It is not the hardest trail you will ever take, but it could be the most scenic.
The Rim Vista Trail is about 2.5 miles long, with about a mile of it paved. but don’t be fooled by the paved part. The trail, off the Rim Road (Forest Service Road 300), hugs the edge of the Rim, providing views of geological features and mountains to the south and visibility that can stretch for almost 200 miles on a clear day.
The trail is an easy amble from its starting point just off Highway 260.
From Payson, go east on Highway 260. At the top of the Rim, turn left on FS 300 and pull into the first parking lot on the left. You can also access the trail from the second parking area a little over a mile down the road, which splits the trail.
Walking from the first parking lot takes you through a pine forest where you can marvel at the distant views, check out the twisted, wind-shaped trees, or just contemplate nature as a gentle wind blows through your hair.
Despite the nearness of the FS 300, the hike offers an eerie silence. You expect lots of traffic noise, but except for an occasional vehicle passing you on the road above, it is all about you and nature.
The route offers a number of side hikes, such as the Sinkhole Trail, which is rated difficult as it plunges down off the Rim and therefore demands a steep climb back up. The trail connects to parts of the Highline Trail. The Sinkhole Trail drops about 1,000 feet in its 2.3 miles.
The Rim Vista Trail provides constant views from the Mogollon Rim and for sunset watchers and photographers, the trail offers a beautiful setting.
The trail runs along the edge of the cliff that marks the leading edge of the Colorado Plateau, which runs through the middle of Arizona. The trail offers the best access to this stirring view, complete with a wonderful foreground of sandstone outcroppings. Hikers on various Web sites have listed this easy trail as one of the best scenic hikes in Arizona.
The trail offers the respite of several benches, which provide a place to rest and enjoy the surroundings. The trail is handicap-accessible from the second parking lot. If you walk from the first parking lot to the end of the trail and back, expect to spend one to two hours on the trail - depending on how much oohing and ahhing about the scenery you will do.
Take Highway 260 from Payson for 30 miles to FS 300.
Turn left on the Rim Road and drive to the first parking lot on the left.
Take the trail on the far end of the parking lot.
The trail is about 2.5 miles of easy walking.
You need not venture far afield - even if it is only 30 miles away - for good hiking. With the Payson Area Trails System, you can find a number of different hikes suitable for all skill levels around Payson. The following is the PATS information found on the town Web site.
American Gulch Trail
Note: This is a two section trail; the section do not yet connect. Approval from the Forest Service is needed to make a connector trail.
American Gulch Trail - South Section
1.1 miles north on USFS Road 475 until proposed connector route, which will eventually lead to American Gulch Trail - North Section. Follow the PATS signs. Level of Difficulty - Moderate
GPS Coordinates - N 34 degrees 15.72 min.; W 111 degrees 15.21 min.
The American Gulch Trail begins approximately 2.6 miles west of the Highway 87 and Main Street intersection. Main Street turns into Country Club Drive and then into Doll Baby Ranch Road, as you head west. After passing the Northern Gila County Sanitation District site, you will continue on Doll Baby Ranch Road until you see a widened dirt parking area immediately west of a cattle guard. This area can be used for parking. The trail begins on the north side of Doll Baby Ranch Road, right after the cattle guard.
This is a PATS trail/USFS road that currently does not prohibit motorized vehicles, so expect to see all trail-user types on this section. This trail does not yet connect with the North Section of the American Gulch Trail, but a future connection will be made.
American Gulch Trail - North Section
0.4 miles from the Graff Trailhead on USFS Road 508 until fence-line. Follow the PATS signs. Level of Difficulty - Easy
GPS Coordinates - N 34 degrees 16.21 min.; W 111 degrees 15.40 min.
The North Section begins at the end of Graff Road in NW Payson, where the trail-user will see a Graff Trailhead sign next to a cattle guard at the end of Graff Road, which is a residential street.
After passing over the cattle guard, the trail-user is on USFS land.This section provides a horse hitching post and ample area to park, including horse trailers. The North Section follows an existing USFS Road #508, and the trail user will see USFS Road #67 head off to the north. Continuing on FR #508, the trail user will eventually dead-end at a gravel pit after 0.5 miles from the Graff Trailhead. This trail section does not yet connect with the South Section of the American Gulch Trail, but a future connection will be made.
From 87 N (Beeline Highway) to American Gulch Trail - South Section
From the Highway 87 & Main Street intersection in Payson, turn left (west) and follow Main Street down past Green Valley Park and the Payson Golf Course for approximately 3.6 miles. Main Street turns into Country Club Drive and then into Doll Baby Ranch Road. The trail access will be on your right (north) past the first cattle guard. Parking is available in a small widened area on the south side of the dirt road.
From 87 N (Beeline Highway) to American Gulch Trail - North Section
From Highway 87 and Highway 260 intersection in Payson, continue heading north through two more stoplights to Airport Road. Turn left (west) and head approximately 2.8 miles (passing the Payson Airport and entering a residential area) until the road dead-ends at Whitehouse Road. Turn right (north) and go to your second road on your left, which is Graff Road. Turn left (west) until you see the Graff Trailhead sign.
Boulders Loop Trail/Cypress Trail
2.4 miles around entire Loop
Level of Difficulty - Moderate
The Boulders Loop Trailhead is located 3.8 miles down Granite Dells Road, which initially is paved and then becomes USFS road #435. The Trailhead begins at the end of the road, which is a turn-around that provides adequate parking for multiple cars and trailers. An existing USFS Trailhead sign provides general trail information. A future PATS Trailhead sign will also give trail-users more specific information about the trail and its connections.
This is a PATS/USFS trail that currently is not designated a motorized route (USFS road), although occasional motorized tracks may be seen. The Boulders is extremely popular with mountain bikers due to challenging hills, rocks, and washes and gets its name because of the spectacular boulders that are scattered around the hills. Rock-climbing is also a popular activity.
2 miles from trail access off of Granite Dells Road to Boulders Loop
Level of Difficulty - Moderate
The Boulders Loop Trail can also be accessed from the Cypress Trail, which has an established trail access approximately 2.0 miles down Granite Dells Road from the Highway 260 intersection. There is no established parking area, so parking opportunities are limited. The trail will head south for 1.1 miles, intersecting with another small access point from Phoenix Street and the future Boulder Creek subdivision, then veer to the east for 0.9 miles until it intersects the Boulders Loop Trail.
From 87 N (Beeline Highway) to Boulders Trailhead
From the Highway 87 and Highway 260 intersection in Payson, turn right (east) to the intersection of Granite Dells Road and Highway 260 right after Safeway.
Granite Dells Road will be paved for 1.3 miles, then becomes USFS Road #435 for the next 2.5 miles until the Boulders Loop Trailhead.
Trailhead sign will be visible on the right as soon as you reach the turn-around area.
From 87 N (Beeline Highway) to Cypress Trail Access
From Highway 87 & Highway 260 intersection in Payson, turn right (east) and go 0.3 miles to the intersection of Granite Dells Road and Highway 260, right after Safeway.
Turn right and head east on Granite Dells Road 2.0 miles.
A USFS “TRAIL” sign will be visible on your right, and slightly further will be the Cypress Trail sign on your right (west side of Granite Dells Road).
Event Center/Gila County Trail (aka Rodeo Grounds Trail)
3.7 miles to Peach Orchard Trailhead off of Doll Baby Road
The Event Center/Gila County Trailhead, also known as the Rodeo Grounds Trail, begins 0.2 miles down Green Valley Parkway, adjacent to the SW corner of the Payson Event Center. A trailhead sign will be visible from the road and a small parking area is available that will accommodate trailers, as well.
The Event Center/Gila County Trail eventually intersects and continues on as the Peach Orchard Trail approximately 1.5 miles after the Trailhead, veering back northwest and then north until it exits at the Peach Orchard Trailhead.
Trail users who follow the Event Center/Gila County Trail all the way to the Peach Orchard Trailhead will encounter moderately difficult hiking, with periodic hills and loose rocks. Beautiful views of the Mazatzal Mountains abound and halfway on the route, the trail meanders through a riparian area and seasonal wash.
From 87 N (Beeline Highway)
Turn left (west) on Green Valley Parkway, which is the first light from the south when you enter Payson Town limits (opposite the Mazatzal Casino).
Head 0.2 miles to the west until the road ends and the trailhead sign will be on your right, adjacent to a small parking area.
The trail will be to the south of the parking area.
Houston Trail/Houston Loop Trail
4.2 miles from Horse Camp Access to the Houston Loop, exiting at Chaparral Ranch Trail Access
Level of Difficulty - Moderate
Houston Loop Trail
3.6 miles around entire Loop
Level of Difficulty - Moderate
Houston Trail: The main access to the Houston Trail begins at the Houston Mesa Trailhead, which is approximately 1 mile east of Highway 87 on Houston Mesa Road. There are two other less-used access points for the Houston Trail: Horse Camp (for campers only), at the Chaparral Ranch Trail Access at the end of Chaparral Pines Drive. The best starting point in Payson town limits is to use the Houston Mesa Trailhead.
Houston Loop Trail: Trail users can access the Houston Loop from the Chaparral Ranch Trail Access or Mayfield Canyon Road. The entire “Loop” portion of the Houston Loop Trail provides excellent views of Payson.
From 87 N (Beeline Highway) to Houston Mesa Trailhead starting point:
From the Highway 87 and Highway 260 intersection in Payson, head north 1.7 miles to Houston Mesa Road.
Turn right (east) and proceed 0.8 miles to the signed turnoff of the trailhead on the right.
From 87 N (Beeline Highway) to Chaparral Ranch Trail Access:
From Highway 87 and Highway 260 intersection in Payson, turn right (east) and head approximately 2.4 miles to Chaparral Pines Drive.
Turn left (north) and proceed 1.2 miles until it ends at the Chaparral Ranch Trail Access.
Monument Peak Loop Trail
3 miles round trip from Granite Dells Rd access
Level of Difficulty - Easy
The Monument Peak Trail begins approximately 3.3 miles from the Highway 260/Granite Dells Road intersection.
From the Highway 87 and Highway 260 intersection, turn right (east) and head 0.3 miles to Granite Dells Road, past Safeway.Turn right and head east on Granite Dells Road for 3.3 miles until the open turn-around area for parking on the east side of Granite Dells Road.