Every once in a while, it’s good to shake things up, get out of town, and explore a new city. One of the easiest road trip spots that all Phoenix natives should take the time to visit is Payson, Arizona. Payson is especially charming in the spring and summer months when you can make the most of all the city has to offer, while getting a small break from the Phoenix heat.
The city of Payson got its start as a historic ranching and lumber town, aided by its close proximity to the Mogollon Rim. You’ll still notice heavy influences of the ranching culture around town when you visit today.
Overall, the town offers a slightly cooler, wooded reprieve from the Valley with plenty of options for outdoor adventures, all set against the backdrop of a small quintessential Old Western town. Make it your goal to do as many outdoor activities as possible during your Payson road trip!
Go Fishing at Woods Canyon Lake
The land surrounding the city of Payson is covered with beautiful lakes that are ideal for slow Saturdays out on the water fishing. Woods Canyon Lake is one of the most popular spots to fish for rainbow trout, and also offers gorgeous views of the sparkling blue lake and surrounding pine forest. Woods Canyon Lake does not offer boat rentals, but electric boat motors are allowed if you bring your own boat!
The lake is also a beautiful spot to stop for a picnic lunch on your way into the city. Pack a fun cooler with food before you leave home, and you can enjoy a meal out in nature looking out at the gorgeous lake in the designated Woods Canyon picnic area.
Hike the Rim Lake Vista Trail
If you are looking for an Instagram worthy picture moment, hike the Rim Lake Vista Trail. This is a four mile, moderate loop trail that most people can complete in an hour and a half. Dogs and mountain bikers are welcome out on the trail as well as hikers, so stay alert while on the trail for other foot traffic! Keep in mind while planning your Payson trip that this trail is not open in the winter, but is accessible for hiking from April through October,
Something to keep in mind while hiking in Payson is that the Mogollon Rim gets some of the most lightning strikes in the world, so never venture out onto the trail during inclement weather.
Rim Country Museum
Your road trip would not be complete without one stop to learn about the history of an area. The best place to do so in Payson is the Rim Country Museum. This museum was built to be a replica of the historic Herron Hotel from the early 1900s.
The museum covers a lot of ground, showcasing the history of the area all the way from the first prehistoric humans to settle in the area, to the native Apache tribes, all the way to the more recent history of the ranchers who lived in the area. The museum also has a section highlighting the local author Zane Grey, including a replica of his original cabin.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Visiting the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park was rated the number one attraction in Payson last year, and we think after visiting you’ll see why! It’s thought to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, standing 183 feet high.
Visitors can hike around the bridge on one of the three designated hiking trails, or just stop at one of the scenic overlooks that don’t require any hiking at all. If you visit during an off-peak tourist season, you are more likely to see elk and other local wildlife during your time in the state park. Note that there is a $7 entrance fee per car at the gate to enter the state park.
If you would prefer to stay overnight in the area, Goodfellow Lodge is a beautiful historic lodge built in the 1920s that offers a cozy cabin experience, nestled into Pine Canyon.
Payson Farmers Market
In the summer months, there is no better place to spend a Saturday morning in Payson than at the local farmers market. Visiting a farmers market gives you a great peek into local life, and you’ll be able to take home plenty of local goodies including fresh produce and products from local vendors! The Payson Farmers market is open seasonally from May 27th- September 16th each year, every Saturday from 8 am to noon.
Search for the Mogollon Monster
Old folklore legend in the area says that going back to the year 1903, there have been sightings of the Mogollon Monster, also known as Arizona Bigfoot. While in town, you will see local shops leaning into the legends by selling books, t-shirts, and other local merchandise about the Mogollon Monster. If you fancy a Bigfoot sighting yourself, there is a map of all the locations where he was allegedly spotted in the area.
Payson has a long and rich history of being a rodeo town, and those traditions carry on today. There are two main opportunities to experience the rodeo in Payson this year- once in May and once in August.
The weekend of May 19th, Payson hosts the Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo, in honor of one of the town’s most famous bull riders. This event benefits local youth with educational and athletic achievements, and includes a whole host of rodeo programming, spread out over the course of two days. Tickets for the rodeo cost $20 for adults and $10 for children.
If you plan your visit to Payson in August, you can experience the “World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo,” also known as the Payson Pro Ride that takes place every year at the Payson Event Center. This rodeo has taken place for the last 140 years, and offers a classic rodeo experience, with events like bull riding, barrel racing, mutton busting and bareback riding.
The central location of the Phoenix metroplex makes it easy to plan shorter road trips to every corner of the state, and there are so many incredible towns you must add to your list! Payson is an easy starting point and offers several must see experiences you can only find there!