Tonto Natural Bridge State Park: The Complete Guide

Tonto Bridge
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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Address
Nf-583A, Pine, AZ 85544, USA
Phone +1 928-476-4202

If you're the type of traveler who's into quirky world-record-holding natural wonders, then Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in central Arizona is the place for you, though it also has plenty of appeal for people who just love the outdoors. The park's defining feature is the enormous travertine bridge, which is believed to be the largest of its kind in the world. "Travertine bridge" may not sound like a worthwhile excursion, but once you see it in person you'll feel differently. And in a state like Arizona that's known for its awe-inspiring geology, the Tonto Natural Bridge doesn't disappoint.

Things to Do

The Tonto bridge is made of travertine, which is a form of limestone typically made by hot springs. The bridge itself is 183 feet high and it's formed on top of a cavernous tunnel that stretches on for nearly 400 feet. Hiking on, around, and under the bridge is the main activity at the park, and scrambling around the rocks is especially fun for kids. Picnic areas are available throughout the park, so don't forget to pack lunch to enjoy under the trees.

There are some small waterfalls around the natural bridge with pools of water, but visitors are not allowed to swim in the area directly around the bridge. However, you can walk along Pine Creek and swim further downstream, which is especially refreshing on a hot summer day in Arizona.

The Goodfellow Lodge is the park's visitor's center, including a small museum with exhibits about the history of the park, how travertine is made, and the Indigenous residents of central Arizona. The lodge also includes a small snack bar and gift shop in case you need an energy boost or some water.

Best Hikes & Trails

There are only four trails within the state park and the longest one is only a half-mile. However, even the shortest trails that are only a few hundred feet involve steep descents, uneven stairs, and sometimes climbing over slippery rocks. Make sure you have the right footwear before starting any of the hikes and factor in more time than you think you'll need for the whole trip.

  • Pine Creek Trail: This trail is about a half-mile long and goes down to the water at the bottom of the tunnel. The first 400 feet is on a paved path but the rest of it is on rocks, some of which can be slippery from the creek. Allow about an hour for the whole hike.
  • Waterfall Trail: This short trail is only about 300 feet long but also involves some slippery rocks—especially at the end when you arrive at the waterfall. Give yourself about 15–20 minutes to complete it.
  • Gowan Trail: This half-mile trail is steep and strenuous, but it takes trekkers to an observation deck at the bottom of the creek to get a full view of the tunnel. It takes about an hour to complete the roundtrip journey.
  • Anna Mae Trail: Only about 500 feet long, the Anna Mae Trail leads to Pine Creek Trail and the Natural Bridge. To do the full hike of both trails, plan for about an hour of hiking.

Where to Stay Nearby

There's no camping allowed in the state park, but there is an on-site lodge for travelers who want to spend the night without going to another city. The nearest towns are Pine and Payson, which are about 15 minutes to the north and south, respectively. If you're just stopping by Tonto Natural Bridge on your way to one of Arizona's bigger cities, then hotels in Phoenix or Flagstaff are each about two hours away.

  • Goodfellow Lodge: The lodge at the state park has 10 guestrooms, with a mix of shared bathrooms or private bathrooms. The log cabin structure was built in the 1920s and still contains its rustic charm, along with some 21st-century amenities like heating and air conditioning.
  • Pine Creek Cabins: Located in the nearby town of Pine and just 15 minutes away from the state park, these homey cabins surrounded by ponderosa pines give the sensation of camping in the wilderness but with some more comfortable amenities, jacuzzi included.
  • Majestic Mountain Inn: This no-frills motel in Payson is about 20 minutes from the park entrance. The rooms are simple but comfortable, and you'll have access to amenities to feel right at home, like a heated pool and barbecue pits.

How to Get There

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff, roughly two hours away from either city by car. Interstate 17 is the highway that connects the two cities and you have to turn off onto Highway 260 heading east for about an hour until you reach the entrance for the state park.

Accessibility

The visitors' center at Goodfellow Lodge is accessible to all travelers and one of the guestrooms is fully ADA-compliant. There are viewpoints to see the Tonto Bridge near the parking lot that are paved and fully accessible that don't require hiking down one of the trails.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The park is open every day of the year except Christmas, and there is an admission fee that all visitors aged 7 and older have to pay.
  • The best time to visit the park is in the spring or fall when temperatures are mild and you can enjoy the park without the excessive Arizona heat.
  • The Arizona monsoon season begins in July and continues until September, sometimes dumping a huge amount of water in a very short period of time.
  • Dogs are allowed at the viewpoints and parking area but they are not permitted on any of the trails.
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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park: The Complete Guide