By Jill Frier
Looking for some less frequented spots in Arizona where you can see stunning views and tall pine forests? Head north of Fountain Hills on State Route 87, the Beeline Highway, and take a road trip to Rim Country. The inspiration of early 20th century Western author Zane Grey, and the site of the oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona, the Mogollon Rim area offers stunning views of ponderosa pines from overlooks as high as 2,000 feet. Running along Highway 260 from Sedona to Payson to Pinetop-Lakeside and eventually to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, some of our favorite areas in Rim Country are just a short drive from the Valley.
The Mogollon Rim is a fantastic location for hiking, sightseeing, and horseback riding, as well as a great getaway for boating and fishing, camping, hunting, and backcountry skiing in the winter. Tiny towns settled along the Rim offer a fascinating slice of Arizona history with museums, ruins, natural wonders, and points of interest all along the route. Certain areas off the main road are rugged, and often steep, so prepare to take a high-clearance vehicle if you want to venture farther off the beaten path.
Here are our favorite spots to stop when we head north to Rim Country:
As you head for Payson and the Mogollon Rim on the Beeline Highway, you will pass through some of the most gorgeous pristine desert and mountain vistas in Arizona. At an elevation of about 5,000 feet, the town of Payson offers a mild, four season climate in the tall pines. This small town of about 15,000 was founded in 1882 and is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest and the Tonto Apache Indian Reservation. Payson is an excellent location for year-round outdoor activities including hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, camping, rock hounding, and horseback riding. The town’s centrally located Green Valley Park has three stocked fishing lakes and free outdoor concerts in the summer. Dubbed “The Gateway to Rim Country,” Payson is steeped in Arizona history and hosts the world’s oldest continuous rodeo.
Heading northwest out of Payson on Highway 260, you’ll arrive at the tiny community of Pine. With a population of around 2,000, Pine is the gateway to the Tonto Natural Bridge, nestled in the valley of Pine Creek, which flows under the bridge to the East Verde River. Originally settled by a group of four families, Pine is full of fascinating history and boasts some great attractions such as the post office established in 1884 and the Pine-Strawberry Museum. Pine is a great destination for hiking, camping, and fishing, with Bear Canyon Lake and Knoll Lake nearby. There are also several good restaurants, charming local shops and antique stores, and a gas station to fill up before you head down the road. This is the last gas stop before Camp Verde if you’re heading west on 260, so make sure your tank is full.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
The Tonto Natural Bridge is a hidden gem of geological wonder located in Pine on the Mogollon Rim. A steeply graded, but paved, road takes you down to the Visitor’s Center and unassuming parking lot that sits just above a tremendous spectacle of nature. Don’t be fooled by the peaceful, idyllic, tree-lined meadow and picnic tables, because as you move toward the edge of the picnic area, you see a giant drop into the stream below. This small state park lets you hike down trails, stairs, and bridges to a natural spring-fed stream that flows directly through the giant wonder of the only known travertine natural bridge in North America. It’s a great spot for picnics, short hikes, and wildlife watching, with a historic lodge and visitors center. The park is a great day trip from Phoenix and a perfect excuse to visit Rim Country.
Strawberry is a beautiful and picturesque spot to stop and rest as you travel along the Mogollon Rim. This tiny unincorporated town has a population of around 1,000, but it has natural charm in abundance. Always one of our favorite places to stop for a big breakfast after a hike through the woods or an early morning visit to the Tonto Natural Bridge, Strawberry is a great place for hiking, camping, cabins, and Arizona territorial days history. One must-see site in town is the Strawberry Schoolhouse, the oldest schoolhouse still standing in the state of Arizona.
The mild climate and seasonal changes along the higher elevations of the Mogollon Rim make it a great destination to visit all year round.
Be sure to check LadybugsBlog.com for more ideas of great places to getaway and visit in Arizona.