In my first post in the Hiking Arizona series I provided suggestions and tips for how to get started hiking. Today’s post will be about hiking the Tonto Natural Bridge. I wrote a blog post when I visited here last in 2010. At that time I hiked the Gowan Loop Trail only. Today’s post will be a more in-depth description of my most recent trip and the trails I took this time.
A few weeks ago I signed up to hike the Tonto Natural Bridge with the Trail Mix Meet Up Hiking Group. I met the group at the designated carpool location; Target in Fountain Hills. From there we took the 87N thru the town of Payson, drove another 8.5 miles, made a left onto Nf-583 then drove approximately 1.8 miles to the entrance to the Park.Upon arriving at the park we were instructed to enter the lodge and go to the Park office to see the Park Ranger to pay the admission fee. Admission is $5 per adult, NOT per car, to enter the park. After paying the admission fee we drove down to the main parking area.
We started by walking over to ViewPoint #1 then we walked to enter the Waterfall Trail. Next we went to the top of Pine Creek Trail. Starting from the top follow the arrows on the rocks along the trail. You will hike thru a tunnel, across a narrow ledge, under the bridge with water falling on you (the rocks are very slippery around the water), ending at the Pine Creek natural area looking out to the observation deck. From the natural area at the bottom of this trail you can either; return the way you came on the Pine Creek Trail, go back up the Pine Creek Trail and exit using the Anna Mae Trail like most of the group I was with did, or continued across the creek to the observation deck at the bottom of the bridge and return up to the top parking lot/picnic area on the Gowan Trail as I did. After a picnic lunch we walked over to Viewpoints #3 and #4 then hiked down the Gowan Trail with the others that did not come out that way so they could see it.
There are 4 different trails at the park. None of the trails are long but all of them are steep and considered strenuous. If you do not want to walk/hike any of the trails there are 4 viewpoints. All of the viewpoints are at parking lot level.
Trail #1: The Waterfall Trail. This trail is approximately 300 feet (or .06 miles) one way ending at the waterfall cave. The trail starts out as a steep dirt path then becomes a set of steep uneven stairs. At the bottom the water falls in a steady stream, cascading off of moss covered rocks, peeking past the waterfall you can see the wet cool cave. Be careful at the bottom because it can be slippery as well. Return the way you came.
Trail #2: The Pine Creek Trail. This is the most challenging trail at the bridge. It is an approximately 1/2 – 3/4 miles one way (400 feet developed – undeveloped at the creek bottom) boulder hop/rock climbing trail that ends at the Pine Creek natural area. If you are physically up to it, trust me, it is well worth the hike. The views are spectacular!
Trail #3: The Anna Mae Trail. This trail is approximately 500 feet (or .09 miles) one way. The Anna Mae Trail is a steep dirt path that winds down and leads to the Pine Creek Trail and the waterfall under the Natural Bridge. I did not hike this trail so no pictures.
Trail #4 The Gowan Trail Loop. This is the most popular trail. This trail is approximately 2200 feet long (or .41 miles). The trail descends gently then begins a series of roughly 80 uneven stairs down to a bridge that crosses over the Pine Creek ending at the Observation Deck at the bottom of the bridge. From here you can look up 183 feet and see the water falling from the top of the bridge. A truly magnificent view! Return the way you came.
No pets or glass containers are allowed on any of the trails. There are public restrooms at the Pine Creek and Waterfall Trail. Hiking shoes are recommended for all of the trails. Bring drinking water with you.
Click here for the Natural Bridge State Park site map.
Note: This entry is cross posted on Phoenix NE Valley: Real Estate, Lifestyle & Living