A couple weekends ago we decided to get out of town for the night, so we headed an hour and half north-east to Pine, AZ. We stayed one night at an Airbnb rental and then set off for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in the morning.
The park was discovered in 1877 by a prospector while he was being chased by Apaches. He hid for two nights in a cave inside the bridge. On the third day he wandered out to explore the tunnel and surrounding valley. He claimed squatter’s rights and eventually moved his family out to settle the land.
Now there are four viewpoints and four hiking trails for everyone to enjoy the bridge. We started on the Gowan Trail. It’s only about ½ a mile long, but it’s dirt and pretty steep in some parts. It leads to the observation deck at the creek bottom.
From there you can climb the rocks and cross under the bridge. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy. There’s a creek at the bottom so you have to stay on the rocks to get across. Depending on the wind, some of the rocks are wet and can be slippery. You also might get a little wet from the waterfall above. We made it through, but I was a little scared and definitely not comfortable.
Once we made it to the other end of the tunnel I didn’t want to go back through again, so we picked up another trail and headed out the other direction. We missed the Anna Mae trail, which would have been way shorter and easier, and ended up on the Pine Creek Trail. Most of the trail consisted of maneuvering over rocks and isn’t an actual dirt trail until the last bit.
Once we made it back to the top, we decided to check out a few of the viewpoints. These are perfect for those who don’t want to do any hiking, but still see the bridge. We didn’t check out Viewpoint #1, but did stop at #2. From there you can see part of the bridge and we were able to spot where we had just hiked along the creek.
Viewpoint #3 and #4 are great views from the top. You pass over the creek that feeds the waterfall and can look down to the observation deck and tunnel below.
We ended up spending about 2 hours there and that was about perfect. Although, I noticed some picnic tables in the park so it might be a nice spot for a picnic depending on the weather and if you can find one in the shade. The park is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with last entry at 5 p.m. Park entrance fees are $7 for adults, $4 for children 7-13, and free for 6 and under. No pets are allowed on the trails.
If you live in AZ and have never been before, I highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful adventure not far from home. We made an overnight trip of it, but the Tonto Natural Bridge could easily be a day trip from Phoenix. For more information you can check out the State Park website here.
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