Incorporated in 2005, Star Valley is one of the newest towns in a state largely comprised of cities and towns that have been around for generations.
Star Valley is located in the northern portion of Gila County, not far from the larger mining town of Globe, Arizona.
The land area managed by the town is surprisingly large and is adjacent to the famous Tonto National Forest, in the boundary area between the Mogollon Rim and Sonoran Desert.
Whether you’re staying in Star Valley or just passing through, you’ll likely need to do a bit of driving to see all that you’d like, but considering the area’s amazing scenery it’ll be time well spent.
Let’s have a look at what to do in Star Valley, Arizona.
1. Horton Creek Trail
If you happen to find yourself in the Payson area, and are dire need of some exercise, then the Horton Creek Trail may be just the thing.
The trail is in a unique micro-ecosystem largely reliant on Horton Creek which flows with cool, refreshing water year round.
The creek’s source is a subterranean spring, and there really isn’t a better place to spend a few hours when the rest of the state is broiling.
The trailhead is near the Upper Tonto Creek Campground and is about 7 miles roundtrip.
There’s no fee to enter, and expect to spend at least a few hours exploring the area.
2. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Located just outside Payson on Arizona Route 87, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a state and national icon that shouldn’t be missed while you’re in the area.
The rock bridge spans nearly 400 feet from end to end and reaches a height of nearly 200 feet.
The bridge was discovered in the 1870s by a Scot who was fleeing from Apache warriors who were less than thrilled that he’d trespassed on their land.
In addition, you’ll be able to see the home where his descendants lived until the 1940s.
Make sure your camera has a full charge so you want miss and photo ops.
3. Water Wheel Campground
Water Wheel Campground near Payson is another of the area’s gems that’ll keep you cool when the temperatures are souring to 100 and beyond.
From the camping area there’s a swimming hole on a nearby creek that’s accessible, but only after a relatively difficult hike, so it’s not a good idea for those with children or pets.
Be sure to wear decent shoes for the hiking part, and you may want to wear shoes in the water too to prevent cuts and gouges from sharp rocks.
Keep in mind, due to its desert canyon location, it’s susceptible to flash-floods with little warning, so swim at your own risk.
4. Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery
Fish hatcheries are great places to see the life cycle of fish that will eventually be released into the wild to bolster diminishing populations and provide sporting opportunities to local anglers.
The hatchery is free to visit, and due to its remote location is a great place to view wild animals like elk and deer, especially in the morning and afternoon when they’re most active.
If you’d like to feed some of the baby fish you’re able to buy food and feed it to them.
The hatchery isn’t always open to visitors, so check online if you plan on making a special trip.
5. Hellsgate Wilderness Area
The Mogollon Rim is the large chain of mountains that surround much of north and central Arizona.
Hellsgate Wilderness area was designated as an Arizona preservation are in 1984.
Between the rim and Upper Tonto Creek, the wilderness area sports canyons over 1,000 feet deep that have been carved by rain runoff over countless eons.
With elevation that peaks at over 6,000 feet, the area is a favorite with hikers and the fisherman who come in search of the trout and smallmouth bass that inhabit the area’s creeks.
Remember you’ll need an Arizona fishing license if you plan on wetting a line, so get one in advance.
6. Payson Farmer’s Market
Located on South Beeline Highway in Payson, the Payson Farmer’s Market is open on Saturday mornings, and with vendors of every description, it’s a place where you’ll be able to pick-up difficult to find items with an Arizona flare.
From honey to hot sauce, artwork to jewelry, the market is a treasure trove of surprises that changes from week to week.
It’s also known for its yummy coffee, amazing chocolates and baked goods prepared daily by local bakeries.
Consider a trip to the market before heading out to see the sites, and don’t be shy about asking locals for their suggestions.
7. Shoofly Village Ruins
Before it was officially settled, the Star Valley and Payson areas were inhabited by many Native American groups who left behind ruins that give visitors a fascinating insight into their lives.
Shoofly Village Archaeological Ruins near Payson are a great place see a few of these dwellings which date back to more than 1,000 years ago.
The site around the ruins was once thought to contain nearly 80 structures, each containing multiple rooms, which meant there were quite a few people eking their living from this tough and unforgiving landscape.
The site is best visited in the morning or afternoon when the sun isn’t at its strongest.
8. Granite Dells
Granite Dells is a few miles south of Prescott in an area strewn with amazingly large, round boulders that look they were transplanted from another planet.
The Dells are located near plenty of hiking trails which also lead to Watson and Willow lakes, both of which are popular recreation areas for swimmers, boaters and fisherman.
The Peavine National Recreation Trail will lead you to the lakes and Dells, which are in some of the most beautiful forest in the state.
If you catch the trailhead from either lake, you’ll have to pay a minimal parking and day-use fee, though it’ll be well worth it considering all you’ll get to see and do.
9. Salt River Canyon Scenic Byway
With nearly 90 miles of road twisting and turning through the Sonoran Desert, Salt River Canyon and Colorado Plateau, there are few drives to be found anywhere that offer such amazing scenery and vistas.
Dotted along the Route 60 path are abandoned ghost towns, Native American archaeological sites and lots of unique shops, towns and eateries that capture the spirit of the wild area.
10. Rim Country Museum and Zane Grey Cabin
Located on Green Valley Parkway in Payson, the Rim Country Museum includes both indoor and outdoor portions, and highlights restored and reconstructed building from when this part of Arizona was the great, untamed frontier only read about in dime store novels by easterners.
The authentically recreated kitchen and blacksmith shop will give you a new appreciation for the hardships that pioneer families endured every day, just to survive in this harsh and hostile region of the American southwest.
Admission is very inexpensive considering all you’ll see and learn, and donations are graciously accepted and will go to the museum’s upkeep
11. Dry Lake Park
One of the area’s destinations for outdoor activities is Dry Lake Park.
Camping is allowed, as are lots of other cool activities that you can’t do elsewhere like shooting guns and bows at the park’s special ranges.
There’s even a skeet shooting range if you’d like to oil up that rusty old shotgun that you haven’t used in ages.
If all that’s not enough, there’s an outdoor paintball area chockfull of obstacles, and a special area designated for those who like to fly radio controlled airplanes, helicopters and drones.
Due to its low elevation the park isn’t a great place to be in the middle of summer.
12. Discovery Park
Located on the campus of Eastern Arizona College, Discovery Park in Safford is like a trip to NASA, only in the middle of the Arizona desert.
Highlights of the park include an observatory and space shuttle simulator which features a moving compartment with lots of pictures and sounds that’s always a real hit with the little ones.
There are plenty of exhibits, galleries and artifacts related to the history of the Gila River Valley, and others that delve into different areas of science like electricity, magnetism and the spectrum of light.
The park is closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly.
13. Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park
Located on South Jesse Hayes Road in Globe, Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park is one of those difficult to pronounce Arizona sites that’s well worth the drive to visit.
Admission only costs a few bucks, and you’ll get to see some amazing remains of stone houses left behind by the Salado people who lived in the area between 700 and 800 years ago.
Many of the houses have been restored so you’ll get an idea of the lives of these mysterious people who called this harsh environment home.
The exhibits include pottery, tools, weapons and clothes used and worn by the people, which kids particularly like.
14. Roper Lake State Park
When hopping around the hot Arizona landscape, it’s always a good idea to have a few areas on your itinerary that’ll help cool you off when all else has failed.
Less than 10 miles outside of Safford, Roper Lake State Park is full of trails, and is a favorite haunt of swimmers, boaters and fisherman looking for a little outdoor therapy and exercise.
The park often hosts special events, so you never know what you’ll run into when you’re there.
Since there are campsites close to the lake, it’s also a great place to spend the night under the stars and may be a great opportunity to teach the kids some basic wilderness survival skills, like how to deal with withdraw sparked by a lack of internet and television.