To escape the heat, my brother and I drove up to higher altitudes. One of the closest places to go is Payson Arizona. It is located right along the western side of the Tonto National Forest and the climate is quite a bit different from the Phoenix area.
Sitting at 5000 feet, the temperature up there was definitely cooler... approximately 20 degrees cooler. It was still sunny and pretty intense as far as the sun goes.
Unfortunately for us, most of the trails up there were outright closed. In fact, we couldn't find a single one to do. Each of the trail head's parking lots were taped off with a sign saying no hiking and that it was closed. It was due to a fire hazard as the area hasn't seen rain in a while and it was set to go.
We drove around in search of a trail to no avail. I was starting to wonder if my 80 minute drive up there was for naught.
Luckily we spotted the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and opted to check it out.
Entry is $7 for adults and it was pretty easy to pay and find a place to park . Due to all the trails being closed, the place was packed. Also, it was loaded with kids and families. So if you are looking for a quiet place to hike, this isn't likely to be a good spot.
The park does have plenty of picnic spots and bathroom facilities. They had a gift shop as well and is only a few minutes outside of town.
The park revolves around a natural bridge or cave that was formed by water running below it. There are only a few trails here and most are pretty short. The simplest one to view the natural bridge is the Gowan Trail. It is well maintained and not difficult -- although climbing back up is a workout. The Anna Mae Trail trail also leads to the opposite side of the bridge, but is more difficult and less even. There is yet one final trail that is more like a live game of Twister -- it is about half a mile long and involves a lot of boulder scrambling. There are some pools of murky water to check out and some rock formations. I expected the trail to go a bit more but that was it. Also be sure you are fit and are wearing good shoes. A lot of the rocks are slippery and uneven. One slip and minimally you'll wind up with a bruise -- at worst a lot more serious.
Overall, expect to spend a few hours here. My brother and I both enjoyed it and would recommend it as a family get away for an afternoon.
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