Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park - One of our Favorite Places!

     We can't say enough about all of us getting out to visit our wonderful state parks.  They so need all of our support, so please remember them when you are just looking for a place to visit and enjoy this summer.  
     Here is a story about one of our favorites.  If you have never been, take a picnic lunch and go - you will be glad you did!

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park - 

       A gentle waterfall slowly drops into a fern covered grotto as bright yellow columbine flowers grow among the travertine rock.  This calm, cool and lush green hiking spot could be in the Hawaiian Islands but in fact is located only two hours from the Valley at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, a short 10 miles north of Payson, Arizona.
       Tonto Natural Bridge is thought to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world.  Tucked away in a small tree-covered valley along Pine Creek, the bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. The year-round flow of Pine Creek has, over the ages, eroded a passageway through the calcium carbonate travertine resulting in the rocks above standing as a natural bridge.  In 1990 this beautiful geologic wonder became one of the 29 state parks of Arizona. 
       The natural bridge was first documented in 1877 when a Scotsman, David Gowan was fleeing from a group of Apaches.  In his flight, he discovered the large cave under the natural bridge and there he safely hid for 3 days.  When the danger had passed, he left the safety of the cave to explore the tunnel and green valley that he had accidentally stumbled upon.  He claimed the valley including the natural bridge with squatter’s rights.  In  1898 he convinced his nephew, David Goodfellow, to bring his family from Scotland and settle permanently near the natural bridge.  The family lodge that they built is now a part of the National Register of Historic Places and a modern museum and gift shop for the state park.
       Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a perfect place for a family picnic at one of the many designated spots found on the beautiful grass lawn.  Three hiking trails of different lengths and difficulty leave the picnic area and quickly take the explorer into a wonderful riparian oasis.  Good shoes and water are recommended for all the hiking trails.
       The Gowan Trail is only 1/2 mile long and quickly leads down 183 feet to Pine Creek and the large, cave opening that creates the natural bridge. Cave swallows fill the air as cave visitors explore the natural environment.
The Pine Creek Trail is the most primitive of trails and is recommended only for serious hikers.  Then there is the Waterfall Trail, 100 steps down to the paradise of a fern covered grotto with yellow columbine flowers that gives you the illusion of being in Hawaii, when in reality, you are at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in the Rim Country of Arizona.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is located 10 miles north of Payson, Arizona on Arizona Highway 87.  The GPS coordinates are N34° 19.186' W111° 27.411'.  For more information about visiting Tonto Natural Bridge State Park visit and and

The huge cave of Tonto Bridge State Park.

Long, sometime steep wooden walkway leads from the hilltop to the cave.

Another view of the cave of Tonto Bridge State Park.

Yes, you can walk into the cave and enjoy the coolness.

Visitor Center of the State Park with many picnic tables scattered around.

Hiking, great hiking trails.

Fern grotto - you will think you are in Hawaii.


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