15 Best Things to do in Payson Arizona to Escape the Heat!

15 Awesome Things to do in Payson, Arizona

Fun Things to do in Payson: Are you looking for what to do in Payson, AZ? This list of Payson attractions has something for everyone from state parks to hikes, to where to eat. Keep reading to find out all the Payson, AZ activities.

The view is looking over the edge of the Mogollon Rim in Arizona to the forest below and the mountains beyond

Early Mormon pioneers, Western novelist Zane Grey, and actor John Wayne have all been drawn to this place where the Ponderosa Pine forest meets arid canyon country. Seven gorgeous lakes dot the landscape, where you can ride horses in the morning and fly-fish in the afternoon. Tonto Natural Bridge is thought to be the world’s largest natural travertine bridge, so plan a hike to see it. When the first snowfall arrives, put on your skis and head out to a cross-country skiing trail.

You can check out my other posts on Payson, Arizona for more info on the area:

The Best Hikes in Payson, Arizona

15 Best Airbnbs in Payson, Arizona

15 Best Swimming Holes in Arizona + map of these Arizona Swimming Holes

15 Best Things to do in Payson, Arizona

Water Wheel Falls

Cradled in between Payson and the base of the Mogollon Rim rests the beautiful picturesque landscape of Water Wheel Falls. It’s easy to locate since it’s upstream Ellison Creek Cascades and is an easy short trip for all ages. Primarily, Water Wheel Falls is known for its hiking trail but the waterfall adds a touch of beauty to the already picturesque trail.

things to do in Payson Arizona

Water Wheel Falls features cold spring waters, picnic grounds, and majestic waterfalls. The crowds are thinner here since it’s much more secluded and if luck is with you, you’ll have the entire swimming hole to yourselves. 

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

When in Payson, it is customary to visit the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and it should be on your next vacation destination list. Known, and believed, as the world’s largest natural travertine bridge, the amazing natural arch in the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has formed thousands of years ago due to volcanic lava, seawater, and precipitation.  Visiting Tonto will surely awaken your craving for hikes into nature.

There are four observation points that can be explored by guests and you’ll see the beautiful travertine rocks in the 400-foot tunnel running through the bridge’s center. The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park also offers four hiking trails that descend into Pine Canyon. Aside from hiking, the park also has picnic tables for guests who want to unwind after a quick hike and enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the park.

Mogollon Rim

Payson truly does not run out of things to do and places to visit and Mogollon Rim is one of those attractions. In this lookout location, you’ll see all that Arizona has to offer that takes you from pine views to desert scenery. This rim is a long cliff that gives guests a good view of rolling hills, lush forestry, and endless skies. For Phoenix locals, escaping to Mogollon Rim is a definite must during the summer. The breathtaking views plus the exercise you could squeeze into one trip is just a game changer for anyone.

things to do in payson az

There are different trails to choose from which depends on your starting point. The most popular is the Rim Lakes Vista Trail, known for its mostly paved trail that runs just a few feet from the Rim’s edge. It’s a 3.5 mile long hike that leads you to one of the most beautiful sceneries and crisp, clean air that you can’t find anywhere else. 

Green Valley Park

Green Valley Park is the jewel of Payson. It’s a great destination to unwind in and spend time with family and friends. The views are breathtaking for a park and they also host a lot of activities that everyone can enjoy. Green Valley Park is surrounded by the world’s largest Ponderosa Pine forest and the Tonto National Forest which gives us an idea of how picturesque the place must be.

This 43 acre park consists of three lakes, playgrounds, picnic areas, and the Rim Country Historical Museum. Activities welcomed in the park are fishing, kayaking, music concerts, and picnicking. One of the park’s highlights is their Urban Fishing Program and they are also known, nationally, as one of the best in the country and locals love it. The program intensively stock and manage one of the park lakes for fishing recreation and they also provide fishing opportunities and education for communities. 

Rim Country Museum And Zane Grey Cabin

Pair your trip to the Green Valley Park with a visit to the Rim Country Museum and Zane Grey Cabin. Historically, writer Zane Grey came to Rim Country and built the cabin which he called his hunting lodge but after several encounters, and the Dude Fire of 1990, the Zane Grey Cabin was burned to the ground. After, the Zane Grey Foundation was organized and they led the successful campaign that was able to rebuild the cabin in its former glory.

Now, the Zane Grey Cabin is a faithful replica of the cabin that Zane Grey built before. In the museum, they have a narrated tour that recounts how the cabin was built for the love of nature and was rebuilt for the love of history. A trip into the museum lets you learn more about the places you visit 

Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery

For a great fishing experience, it’s best to stop by the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.  Considered as one of Arizona’s best, they offer an excellent line of fresh catch that will surely satisfy fishing enthusiasts. This year round stream has formed a deep canyon below the Mogollon Rim in Arizona and has become one of the most popular fishing grounds in the area.

The hatchery grounds provide a haven for fishers and also give guests a chance to view the wildlife that the hatchery supports such as birds and other aquatic animals. The catch in the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery is bountiful and varies in range of species such as rainbow trout, brooks, cutthroat trout, and Arizona’s state fish– the Apache trout.

Shoofly Village Ruins

In the heart of Gila County is the Shoofly Village Ruins. Take a trip into history and discover exciting historical sites and be part of history at the Shoofly Village Ruin. This location is believed to have been occupied by prehistoric people and it can be seen that the site had a total of 79 structures of which the rock outlines, the ones that stand as the foundation of the walls, are still visible.

Richard N Horne

Learn Arizona heritage by hiking through the ruins and also marveling at the beautiful landscape in the background. This area may be small but it makes you see how the people who walked before us managed to live and survive even in the harshest of environments. 

Drive The Scenic Rim Road

Arizona is known for its sunshine, mountains, and breathtaking views. It’s no wonder that every city would have its customary scenic spots; roads and trails that just make you want to walk on forever with its picturesque sights and wonderful scenes. The Scenic Rim Road takes you through lakes, streams, mountain vistas, lush forestry, and endless blue skies.

The view is looking over the edge of the Mogollon Rim in Arizona to the forest below and the mountains beyond

The Scenic Rim Road has it all for you: will you squeeze in sight seeing and a healthy hike all in one trip. Other than hiking, guests may also camp and experience the forests, sweeping meadows, the beautiful night sky, and sunrise. Nothing would beat the scene that the Scenic Rim Road gives. 

Willow Springs Lake

After a hike to the top of the Mongollon Rim, reward yourself with a dip in the cold waters of Willow Springs Lake. you’ll be greeted with a gorgeous view of the blue lake, evergreen forests, and a nice vibe of relaxation and peace. Originally, the lake was created in order to provide water based recreational activities to the locals while being the middle of forestry that consists of Ponderosa Pine, Oak, and Douglas Fir trees.

Expect cool temperatures in the spring and summer months because the water of the lake comes from melted snow from the surrounding mountains which is a welcome change when the cityscapes become too hot for comfort. On the grounds, guests are welcome to picnic, camp, and hike. The waters are open for kayaking, tubing, and other water recreational activities. 

Mazatzal Wilderness Area

Take a hike and be one with nature in the Mazatzal Wilderness. In the language of the Aztecs, Mazatzal means “an area inhabited by dear” and to this day it remains a mystery how that word, and what significance it holds, reached Arizona. There are many attractions and trails in the Mazatzal Wilderness Area to choose from such as the Mazatzal Peak, the Mazatzal Divide Trail, the Verde River Trail, and the Saddle Ridge Trail.

The eastern side of this area is filled with a brush or pine-covered mountains, and canyons. On the other side is the Sonoran Desert. Each corner of the wilderness is guaranteed to be breathtaking and taking pictures is a definite must. Aside from hiking, camping is also welcome here which features the great starry skies and other heavenly bodies, and seeing the beautiful Arizona sunrise. 

Hike the Railroad Tunnel Trail

The Historic Railroad Trail gives you both the magnificent views of both Hoover Dam, one of the world’s modern marvels, and Lake Mead, Arizona’s largest man-made reservoir. Historically, the Railroad Tunnel Trail was truly once a railroad track that connected Las Vegas, Boulder City, and Hoover Dam.

It was then recognized that this historic line has a great impact on the foundation of the cities in the surrounding area. That’s why a trail was built and a historical walking tour was introduced and the rest is history. The Railroad Tunnel Trail features the beautiful views of Lake Mead which makes it one of Nevada’s most unique trail experiences. No matter the season, a hike down the Railroad Tunnel Trail will surely be a memorable one for anyone who goes. 

Verde River Hot Springs

Take a quick dip and relax in the Verde Hot Springs. The area offers off the grid, serene, and relaxing vibes that truly shapes the Payson experience. The Verde River Hot Springs is a thermal pool of an abandoned resort in the 1920s, that was once a thriving tourist attraction and was rumored to be one of Al Capone’s hideouts, that can be found along the banks of the Verde River.

Greg Walters

With its artsy murals and beautiful lakeside scenes, it truly gives you that rustic feel that only this place can give. What attracts tourists, aside from the quick hike into the resort, and with a river to cross, the place truly is one of a kind and serves as the prize for the long journey traveled. The Verde River Hot Springs comes off as private if you’re lucky enough to have the hot springs to yourself. 

Check Out my post on the Best Hot Springs in Arizona

Payson Candle Factory

A unique trip into Payson’s Candle Factory would surely bring you warm memories. This quiet shop in Payson features beautiful candle pieces and also makes customized candles at your request. The shop was opened by Carol Reed and after 40 years, to this day, she still hand carves and makes the candles into pieces of art.

Not only do they offer traditional candles, but they also have hand carved ones, and candles that can be of any color of the customer’s choosing and if you’re lucky enough, you might have your candle customized by Carol Reed herself. 

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST PALEO SITE

The Tonto National Forest Paleontology Site is known as a science buff’s dream come true. Millions of years ago, Arizona was once known as one of the places where dinosaurs once roamed and lived. This site has turned into a hot spot for archeological sites and digs.

But don’t go expecting to find some dinosaur bones at the Tonto National Forest now! Prehistorically, this area was one a 300 million year old sea bed so you’ll definitely find fossils of small shells and marine plant life here. Other than that, the place is a definite great hike for all ages that is coupled with great views of the wildlife range of Payson. 

FOSSIL CREEK NATURAL SPRINGS

For the last hurrah in Payson, complete your trip at the Fossil Creek Natural Springs. This destination is a sure favorite for locals and returning tourists alike. The scenery at the creek is just gorgeous coupled with the various fun activities that are welcomed at the site such as hiking, cliff-jumping, sunbathing, and swimming. The hike to the spring showcases the beautiful views of the Verde Valley and it can be a little challenging.

waterfalls in arizona
Clear water running over rocks at Fossil Creek, Arizona

There is a catch, however: Fossil Creek and Fossil Springs are two different places but at the same location. Fossil Creek is located near Camp Verde and the other is an 8 mile hike that leads you to a beautiful set of waterfalls and clear blue waters that makes the trip worth it. There are different natural water attractions that will surely keep you coming back. The first one is the “Toilet Bowl” whirlpool in the middle of the falls but is considered as off-limits as it is quite dangerous. 

American Southwest Obsessed

Nicole is a travel expert who has been traveling to the American Southwest since 1992. There is so much to see and do in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California. I spend part of the year in Phoenix and travel around the area visiting all the best places and going on the best hikes. Check out my detailed destination guides, the best hiking in each state guides, and the travel gear you need for your next trip.

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