Situated at the base of the Mogollon Rim, Christopher Creek is just outside of Payson and offers cooler temperatures in the summer and loads of outdoor adventure options with kids (in the winter, it’s typically the nearest to snow, if you’re eager to go snow hunting!).
Christopher Creek is part of the largest Ponderosa Pines forest in the world, and it’s less than 90 minutes from the East Valley!
If you’re looking for an unplugged day trip itinerary, this is for you, or if you’re looking to stay a little longer, Christopher Creek offers incredible camping (there’s a few cabins, too, and Kohl’s Ranch is here (see more about our stay there on this blog post).
Read on for a few of our most favorite day trip activities in Christopher Creek!
What to load in the car for day exploring Christopher Creek
There aren’t any restaurants here (you’ll have to go 23 miles back to Payson), so you’ll most certainly want to pack a cooler with snacks and lunches if you’re staying for the full day.
Encourage play clothes your kids can get dirty and close toed shoes for outdoor exploration.
I always keep some sand/park toys in my car for outdoor adventures like this: a toy shovel, a few buckets and other basic toys to extend play time in nature.
There are ample opportunities for kids to fish or play in the creek and lake, if you have a child’s fishing pole or water toys.
A few camping chairs or a picnic blanket for relaxing creekside (plus a good book for you mama) are helpful, too.
Tonto Fish Hatchery
Newly reopened after a two-year COVID shut down stint, the Tonto Fish Hatchery is back open to the public, and best of all, it’s a FREE attraction! They’re open 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., 363 days a year (just closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving).
Run by the U.S. Forest Service, this is where trout and other fish are raised for release into Arizona lakes and ponds for fishing and they’ve turned it into a fun family-friendly attraction!
Kids can see 12 fish raceways, plus a show pond where tiny trouts to huge fish can be observed (and fed!).
Kids can feed fish (parents, bring quarters, or at least cash–there is a change machine).
We spent about an hour here actively exploring the actual hatchery offerings.
There’s also a small visitors center with some Christopher Creek history and displays for older kids to learn about fish hatching, growing and release programs.
Next, plan time to play at the creek (no fishing allowed!). It’s near the parking lot and easy to spot. We unloaded our camping chairs and played here for about 45 minutes.
Picnic at Woods Canyon Lake
We drove a few miles to Woods Canyon Lake to picnic lakeside. Their picnic area boasts plenty of picnic tables with great views of the lake, plus clean bathrooms. While we had lunch we saw chipmunks, watched the boaters on the water and observed a few fishers catch pretty big trout!
If you’ve got older kids, this is the perfect lake for kayaking, and they do offer rentals at the marina.
We kept our picnic basic (sandwich fixings, fruit, chips and cookies) but if you’re looking for some unique picnic ideas for traveling with kids, podcast Didn’t I Just Feed You offers fun, easy and realistic inspiration.
People are often surprised we love See Canyon Trail with kids, as it’s rated as difficult.
However, if you are only going a couple miles (like us, with toddlers who can’t go very far) the first couple miles are pretty easy, and we turn around when it starts to get too challenging.
It is absolutely beautiful hiking along a river. It was a great place to picnic and hike. Almost the whole trail is completely shaded making it an even greater escape from the heat.