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Friday, August 2, 2013

The little trails at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Waterfall Trail

Hikers who visit this natural wonder on the Rim often make a beeline for the Gowan Trail.  That's not a bad plan as it is widely considered the "best" trail in the park for those looking for a challenge.  The half-mile dirt route makes a steep dip into Pine Canyon where a plank bridge leads to an observation deck at the base of the world's largest tavertine arch.  If park rangers feel conditions are safe, hikers are allowed to walk through the arch, but if water levels threaten, that's not an option---so call ahead if you're dead set on the full experience.  Although Gowan Trail is the big deal, it's a mistake to ignore the park's four other hiking trails because of their short lengths.  For instance, the Waterfall Trail is a stunning walk on a 300' staircase that hugs the canyon wall above Pine Creek with a remarkably lush wall of ferns and brambles fed by spring water trickling from the rock.  The Pine Creek Trail follows the canyon-bound water that carved the bridge culminating at a tiny swimming area and junction with the Anna Mae Trail. Finally, the paved, accessible trail that leads to four viewpoints is worth a look for the viewing scopes and interpretive signs that give deeper understanding of the park's wildlife and unique geology.
The Bridge

Gowan Trail: 0.5 mile one way
Pine Creek Trail: 0.5 mile one way
Waterfall Trail: 300' one way
Anna Mae: 500' one way
Viewpoints Trails:  0.75 mile
NOTE: some trails may be closed when water levels are high
RATING: barrier-free to difficult
ELEVATION: 4530' - 4300'
HOURS: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily
FACILITIES: restrooms, water, picnic tables, swim area, gift shop
FEE:  $5 per adult, $2 ages 7-13, Free for ages up to 6 years

From Phoenix, travel north on AZ87 to Payson.  At the AZ260/87 junction in Payson, continue 10 miles north on 87 to milepost 260 and turn left at the park sign.  Follow the winding road 5 miles downhill to the entrance.  Park in the 15 minute area, go into the gift shop to purchase your pass and then move your vehicle to any of the signed trailheads. 
INFO: Arizona State Parks, 928-476-4202

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