treasures. The numbered items correspond with locations highlighted on the map.
Strawberry School House
The restored log schoolhouse is the oldest standing school in Arizona. Built in 1884, it was restored in the 1960s and has been rededicated as an historic monument and a living history museum. To visit the schoolhouse, go north on Highway 87 to Strawberry, and turn west on Fossil Creek Road (about 1.5 miles).
This local museum is in the heart of Pine, on your left as you drive north from Payson.
Natural Bridge State Park
This great bridge of travertine, arching over Pine Creek, is a natural wonder you will not want to miss. It can be reached by traveling north out of Payson on Highway 87 for about 9 miles. Turn left at the signs and follow the road down into the canyon.
Dude Fire Area
Traveling on the Control Road or the Rim Road, you will pass through the area devastated by the 1990 Dude Fire. The Tonto National Forest Ranger Station in Payson can supply you with a map for a self-guided auto tour and the story of the fire.
Take Highway 87 north from Payson to Houston Mesa Road and turn east. The parking lot on the right is a short distance beyond the Mesa del Caballo subdivision just off the paved road. Picnic tables, ramadas and toilet facilities are provided. A self-guided tour through this ancient village site will show you how the native people lived here between AD 1000 and 1250. The site has been excavated by archaeologists from Arizona State University, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. (Elevation, 5,240 feet.)
Payson Pioneer Cemetery
The cemetery was begun in 1882 with the burial of two members of the Meadows family who were killed by Apaches. Much of the local history is represented by the pioneer families buried here. In the springtime, the cemetery is ablaze with wild flowers. Follow Main Street west past Green Valley Park to the Payson Golf Course. Turn right beyond the club house and follow South Vista Road through the golf course. You will see the Pioneer Cemetery ahead on your right at the intersection of South Vista Road and Mesa Road.
Rim Country Museum
The museum, which is housed in Payson's 1906 Forest Service ranger station and a replica of an historic local hotel, contains an extensive collection of artifacts and memorabilia, telling the history of the Rim country. The museum has a bookstore and gift shop and guided archive searches are available by appointment. Visit the museum at 700 Green Valley Parkway, telephone 474-3483.
Apache Trail Loop
This trip will encompass so much that speaks of Arizona -- its beauty and its history. Begin from Payson by taking Highway 87 south to Highway 188.
You will travel through the ranching country of Tonto Basin, paralleling Tonto Creek until it is swallowed up by Roosevelt Lake. Crossing the bridge at Roosevelt Dam, you will intersect State Route 88. This is the northern end of the Apache Trail, named for the many Indian trails that once made their way through the Superstition Wilderness.
With the building of the reclamation dam, 1903-1910, a supply road was developed. The road soon became the main route between Payson and Phoenix for wagon and mule trains, and later automobiles. The road is gravel, but well maintained.
The 45-mile Apache Trail will take you into Apache Junction. En route, you will enjoy unsurpassed desert-mountain scenery, a series of lakes along the Salt River and quaint stops for gas or food.
Mogollon Rim Road loop
Do you want to experience the ponderosa pine forest at its best, and see forever from the top of the Rim? This is the day trip to take. Drive north on Highway 87 through Pine and Strawberry to the top of the Rim. Continue past the Camp Verde turnoff (Highway 260) a few miles to Forest Road 300 on your right.
Drive east to the end of this well-maintained gravel road, until you reconnect with Highway 260. En route, you will find picnic grounds, the Crook Military Road (which plays tag with your road), numerous views from the edge of the Rim, a monument to the Battle of Big Dry Wash (Arizona's last major battle of the Indian War), isolated graves of pioneers, wildlife and magnificent forest, by-ways to Rim lakes and trails to hike.
Turning right onto Highway 260, you can drive down the Rim and back to Payson. The trip is 100 miles in length.
The infamous guerrilla war between the Tewksburys and Grahams and those loyal to them was centered in Pleasant Valley. The cemetery and various historic structures remind visitors of these events. Tucked away from the outside world, this valley can be approached from one of two directions, or a long day's loop trip can be made.
Go east on Highway 260 to the Young Road on top of the Rim. Turn right, and follow this gravel road about 30 miles down the Rim into Pleasant Valley. Enjoy the village of Young and continue south on the Young Highway (State Route 288) to Highway 88 at Roosevelt Lake.
After crossing the dam, you will be on Highway 188, which will return you through Tonto Basin to Payson.
This trip is worth a day, as you explore the Tonto Basin, the Tonto National Monument, the many campgrounds and recreational facilities on Roosevelt Lake, and the mighty dam built here at the confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River.
Note the monument to Al Sieber, chief of Indian scouts, at the point he was killed while working with his scouts on the construction of this road.
If fishing is your thing, go prepared. If you are interested in pioneer cemeteries, seek out Windy Hill Cemetery near the east end of the lake.
Built between 1905 and 1911, this was the first of the great reclamation projects in the West. It was promoted by Teddy Roosevelt, who dedicated it after his presidency, in 1911. Many local settlers and native Americans worked on it and the roads leading to it. Follow Highway 87 south from Payson, then left on Highway 188 through Tonto Basin to the dam.
Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery
Take Highway 260 east out of Payson to Kohl's Ranch. Just beyond the resort, turn left on the paved Forest Road 289. Follow Tonto Creek to the end of the road. At the hatchery, a self-guided tour will show you how the fish are raised, and you can offer the food provided to the huge "lunkers" in the open pool. A museum will instruct you about the work of the hatchery. If you plan to fish, Tonto Creek and its tributary Horton Creek will occupy much of your day.
In the Rim country, there are lakes to fish in three national forests and the town of Payson. The Green Valley Lakes in Payson, which are at the west end of Main Street, are stocked with trout. To fish, you must have an Urban Fishing License. A state license is not required. These can be obtained wherever fishing supplies are sold.
In the Tonto Forest, you will want to visit Roosevelt Lake. The Rim lakes, found in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, can be reached by taking Highway 260 east out of Payson.
Stop at the visitors center on top of the Rim (Fulton Point) for a map and guidance to Woods Canyon, Willow Springs, Bear Canyon, Knoll and Black Canyon Lake. All can be easily reached from Payson.
Those closest to Payson include Chase Creek and Dude Creek, both of which require hiking in to where the water flows. The East Verde River and Tonto Creek are major sites, and at Horton Creek you will want to hike toward its springs.
There are numerous streams that flow out from under the Mogollon Rim. Some of them are stocked regularly, and others simply hold a surprise for you -- trout hatched and raised in their hidden pools. An inquiry at the Tonto National Forest Ranger Station in Payson is a must before you decide which one to try.
This old pioneer trail linked the many canyons under the Rim, and enabled settlers to communicate with one another. It snakes along under the Rim, up and down many canyons and through forests, between Pine on the west and the 260 Trailhead on the east. Its total length of 51 miles may be hiked in small segments, and numerous other trails lead off from it. Obtain a map from the Forest Service. (Elevation from 6,000 to 7,000 feet.)
Railroad Tunnel to Nowhere
Take Forest Road 300 and stop at the head of the East Verde River. A monument to the Battle of Big Dry Wash is there to mark the spot, along with a sign pointing to General Springs. This is a difficult hike.
Follow the switchback trail down into the canyon, and the tunnel is hidden up to your left in a side canyon. It was drilled in an attempt to bring a railroad train over the Rim in 1883.