Great AZ day trips: The Tonto Natural Bridge

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PAYSON, Ariz. -- The Grand Canyon or Sedona often come to mind when thinking of Arizona's natural beauty. However, views of and around the Tonto Natural Bridge will also take your breath away.

Just after you turn off the Beeline Highway, the road to the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a steep descent into Pine Creek Canyon.  And while the scenic drive down to the park is spectacular, it is really only a taste of the beauty below that's to come.

Park manager Steve Jakubowski served as our guide. He says the Tonto Natural Bridge hike starts at the top, and is less than a quarter of a mile. But that should not fool park visitors.

“It doesn't sound like it is very long.  But it's fairly steep, 1,100 feet, a lot of steps involved,” warns Jakubowski. “It is always a good idea to bring plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen. The right shoes are always a good thing to have.”

Once you reach the bottom, the payoff is just on the other side of a pedestrian bridge.

“The Tonto Natural Bridge is believed to be the world's largest travertine bridge of its type, formed over millions and millions of years,” explains Jakubowski.

Pine Creek runs through the natural bridge.  Spring water rains down on the rocks below. Mother Nature's soothing sounds will transport you to another place.

Pam Dorrell and her husband say they love to visit this state park. “You hear the running water, and it's just so green, and peaceful, and it's just so serene.”

Besides relaxing, hiking into, and through the bridge is a popular activity. Visitors can climb over the rocks, to the pools under the bridge, or choose to take the longer hike to the other side of the Bridge.  However, some spots involve climbing up and over large boulders, some of which can be smooth and slippery.

Jakubowski says markers have been strategically placed to help hikers find their way along the bridge and along Pine Creek.  But do not expect to find a designated solid path through the Bridge opening.

"We want it to be more of a wilderness experience, where you've got to do a little bit of route-finding yourself.  It really is pretty spectacular. It's one of these sites where it's a hidden jewel."

Directions to the Tonto Natural Bridge:  Head north on the AZ-87 (Beeline Highway) to Payson.  Continue on the AZ-87 through Payson.  Look for the sign for the turn off to the Tonto Natural Bridge 8 – 10 miles north of Payson, on the left.  Turn left onto Nf-583.  Continue to the bottom of Pine Creek Canyon and park entrance.