Travel Tips & Adventures

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Travel to a Natural Bridge

Since nature can accomplish amazing results, we decided that a trip to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in Northern Arizona would make an interesting field trip.  And, it did.

A difficult, winding road, State Route 87, from the Phoenix area is a challenge – definitely not for the faint of heart.  North of Payson by just a few miles and still on 87, a turn-off leads to another winding access road.  Wiggling every which way, when you finally arrive at the bottom, the park is spread out below, but the natural bridge is not immediately noticeable.

Pay your entry fee ($5 per person) and head to a parking lot.  There are several trails and viewpoints to visit so you can see the travertine (according to Wikipedia a “sedimentary rock, formed by the precipitation of carbonate minerals from solution in ground and surface waters”) bridge, which has a waterfall dripping down.

A picturesque grotto with waterfall awaits the intrepid

Waterfall Trail

We were out for a day of hiking, too, so we decided to test two of the trails.  The park’s brochure says, “strenuous” to describe the trails, and they are.  The Waterfall Trail, while short, has angled, narrow steps that are partly wood, partly metal mesh and partly rock.  Water flows over some of the walkway and it is definitely not for anyone with a disability.  While only 300 feet long, the trail is a challenge!  At the bottom is a narrow area with a cave-like grotto surrounded by vines and foliage with a small falls.  You must take turns to see the very end of the trail, since it is narrow.

Stairway at Waterfall Trail - most were not this wide

Viewpoints 3 & 4

We stopped briefly to look at the natural bridge from these perspectives and were rewarded with a rainbow emanating from the falls.

Natural Bridge from Viewpoint 4 with rainbow

Gowan Trail

Again, the brochure warns that the trail is strenuous. Do people pay attention?  NO!  We saw people with flip flops and other footwear ill-suited to the twists, turns and narrow stairs.

The trail continues – up, down, and around – for nearly a ½ mile and arrives at an observation deck from which people can venture into the bridge.

Tonto Natural Bridge from a distance

Not for the faint of heart or for persons who are not surefooted – I had hiking boots on and still slid and fell just as I was almost back to the deck.  The rock is highly polished by the constant spray and EXTREMELY slippery.  There are pools of water nestled in the rock areas and it is not a good place to navigate even with the best of shoes.  A park guide said that even with just socks on, he didn’t think it was an easy experience.

We did enjoy the view – and I now share photos of them with you. (And see the short video by clicking below.)

Slippery but fascinating view

View through the bridge

View through Tonto Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge

Picnic time

We headed to a picnic table that had shade and enjoyed a picnic lunch we brought.  (The gift shop where you can pay for admission also has a small shop with some food items, but not an extensive selection.)

In general…

One able-bodied male in his late 20s indicated he wished he had our hiking poles.  There were some elderly people looking exhausted and huffing and puffing.  Let me repeat – do not attempt this series of hikes without water, proper shoes (and, even then, it isn’t easy to navigate at the actual natural bridge), and, perhaps, a hiking pole.

Note: Only portable toilets are available in the parking lots.  Bring hand sanitizer.  You should bring your own drinking supplies – and a lot.  The altitude (if you’re not used to it) and the climbing up and down the steps are demanding, so you need water.

We did enjoy the experience, but I wish I had not ventured on the slippery rocks.

Next week… The oldest schoolhouse still in existence in Arizona and some craft-y people.

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2 Responses to “Travel to a Natural Bridge”

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  2. Megan Says:

    Thanks so much for writing a lot of this good information! I am looking forward to reading more!

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