Louise Speaks: Today’s outing was out to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, 10 miles north of Payson. Payson is actually further away than we are to home…about 75 miles from our camp ground. Payson is actually about 100 miles north of Phoenix. That being said, it is one of the most beautiful drives in northern Arizona so definitely worth the trip. Not everyone came on this outing so we carpooled, and that made for a fun drive. We again brought a sack lunch and were going to eat at the bridge.
Tonto Natural Bridge is a natural arch. It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The area surrounding the bridge has been made into the state park. Tonto Natural Bridge itself stands over a 400-feet long and the tunnel measures 150 feet at its widest point and reaches a height of 183 feet .
This natural bridge was first documented by David Gowan, a Scotsman, in 1877 while hiding from some hostile Apache tribe members. Gowan was impressed by the location and persuaded his family to emigrate and live there. Gowan also tried to claim the land for himself under squatter’s rights. The Gowan family members lived near the bridge until 1948. Their lodge building where the Gowan family lived survives to this day and is included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Once you get to the parking lot there is a paved path to a viewpoint where you can see the face of the bridge and can see the cascading waterfall from the top. To get to the bridge there are two options, the Gowan Trail and the Pine Creek Trail. The Pine Creek Trail is a longer path alongside the west side of the creek. This leads you to a viewpoint beneath the bridge, which is a good place to appreciate the stalactite like formations that hang from beneath the bridge and adorn the west-facing canyon wall. The Gowan Trail is a route down the cliffs just below the bridge. This is quite steep and rather slippery in places but well worth the trip as it leads directly beneath the bridge, and in times of low water it is possible to walk through and link and end up at the end of the Pine Creek Trail.
I had been here many years before and the trail down was very steep and narrow. There were metal poles with a small chain to keep you from going over the edge. Today, that trail has been closed and you can’t go past the waterfall viewpoint. The Gowan Trail has now taken it’s place, and this is the trail we chose to take. Although it is still very steep, it is wider and there are man made steps periodically to make the decent easier. However coming up was very strenuous and at times going straight up. Some of the man made steps are about 8 inches high, so not a comfortable step up, but a strenuous one. There are benches along the trail to stop and rest, which I did many many times. I’m so glad we brought water as it was a hot day and a not so easy hike. But we did it and it was worth every step.
At the bottom of the trail is a wooden deck with benches where you can truly enjoy the bridge and the waterfall. On a hot day like today, the mist from the waterfall was very much appreciated. In the photo on the right, if you look above to the right you can see the waterfall viewpoint where we viewed at the beginning.
Once we arrived back to the top, there is a nice grassy area with picnic tables so we were able to have our lunch. If you’re unable to make the hike down and back, this grassy area is a nice place to wait and still enjoy the view of the mountains and trees.
On a down side, most state parks in Arizona charge you an entrance fee of $7.00 a carload but for some reason, this park charges you $7.00 a person which is pretty high for the 30 minute hike. However, because of it’s beauty and that it is the largest travertine bridge in the world, to me it’s worth $7.00 to see…but don’t bring your dog…this park is NOT dog friendly.