Day Trips We Love: Tonto Natural Bridge


Tonto Natural BridgeWant to explore the largest natural travertine bridge in the world? Obviously. 

Lucky for you, it’s only about 90 minutes away, just north of Payson! 

This amazing “blink and you miss it” spot is a must-do with kids of all ages and abilities.  Read on to see why it’s one of our family favorites!



What the heck is a travertine bridge?

Glad you asked!  Without getting into too much of the science stuff (which isn’t my jam, if I’m being honest), a travertine bridge is a natural stone bridge across an empty cavern below.

There’s literally a cave under what looks to the naked eye like a park. 

It’s pretty wild, actually.  Even cooler is that you can not only walk down to the cave and explore around it, including getting a little spray from the waterfall that helped carve it out, you can climb THROUGH the cave and come out the other side. 

Before you go, read about the science behind the bridge!

The Park

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is located between Payson and Pine up the 87 highway.  The Park itself offers picnic and group gathering opportunities, but the real star of the show is the trail network that takes you around to various viewpoints of the bridge. 

The trails are not very long but several of them include steep climbing (sometimes even over boulders).  The Gowan Trail down to the creek bed under the cave and the Waterfall Trail that leads to a small natural waterfall on the other side of the park are big family favorites. 

Both of these trails are 100% doable with kids, even if you have to pack the littles in a carrier or hiking backpack. 

Bigger kids might enjoy the Pine Creek Trail which takes you through the cave and into some minor boulder-climbing. 

With our age gap siblings, we divided and conquered: the four of us went down the Gowan Trail then Dad and 8-Year-Old went through the cave and took the Pine Creek Trail in reverse while Mom and 3-Year-Old backtracked along Gowan. 

The fun part is making the experience work for you!

Important Info

Here’s the part where I give you some super helpful info to make your day more fun and less likely to include kid-meltdowns.  In no particular order……..

  • Wear real shoes. This means hiking boots or, at the very least, sturdy athletic shoes.  This applies to the whole family, too!  This isn’t the time for cute shoes or sandals of any kind.
  • Plan for weather. It’s a good 20ish degrees cooler at the park than in the Valley.  The Park’s website has a real time local weather tracker to help you plan.  Layers are helpful – you’ll warm up as you hike so don’t underestimate how warm a breezy 60 degrees can feel with some exertion. 
  • BRING WATER!!! Even if it doesn’t feel like it’ll be “hot,” you will warm up and you will get thirsty.
  • Bring a picnic lunch. The Park is in between Pine and Payson without quick access to either- it’s a good 15 minutes just to get out of park from the parking lot!  You’re going to have hungry kids no matter how well you’ve prepped snacks.  Having a picnic lunch satisfies those hunger pains quickly and keeps you on site to enjoy nature a little longer.  It’s very easy to do a “big hike” down to the cave, have lunch, then hike around the smaller trails or even take a peek at the very cute gift shop!
  • Be kind to the rangers. When we went in mid-March, there were anywhere from 400 to 1,000 visitors to the park on each weekend day (that sounds like, but doesn’t feel like a big number when you’re there, so don’t be scared of “crowds” – Sunday is a slower day if you want to really avoid a ton of people).  There were only three rangers on duty.  Yep, that’s one ranger to about 130 to maybe 330 visitors each!  Make their lives a little easier by packing your own trash on the trails back up to the top, asking for help if you think you’ll need it at the gift shop/ranger station and grabbing a map, and being wise about having things like water and basic first aid with you.
  • Leave the pups at home. I love taking my dogs on adventures, but they are not allowed on the trails at the Park which limits you and them to the “up top” area.
  • Let’s chat bathrooms for a second. The public restrooms are actually way decent so don’t stress out there. HOWEVER, there are no baby changing stations so you’ll want to plan to change diapers either at your car or down on a blanket on the lawns.
  • Enjoy Pine or Payson at the end of your day. Both towns have some fun little shops and even a couple restaurants to check out.  We ended our day with a stop to the fudge shop in Payson – everyone got some gelato and we took home some amazing homemade fudge!!

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is one of our family favorites for a quick one-day getaway that everyone can enjoy.  After you go, let us know what you love about it and what made your visit special!

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