Tonto National Forest is a vast and stunning wilderness area located in the state of Arizona, in the southwestern United States. It is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with its rugged terrain, diverse wildlife, and abundant recreational opportunities.
How to get Tonto National Forest
Getting to Tonto National Forest is relatively easy, as the forest is located within a short driving distance from major cities in Arizona. Here are some ways to get to the forest:
Tonto National Forest is accessible by car, and there are several highways that lead to the forest. From Phoenix, take State Route 87 North, also known as the Beeline Highway. From Payson, take State Route 260 East or State Route 87 South. From Globe or Mesa, take State Route 188 North.
The closest major airport to Tonto National Forest is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which is located approximately 40 miles southwest of the forest. From the airport, visitors can rent a car or take a shuttle to reach the forest.
Greyhound Bus Lines operates a bus service from Phoenix to Payson, which is located near the forest. From Payson, visitors can rent a car or take a taxi to reach the forest.
Amtrak operates a train service from Los Angeles to Flagstaff, which is located approximately 2.5 hours north of Tonto National Forest. From Flagstaff, visitors can rent a car or take a shuttle to reach the forest.
Once visitors arrive at Tonto National Forest, there are several ranger stations and visitor centers where they can obtain maps, information, and permits for recreational activities within the forest.
List of best dispersed camping in Tonto National Forest
1. Upper Verde River
Located in the heart of the forest, Upper Verde River offers excellent dispersed camping opportunities. This area features several campsites, each with a fire pit and a picnic table. The river is a great spot for fishing and swimming, and there are plenty of hiking trails in the area.
2. Pinal Mountains
The Pinal Mountains are located in the southern part of Tonto National Forest and offer excellent dispersed camping opportunities. This area is home to several mountain peaks, including Pinal Peak, which stands at 7,848 feet. The campsites in this area offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
3. Canyon Creek
Canyon Creek is located in the northern part of the forest and offers some of the best dispersed camping opportunities in the area. The campsites in this area are located along the creek and offer easy access to fishing and hiking. The area is also home to several waterfalls, making it a great spot for photography.
4. Bartlett Reservoir
Bartlett Reservoir is located in the eastern part of the forest and offers excellent dispersed camping opportunities. The campsites in this area offer stunning views of the reservoir and are a great spot for fishing and boating. There are also several hiking trails in the area.
5. Christopher Creek
Christopher Creek is located in the Mogollon Rim area of the forest and offers excellent dispersed camping opportunities. The campsites in this area are located along the creek and offer easy access to fishing and hiking. The area is also home to several waterfalls, making it a great spot for photography. Check out Sedona travel guide – The lovely valley in the state of Arizona
Tonto National Forest map
List of Tonto National Forest Animals
1. Black Bear
Tonto National Forest is home to a healthy population of black bears. While encounters with these creatures are rare, it is important to know how to react if you do come across one. Keep your distance and do not approach the bear.
2. Mountain Lion
Also known as cougars, these big cats are known to roam the forest. They are elusive and tend to avoid humans, but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and keep your distance if you spot one.
These small wildcats are common in the forest and can often be seen hunting for prey at dusk and dawn.
Also known as collared peccaries, these wild pigs are a common sight in Tonto National Forest. They are usually docile, but can be aggressive if they feel threatened.
These cunning animals are often heard howling at night in the forest. They are skilled hunters and scavengers and can be spotted hunting alone or in packs.
Tonto National Forest is home to several species of venomous snakes, including the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Be aware of your surroundings and watch where you step when hiking in the forest.
7. Gila Monster
This venomous lizard is found in the Sonoran Desert and can be spotted in Tonto National Forest. They are slow-moving and are usually not aggressive towards humans.
These majestic animals are commonly found in the forest and can often be seen grazing in meadows and near streams.
9. Bighorn Sheep
These impressive animals can be spotted scaling the rocky cliffs of the Superstition Mountains. They are elusive and are best spotted from a distance.
10. Wild Horses
According to Arizona state historical records, these Wild Horses have been living on the Lower Salt River of Arizona since well before the Tonto National Forest was created in 1902, or Roosevelt Damed the river. Most date them to at least the 1700’s. Best guess is that they are descendants from Spanish missionary stockyards in late 17th century Sonora (now Arizona). Check out A wild horse and the hurricane season is coming in Arizona
List of Best Hiking Trails in Tonto National Forest
1. Horton Creek Trail
This 8-mile round trip trail offers a beautiful hike along a creek, with waterfalls and swimming holes along the way.
2. Four Peaks Trail
This 10-mile trail offers a challenging hike through rugged terrain with stunning views of Four Peaks.
3. Siphon Draw Trail
This 4.4-mile round trip trail is a steep and challenging hike that rewards hikers with stunning views of the Superstition Mountains.
4. Peralta Trail
This 5-mile round trip trail offers stunning views of Weaver’s Needle and the surrounding Superstition Mountains.
5. Massacre Grounds Trail
This 5.6-mile round trip trail offers a challenging hike through rocky terrain with stunning views of the Mazatzal Mountains.
6. Fossil Creek Trail
This 8-mile round trip trail offers a beautiful hike through a canyon with waterfalls and swimming holes along the way.
7. Dutchman’s Trail
This 6-mile round trip trail offers stunning views of the Superstition Mountains and Weaver’s Needle.
8. Picketpost Trail
This 4.8-mile round trip trail offers stunning views of Picketpost Mountain and the surrounding Sonoran Desert.
9. Pine Creek Loop Trail
This 2.8-mile loop trail offers a beautiful hike through a lush riparian area with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
10. First Water Trail
This 3.2-mile round trip trail offers stunning views of the Superstition Mountains and the surrounding Sonoran Desert.
Other things you may not know about exploring Tonto National Forest
It’s One of the Largest National Forests in the United States
At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto National Forest is one of the largest national forests in the United States. It spans a vast area of central Arizona, encompassing a diverse range of landscapes and ecosystems, including the iconic Sonoran Desert, the scenic Mogollon Rim, and the high mountain peaks of the Mazatzal Wilderness.
It’s Home to Some of the Most Beautiful Scenery in the Southwest
Tonto National Forest is renowned for its breathtaking scenery, with rugged mountains, deep canyons, and rolling hillsides. The forest is also home to several rivers and lakes, including the Salt River, the Verde River, and the Roosevelt Lake. These waterways provide abundant recreational opportunities for visitors, including fishing, boating, and swimming.
It’s Rich in History and Culture
Tonto National Forest has a long and rich history, with evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years. The area was once home to several Native American tribes, including the Hohokam, Salado, and Tonto Apache. Visitors to the forest can explore ancient ruins, cliff dwellings, and petroglyphs that offer a glimpse into the region’s past.
It’s a Hiker’s Paradise
With over 900 miles of trails, Tonto National Forest is a hiker’s paradise. The trails vary in difficulty, from easy strolls to strenuous treks, and offer a range of scenery, from desert landscapes to lush forests. Some of the most popular trails include the Horton Creek Trail, the Four Peaks Trail, and the Arizona Trail, which crosses the entire state.
It’s a Wildlife Haven
Tonto National Forest is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, and bobcats. Birdwatchers will also enjoy the abundant birdlife, including bald eagles, ospreys, and various species of hawks.
It Offers a Range of Recreational Opportunities
Tonto National Forest offers a range of recreational opportunities, including camping, picnicking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and rock climbing. There are also several designated wilderness areas within the forest, including the Superstition Wilderness, the Four Peaks Wilderness, and the Mazatzal Wilderness, which offer a more secluded and remote experience.
Indeed, Tonto National Forest is a treasure trove of natural beauty, history, and adventure, and offers something for every type of traveler. Whether you’re a hiker, a history buff, a wildlife enthusiast, or simply looking to relax and enjoy the great outdoors, Tonto National Forest is a must-visit destination in the Southwest.