Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is located off State Route 87, about 10 miles north of Payson. The park contains its namesake, Tonto Natural Bridge. It is believed this natural travertine (a form of limestone) bridge is among the largest natural travertine bridges in the world, if not the largest. It is 183 feet high and traverses a 400 feet long tunnel. The tunnel stretches to 150 feet at its widest point. You can see the Tonto Natural Bridge from four different parking lot viewpoints without hiking down to the bottom. Or you can hike any or all of the 4 trails. All these trails offer spectacular scenery.
Gowan Trail is about 2200 feet long, down and back. It is a well-maintained trail that descends gently for a short distance. Then it gets steeper and rougher. There are a long series of stairs (around 80 stairs) that lead to an observation platform at the creek bottom. This takes you to the front of the waterfalls. You can go inside a bit but it is mossy and very slippery. Hiking shoes are recommended. To see the waterfalls from the inside, take the Waterfall Trail. It is about 600 feet long down and back.
Anna Mae Trail is about 500 feet long and leads to Pine Creek Trail and the Tonto Natural Bridge. Pine Creek Trail is about 1 mile out and back. About half is developed and half is undeveloped. This is the most strenuous hike due to the fact you have to climb over rocks.
David Gowan, a prospector, discovered this area in 1877. He stumbled across the bridge as he was being chased by Apaches. For two nights and three days he hid in one of several caves that dot the inside of the bridge. On the third day, he left the cave to explore the tunnel and green valley surrounding it. He then claimed squatter’s rights. This area was later designated a state park.
Go to the National Tonto Bridge website for more information.