The Payson area and surrounding Tonto National Forest holds arguably some of the best hikes in all of Arizona.
To take it a step further the area actually as two of best day hikes in all of Arizona! Not only that, it might have the most waterfall and stream hikes in Arizona for people who just want a day-hike.
Nestled in the heart of the Tonto National Forest, Payson, AZ, is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
With its breathtaking landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and a myriad of hiking trails, Payson offers an idyllic escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Beyond its incredible hiking trails, Payson itself is a beautiful place that exudes a charming small-town atmosphere.
Surrounded by towering mountains, pristine lakes, and sprawling forests, the town offers a tranquil environment that invites relaxation and exploration.
Visitors can enjoy fishing in nearby lakes, explore historic sites, and indulge in some quaint local bars and restaurants.
In this article, I’ll dive into the beauty surrounding Payson, waterfalls, springs, caves, some great watering holes and explore the best hikes in the area.
I would stay at least one night in Payson if you can, or even two, so that you can experience 2-3 of these amazing spots!
Bob Bear Trail (formerly Fossil Springs Trail)
This is my arguably the best day hike in all of Arizona.
Imagine a place that offers stunning valley views, gorgeous springs, majestic turquoise water, large waterfall, a grotto and then a swim-in cave!
There is also the incredible toilet-bowl that you jump into a frightening whirlpool and swim down and out a 4×4 opening at the bottom to get out to the pool on the other side of the rocks.
The toilet bowl has been shut off from entering now as it truly is quite dangerous but when it was something you could do… wow, what a unique addition to one of the best places in Arizona.
The hike is difficult and for most of the year you do need to get a permit far in advance as it books up quickly.
As you get to the bottom of the valley there is a fork in the road with a sign mentioning the springs. Definitely go check those out for at least 30 minutes as they are beautiful as well.
If you want a full break-down of the hike with tips, guide & things not to miss, check out our full article by clicking here on Bob Bear Trail.
West Clear Creek To Pool Grande & Hanging Springs
This is my second favorite day hike in Arizona and almost is #1… honestly I go back and forth as it is amazing as well.
The entrance to this portion of the hike is tough to find so definitely see our full guide here to get to the proper entrance.
Hiking down into the creek is pretty tough up and down so it does make this hike more on the difficult side.
However, once you are down there… stunning. Miles of the gorgeous blue creek with pools all along the hike to stop and have a swim in or just marvel at.
After every turn there is a new view that will take your breath away. You can walk forever down the creek and never get bored.
If you want to some off-the-beaten-path camping then this is one of the best places in the state as well if you want to backpack in. For the full West Clear Creek guide see our article here.
Water Wheel Falls
Another amazing waterfall hike within 30 minutes of Payson is Water Wheel Falls.
This hike is extremely popular due to its easy access and the hike itself isn’t very difficult. While there is a little rock hopping, overall the hike is easy or moderate.
If you aren’t a huge hiker and just want something more simple then definitely check this pretty area out.
What is great about Water Wheel Falls is there is so much to see if you take your time and adventure around. Most people just put their head down and get to the main falls area as fast as they can.
Take your time, go off the path to the right and see more falls, or when there is the large fork, go to the left to see some other falls and streams, vs. instantly right to Water Wheel.
Or on your way back, definitely check out the other side as it has some cool sites in its own right.
Another lesser known gem near Payson is this incredible hike where you end at some beautiful springs.
To see the most beauty on this hike, on the way to the springs, opt to hike along the creek as much as you can vs. up on the trail where you are pretty much just in the forest with no major sites.
If you go up the creek you will come across little pools, streams, log crossings and it is such a great adventure along the way!
As you get closer to the main springs make sure to check out any creek areas as there are other beautiful springs along the way as well.
There are two springs once you get to the top so be sure to check those out as well as follow the creek down to see more pretty exquisite sites.
See the full Horton Springs article by clicking here to get all info.
Rim Lakes Vista Overlook Trail
If you want something extremely easy with stunning views than you will want to see Rim Lakes Vista Overlook.
Here you can stand on the edge of the rim with cliffs giving you views as far as the eye can see.
This paved path is accessible for everyone and great for a stroll as long or as short as you want. It goes 3.5 miles one way and you can do it all or just some.
There are also some of the better campgrounds and lakes in this area as well! It is easy to find vie Google Maps and just a short drive outside of the town of Payson.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
No visit to Payson is complete without exploring the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
This park features the world’s largest natural travertine bridge, spanning 183 feet high and 400 feet long.
This is another easy hike that works for people of all ages and abilities. There are multiple trails whether you want to go for a longer hike into the stunning cave or just something short for a better view down below.
The park offers several hiking trails that allow you to witness the sheer magnificence of the bridge up close. As you wander through the park, you’ll encounter lush greenery, vibrant wildflowers, and stunning geological formations.
For the full article click here.
Payson, Arizona, is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering an array of stunning hiking trails amidst breathtaking natural landscapes.
Whether you seek a leisurely stroll through a serene forest or a challenging trek with awe-inspiring vistas, Payson has something for everyone.
Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature’s splendor and discover the beauty that awaits in this picturesque town nestled within the Tonto National Forest.