As an enthusiastic traveler who has explored the breathtaking town of Payson, Arizona, I can assure you that this hidden gem is a delightful surprise. Nestled in the elevated beauty of the Mogollon Rim, Payson offers a landscape and climate that feels more akin to Maine than a typical Southwestern town.
One of the remarkable aspects of Payson is its rich history, which is deeply rooted in the land. From the indigenous Native American tribes that once called this area home to the advent of railroads and the thriving mining industry, Payson’s past is a tapestry of fascinating stories waiting to be discovered.
In recent times, Payson has transformed into a thriving hub of tourism, welcoming visitors from near and far. Its economy thrives on the dollars spent by locals, as well as national and international travelers who are drawn to the town’s unique charm.
To give you a taste of the adventures that await in Payson, here is my list of the best things to do in Payson:
1. Rim Country Museum and Zane Grey Cabin
When exploring the captivating town of Payson, Arizona, one historic site that should not be missed is the Rim Country Museum and Zane Grey Cabin. As an avid history enthusiast, I found this museum to be both fascinating and educational, offering a unique window into the early days of Arizona.
Conveniently located on South Green Valley Parkway in Payson, these facilities are expertly operated by the local historical society. Stepping inside, I was immediately transported back in time, immersed in the rich heritage of the region.
One of the highlights of the museum is the captivating exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the renowned author, Zane Grey. Known for his beloved western novels that continue to captivate readers to this day, Grey left an indelible mark on the literary world. Exploring the Zane Grey Cabin and delving into his life’s story was a truly captivating experience.
In addition to the Zane Grey exhibit, the museum boasts a variety of other engaging displays. The Apache Display sheds light on the vibrant history and culture of the Apache people, providing valuable insights into their way of life. As a fan of rodeos, I was particularly enthralled by the Payson Rodeo Heritage Display, which showcased the town’s deep connection to this iconic Western tradition. The Blacksmith Shop Display offered a fascinating glimpse into the skilled craftsmanship of the past, allowing me to appreciate the artistry and dedication of blacksmiths. This definitely is one of the best things to do in Payson.
2. Payson Farmers Market
As a local resident of Arizona, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Payson Farmers Market on numerous occasions. Nestled along South Beeline Highway, this vibrant market has been a cherished community gathering spot since its establishment in 2009.
Every Saturday morning, from late fall to summer, the market springs to life at the Sawmill Crossing Plaza. It’s always a good idea to check their website beforehand to ensure the market is open on your desired date.
What sets the Payson Farmers Market apart from a typical grocery run is its emphasis on local, sustainable, and delicious food. Here, you’ll find an abundance of fresh produce, all grown or produced within a 100-mile radius of Payson. It’s an environmentally friendly approach to food production and distribution, supporting local farmers and minimizing our carbon footprint.
While strolling through the market, keep your eyes peeled for delightful culinary treasures. One of my personal favorites is the wild Arizona honey, a golden elixir bursting with rich flavors unique to our region. Another delightful find is the natural agave nectar, a sweet and healthy alternative to traditional sweeteners.
Beyond the delectable treats and locally sourced produce, the Payson Farmers Market is a social hub where neighbors come together. It’s a place to catch up with friends, chat with farmers and vendors, and connect with the community. The lively atmosphere and friendly smiles make each visit a truly enjoyable experience.
So, if you’re seeking a delightful Saturday morning outing filled with wholesome food and a warm community spirit, look no further than the Payson Farmers Market. Plan your visit, savor the taste of local goodness, and discover the true essence of our vibrant town.
3. Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery
If you’re fascinated by aquatic life and eager to learn more about fish and their conservation efforts, I highly recommend a visit to the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery. Located on North Tonto Creek Road, this educational facility offers an enlightening and free experience for all visitors.
Stepping into the hatchery, you’ll be greeted by the sight of numerous fish tanks, each carefully segregated by size. It’s incredible to witness the life cycle of these remarkable creatures, from their humble beginnings as tiny fry to their development into robust fish ready to be introduced into our lakes, rivers, and streams.
One of the highlights of the visit is the opportunity to feed the baby fish. It’s a delightful experience, especially for the little ones who are often filled with wonder and excitement as they observe the fish eagerly devouring their food.
At the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, you’ll encounter a variety of fish species that play a vital role in bolstering the populations of native fish. Among the stars of the hatchery are the rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. These species are beloved by local anglers, and their presence in the area’s waterways contributes to the enjoyment of fishing enthusiasts.
As you explore the hatchery and learn about their conservation efforts, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance of our ecosystems and the importance of maintaining sustainable fish populations. The knowledgeable staff members are always ready to answer any questions you may have and provide insightful information about the fish and their habitats.
4. Green Valley Park
Green Valley Park, nestled on West Country Club Drive in Payson, has captured the hearts of both locals and visitors since its establishment in late 1996. As soon as you step foot in this picturesque park, you’ll understand why it holds a special place in the hearts of many.
Renowned for its exceptional “urban fishing” opportunities, Green Valley Park boasts a stunning lake teeming with fish. Whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice just starting out, you’re in for a treat. Cast your line and test your skills as you try to reel in the catch of the day.
But fishing is just the beginning of the adventures that await you at Green Valley Park. With nearly 17 acres of lush landscapes, tranquil walking trails, and towering trees, the park offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Take a leisurely stroll along the winding paths, basking in the beauty of nature and enjoying the fresh air.
If you’re planning a family outing or a picnic with friends, you’ll find the perfect spot among the park’s covered picnic areas. Spread out a blanket, unpack a delicious meal, and relish the idyllic surroundings. Green Valley Park provides ample space for everyone to relax, unwind, and create lasting memories.
Parking is a breeze at Green Valley Park, with plenty of free parking available for visitors. And here’s another great thing about this park: there’s no admission fee! You can enjoy all the park’s amenities and activities without any additional cost.
During the warmer months, Green Valley Park truly comes alive with live music performances and other exciting events. Keep an eye on the park’s schedule to catch some unforgettable entertainment while immersing yourself in the enchanting ambiance of the park.
5. Mazatzal Wilderness Area
Just an hour northeast of Phoenix, near Payson, lies the magnificent Mazatzal Mountains. It’s fascinating to learn that these mountains were known as ‘the place with many deer’ in the language of the Native Americans who once called this area home.
As you explore the Mazatzal Mountains, you’ll discover that its highest peak reaches nearly 8,000 feet, offering breathtaking vistas and a haven for diverse wildlife. Among the towering trees and rugged terrain, you may encounter deer gracefully roaming the land, while hundreds of species of birds fill the air with their melodious songs. It’s not uncommon to spot bears, mountain lions, and coyotes too, adding to the wild allure of this remarkable place.
To ensure the preservation of this natural wonderland and its rich biodiversity, the Mazatzal Wilderness area was established in 1940, encompassing over 250,000 acres. This protected area serves as a sanctuary for the land’s indigenous flora and fauna, safeguarding their existence for generations to come.
If you’re eager to embark on an adventure through the Mazatzal Mountains, the Barnhardt Mesa parking area provides the easiest access. From there, you’ll find a network of trails suited for various skill levels and preferences. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll or a challenging hike, there’s a trail for everyone. As you set out on your journey, remember to pack ample food and water, as there are no facilities along the way. This ensures you can fully immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature, knowing you have everything you need for a memorable outdoor experience.
Step into the Mazatzal Mountains and witness the captivating beauty that has captivated both nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers for generations. From the awe-inspiring landscapes to the abundance of wildlife, this remarkable wilderness invites you to disconnect from the bustling city life and reconnect with the serenity of the natural world.
6. Deming Pioneer Park
I recently visited Deming Pioneer Park in Payson, which is now open after undergoing some much-needed renovations. Operated by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, this park holds a special place in preserving the history of the brave pioneers who shaped this area over a century ago.
Located at the corner of Main and McLane, Deming Pioneer Park has been a cherished landmark for nearly 15 years. Its purpose is to honor the pioneers who explored and settled in this region, leaving an indelible mark on its history.
As I walked through the park, I was captivated by the various displays showcased behind the many windows. Each window offers a glimpse into different aspects of Payson’s rich heritage. From the geological history of the town to the captivating culture and history of the Native American people, and even the challenges and triumphs of pioneer life, every exhibit tells a unique story.
Deming Pioneer Park not only provides an opportunity to immerse oneself in the past but also offers a wonderful space to stretch your legs and enjoy the serene surroundings. It’s a place where you can connect with the spirit of those who came before us, gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the journey they embarked upon.
7. Do a Little Fossil Hunting
In the distant past, Arizona was submerged under a shallow sea, teeming with creatures that would seem strange and alien to us today.
As time passed, the seas receded, giving way to dry deserts and towering mountains. However, remnants of the ancient inhabitants remained, waiting to be discovered at the Paleo Site in Payson.
Located in this unique site, you can uncover fossils and artifacts that have endured for millions of years. It’s a thrilling experience, especially for the little ones, as you never know what hidden treasures you’ll find while carefully chipping away at the fragile rocks.
The Paleo Site is a place of wonder, where you can connect with the prehistoric past and marvel at the incredible diversity of life that once thrived in this region. It’s an adventure that combines education and excitement, making it a must-visit destination for anyone with an interest in paleontology.
8. Go Fishing
As an avid angler, I can attest to the fact that the Mogollon Rim surrounding Payson is a true haven for fishing enthusiasts across Arizona. The region boasts a remarkable collection of lakes, rivers, and streams that are teeming with a diverse range of native and stocked fish species.
One of the highlights of fishing in this area is the abundance of native trout species found in the crystal-clear streams. The thrill of catching these beautiful trout amidst the scenic surroundings is truly unparalleled. Additionally, the larger reservoirs in the area are stocked with various game fish that are not native to the region. From the exhilarating fight of large and smallmouth bass to the elusive walleye and even the formidable northern pike, these waters offer an exciting variety of fishing opportunities.
For detailed information on fishing regulations and specific species available in each water body, I highly recommend checking out the Arizona Fish and Game Department’s webpage. They provide valuable insights that will enhance your fishing experience and ensure compliance with the fishing guidelines.
9. Shoofly Village Ruins
Back in 1930, an adventurous archaeologist stumbled upon a remarkable discovery while exploring the captivating canyons near Payson. These discoveries were the ruins of the Shoofly Village, an ancient site that would later unveil the secrets of its past over half a century later.
During the early 20th century, Native American ruins were relatively common, and their significance was often overlooked. As a result, it wasn’t until many years later that the Shoofly Village Ruins received the attention they deserved. In the 1980s, extensive studies and excavations were finally conducted, shedding light on the intriguing history of this ancient site.
Dating back approximately 750 to 1,000 years ago, the Shoofly Ruins were once inhabited by the Mogollon people, offering us a fascinating glimpse into the lives and culture of these ancient Native American communities.
Situated just a short drive-up Arizona Highway 87 from Payson, the ruins are easily accessible to curious explorers like myself. What makes the visit even more convenient is the availability of restrooms and a picnic area on-site. After immersing myself in the wonders of the ancient ruins, I retreat to the picnic area, relax, and indulge in a well-deserved snack while reflecting on the rich history that surrounds me.
10. Hike the Railroad Tunnel Trail
Arizona’s economy has long relied on the vital role of railroads, and Payson is no exception to this historical connection.
During the 20th century, the transportation infrastructure in Payson faced significant challenges. The town’s poor and seasonal roads made it nearly impossible for trucks to access the area for a large part of the year. Recognizing the pressing need for improved transportation, plans were made in the 1880s to construct a rail line that would connect Globe, Arizona to Flagstaff. This proposed rail line would greatly benefit the thriving mining industry by providing a reliable means of transportation.
Unfortunately, due to cost overruns and various complications, the construction of the rail line was never completed. However, remnants of this ambitious project can still be explored today, offering a unique glimpse into the past. To reach the site, I embarked on a moderately challenging hike of less than a mile. The journey allowed me to traverse the remnants of the unfinished rail line, immersing myself in the history and engineering feats of those who came before.
11. Verde River Hot Springs
When the sun sets in Payson, even during the summer, the temperature drops, creating a refreshing coolness in the air. After a full day of exploring the breathtaking backcountry and immersing myself in the wonders of the area, I found the perfect remedy for my weary bones: a rejuvenating soak in the tranquil Verde Hot Springs.
Once a bustling resort that catered to Arizona’s affluent residents, these natural hot springs continue to offer their warm embrace and soothing waters. While the grandeur of the resort may have faded with time, the pools retain their comforting allure.
Getting to Verde Hot Springs requires a bit of effort. The road leading to the springs can be challenging at times, demanding careful navigation. Once I reached the parking area, I embarked on a scenic hike of approximately a mile to reach the hot springs. It was well worth the trek, as the enchanting surroundings and the anticipation of a relaxing soak fueled my excitement.
As I prepared for my dip, I made sure to bring essentials such as a towel, flip-flops, water, and some snacks. It’s important to note that there are no services available in the area, so it’s best to come prepared with everything you’ll need for a comfortable experience.
The hot springs themselves proved to be a true sanctuary. The warm water enveloped my tired body, melting away any lingering fatigue. I embraced the peaceful ambiance, marveling at the natural beauty that surrounded me.
While the remnants of the resort may serve as a reminder of bygone days, the essence of Verde Hot Springs remains unchanged. It’s a place where time slows down, allowing you to reconnect with nature and find solace in its therapeutic embrace.
12. Payson Candle Factory
When it comes to Christmas gifts, there’s something special about handmade candles that embody the rugged spirit of Arizona. That’s why I highly recommend checking out the Payson Candle Factory on North Beeline Highway, where skilled artisans have been crafting candles for over 30 years.
As I entered the factory, I was greeted by the warm flickering glow and delightful aroma of candles in various stages of production. Despite its modest size compared to larger factories, the Payson Candle Factory offers a unique opportunity to witness the art of candle making firsthand
I had the chance to observe the production area and see how the professionals expertly craft each candle. It was fascinating to watch them work their magic, pouring the wax, carefully selecting fragrances, and meticulously adding finishing touches. The attention to detail was impressive, and it truly showcased the dedication and passion that goes into every candle they create.
If you’re feeling adventurous, the friendly staff encourages visitors to try their hand at candle making. I decided to give it a shot, and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks! But that only made me appreciate the craftsmanship even more. While my creation may not have been a masterpiece, it was a fun and rewarding experience.
Aside from the captivating candle-making process, the shop itself is a treasure trove of other Arizona-themed goodies. From unique souvenirs to charming stocking stuffers, there’s something for everyone. The friendly staff members are more than happy to assist you and share their knowledge of the local area.
13. Visit the Monument of the Battle of Big Dry Wash
between the U.S. Army troops and the determined White Mountain Apache Warriors, who valiantly defended their homeland and way of life.
What made this battle particularly notable was the element of surprise. The Apache warriors had planned an ambush, but their intentions were discovered by the soldiers, who swiftly launched a counterattack. Caught off guard, the Apache fighters were forced into a conventional skirmish, deviating from their usual hit-and-run tactics against the more heavily armed soldiers. Tragically, it resulted in the death of the Apache Chief.
For those intrigued by this significant piece of history, I recommend visiting the town of Payson’s website. There, you can find detailed directions to the site and information about its hours of operation. Exploring this battlefield will offer a glimpse into the intense struggle that unfolded and the pivotal role it played in shaping the region’s history.