Tucked away in the middle of the Tonto National Forest, Payson, Arizona offers you and your family the pleasures of the outdoors no matter what time of year you visit. The area is famous for its beautiful and varied rocks, and the kids will love to hunt for semi-precious stones and fossils. Accordingly, you can hike, ride your bike, sightsee, and horseback ride in the surrounding forest. Have fun at the August Doin’s Rodeo, and if you’re here in September, go to the Arizona State Championship Old Time Fiddlers Contest. Other places to visit in Payson are the Natural Bridge, the Mogollon Rim, the Rim Country Museum, and the beautiful Ellison Creek Waterfall. Those feeling lucky can partake in a bit of gambling at the Mazatzal Casino. Check out Payson vacation rentals that range from cozy residential houses to comfortable cabins with views of the mountains and the woods. Here are the most prominent points of interest in and around Payson.
Pronounced Guy SEE Lah, this little town is visited for the ruins you’ll find along Tonto Creek. Hiking to the ruins is itself an adventure, as you’ll need to cross the creek at some places and climb some hills. If you’re really brave, find the Narrows at Tonto Creek, and do a bit of cliff jumping if you’ve indulged in the sport before. Or better yet, watch someone else do it.
To experience the best of this little town, book a tour with a wilderness adventure outfit for a day or two or three of kayaking, canoeing, and climbing led by an experienced guide. You’ll not only get a workout but learn much about the plants, animals, and history of the area. When that’s over, you’ll want to head to the Bruzzi Vineyard to sample their wines or Antlers restaurant for their good, American pub food.
3. Kohls Ranch
Horse lovers will love Kohl’s Ranch for no other reason than its famous stables. You and your family not only get to ride the horses, but you travel to the nearby waterfall where you can go for a swim. Later, you can head to the Kohl’s Ranch Lodge for a casual dinner or fish in Tonto Creek, which is right behind the building.
4. Coffee Pot
This delightfully named town is a gateway to Sedona. One thing it offers that the other towns sort of don’t is the Sacred Light of Sedona, where psychics read your aura, give you a reading and commune with your guardian angels. More terrestrial pleasures include hiking the Coffee Pot Rock Trail, which affords spectacular views of the Sedona area.
Pine is the home of the Fossil Springs Trail Head, a hike along a body of perfectly clear, turquoise blue water. The hike can be a bit challenging for the novice, so obtain permits first, bring water and your own garbage bag, and make sure you and the kids are in wet wear. Another place the kids will love is the Fossil Creek Llama Ranch, where they can pet and feed the baby goats and buy some goat cheese and even goat fudge. Vacation rentals are snug cabins, condos, or chalets in the woods.
6. Tonto Basin
Bartlett Reservoir is the place in Tonto Basin for boating, jet skiing, or swimming, and BBQing on shore. The reservoir is sort of a secret, even among Arizonans, so it’s usually peaceful and relaxed. Horton Creek is also a good place for a leisurely hike. For meals, try the Butcher Hook Restaurant, which serves cheap, filling American food, or the Punkin Center restaurant, famous among locals for its green chili burritos.
7. Camp Verde
This town is home to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park, so take the kids to get up close and personal with giraffes, hyenas, snakes, and tigers. They can feed the animals, and enjoy the zip line ride. Tour the Montezuma Castle National Monument, and take a side trip to nearby Sedona. Get coffee and tea at Thanks a Latte, and have some suds at Verde Brewing Company. For dinner at a good price, take the family to Gabriela’s Taco Shop & Fresh Garden Salsa.
Named after Teddy, not Franklin, this tiny little place with a population of 28 punches above its weight with such delights as the Tonto National Monument and the Theodore Roosevelt Lake Marina. The monument is famous for its cave ruins, while the lake is good for floating about in your tube while you read a favorite book, fishing, and boating. For Mexican food, go to the Roosevelt Lake Resort. Bar 11 Ranch and Grill and Boston’s Lake House Grill specialize in American provender.
9. Happy Jack
Named for a legendary jolly lumberjack, Happy Jack is found at the edge of the Mogollon Rim, a geological feature made of limestone and sandstone. Take the family hiking, fishing, and sightseeing along this beautiful escarpment. If you’re patient, you may even get a glimpse of the Mogollon Monster, Bigfoot’s cousin.
Sometimes, a name says it all, but what makes this Arizona town so carefree? For one thing, you can spend a nice morning or afternoon on the links at the Boulders Resort Golf Club. Then, pamper yourself at the Waldorf Astoria Spa, where you can do a think-walk around the maze in view of mountains and clear blue sky. Your vacation rental can be a lovely, tile-roofed casita with its own garden and swimming pool.