There are many incredible things to do in Payson Az, whether you are looking for a family weekend getaway or want to be outdoors hiking, swimming, or enjoying a picnic surrounded by lush mountains, and red rock cliffs.
At 5,000 feet in elevation, Payson, known for the historic ranching and lumber community is located beautifully, amid both the Mogollon Rim—a 200-mile-long escarpment that marks the edge of the Colorado Plateau and the largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest in the world.
It is a perfect escape if you want to avoid crowds in Sedona, Phoenix, or Tucson, or to experience different, greener landscapes since unlike drier desert regions of Arizona, Payson enjoys a temperate Mediterranean climate.
Did you know? Payson Az is one of the filming locations in the state, especially author Zane Grey’s popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre.
Payson in Arizona is the site of the world’s oldest continuous rodeo, held annually since 1884.
Only two hours away from Phoenix, there are plenty of Payson attractions with something for everyone to keep you occupied, from outdoor activities in lakes and mountains to festivals to delicious eateries to shopping.
So if you are looking for what to do in Payson, AZ, this guide covers all about the best things to do in Payson Arizona, the best time to visit, and where to eat and stay.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN PAYSON AZ
EXPLORE MOGOLLON RIM
Among the best things to do in Payson Az is the Mogollon Rim, a 2000-foot natural rock formation made of sandstone and limestone, which stretches over two hundred miles through northern Arizona between Yavapai County and the New Mexico border.
One of the top Payson Arizona attractions, the Mogollon Rim is a part of the Colorado Plateau and named after the Spanish Governor of New Mexico Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, who was in power from 1712 to 1715.
The Payson section of the rim offers expansive views, hiking trails lined with ponderosa pines, and incredible photo opportunities that speak to the rim’s sheer vastness.
Do the Mogollon Rim Road scenic drive along the Forest Road 300 to take in panoramic views.
Stretching over 40 miles, beginning on Highway 87 near Strawberry, you will be treated to fascinating views of the towering sandstones, limestone Kaibab and Coconino cliffs, the deep Fossil Creek and Pine Canyons overlook the sprawling Ponderosa pine forests from the rim’s slopes and plateaus.
If you want a closer look at the scenery, you can explore the terrain via its many hiking and biking trails. Among the popular trails is the Rim Lakes Vista Trail, a 3.5-mile paved trail offering fantastic views of the forested mountains.
During winter Mogollon Rim is one of the best places for backcountry skiing, while summer is the best time to enjoy camping and fishing.
GREEN VALLEY PARK
One of the free things to do in Payson Az is the pretty Green Valley Park in the heart of the town on the main street.
Green Valley Park, spanning thirty acres, features more than 30 acres of lush green space, including three lakes, lots of grass, picnic areas, playgrounds, and benches.
There’s plenty of free parking, and you may also have a chance to enjoy musical performances in the amphitheatre on the premises.
Check out the Urban Fishing Program, one of the award-winning ventures allowing fishing and educational opportunities.
This park is an excellent place for jogging, walking, biking, fishing, kayaking or boating in the lakes or hiking around four miles of trails amidst the green space.
You may also enjoy musical performances in the amphitheatre in the summer when regular concerts happen here. There are fireworks celebrations on the 4th of July, Halloween nights and special events during Christmas in Green Valley Park.
VISIT PAYSON FARMERS MARKET
To know what or where the locals there is no better place than Payson’s Farmers Market, one of the fun things to do in Payson Az located on South Beeline Highway in Payson at the Sawmill Crossing Plaza.
Running for over 10+ years, this Saturday morning market from late fall to the end of summer every year is one of the fun attractions in Payson Az to meet with locals and enjoy food grown within 100 miles of Payson.
Grab fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy, baked goods, pastries, and different kinds of artisan food from the area’s local farmers and artisans in over fifty stalls.
Some of the local specials you should not miss are wild Arizona honey, many types of jam, cheese, and natural agave nectar.
You can even catch performances by local artists here in the evening. It is one of the best attractions in Payson for a quick stop for shopping and dining.
Opening hours – Every Saturday from May 27 to September 16 from 8 AM to 12 PM.
VISIT SHOOFLY VILLAGE RUINS
One of the unique things to do in Payson Az for history lovers is visiting Shoofly Indian Ruins in the heart of Gila County.
It is a massive dwelling complex home to the indigenous people of Mogollon from 1000 to 1250 A. D and other Native Indian tribes until the 20th century.
Initially uncovered by the archaeologist John Hughes in 1930 and again by the students of Arizona State University, Shoofly Village ruins comprise about eight different types of structures, including a gigantic two-story building with twenty-six rooms made of adobe, stone, and wood.
Get close to these ruins on a guided tour followed by a picnic lunch in the shaded picnic area and restrooms.
Also, Shoofly Indian Ruins is one of the best free things to do in Payson Az, as there is no entrance fee.
PICNIC AT RUMSEY PARK
If you are looking for more easy-to-access green spaces in the town, one of the top things to do in Payson Az is taking a stroll at Rumsey Park, an 82-acre park home to a swimming pool and five baseball or softball fields.
There are also two playgrounds, six pickleball courts, three tennis fields, two sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, and a skate park.
For bookworms, The Payson Public Library located within the park is worth visiting for an afternoon read.
Plus it is one of the best things to do in Payson Az with pets as there is also a dog park where you can play with them.
Opening hours – 6 AM to 10:30 PM every day
Entry Fees – Free
BEST THINGS TO DO IN PAYSON AZ FOR OUTDOOR LOVERS
EXPLORE THE MAZATZAL WILDERNESS AREA
If you love the outdoors, especially fantastic landscapes and wildlife, one of the fun things to do in Payson Az explores the beautiful Mazatzal Wilderness Area.
Located about an hour northeast of Phoenix near Payson in Yavapai and Gila counties in Arizona, the Mazatzal Wilderness area encompasses more than 252,000 acres of the Coconino National Forest and the Tonto National Forest.
The Mazatzal Mountains in the Mexican Indian native culture means the place with many deers as it inhabited many deers before the settlers arrived.
Enjoy the fascinating views of the Mazatzal Peak, the highest peak in the area, towering over the landscapes at 8,000 feet.
You have over forty trails for hiking across both national forests, including some popular trails like the Mazatzal Divide Trail, the Verde River Trail, the Gold Ridge trail and the Saddle Ridge Trail.
On the eastern trails, you will be treated to magnificent views of pine or brush-covered mountains, and a few vertical-walled, narrow canyons.
If you are lucky, you may spot Mountain lions, bears, coyotes, and different types of birds along with hundreds of deer while hiking.
Note that there are no basic amenities here, it is best to carry, snacks, lots of water, good hiking shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses as it gets hot.
TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK
Home to the world’s largest travertine bridge, a 183-foot tall bridge, Rancho Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is one of the best things to do in Payson Az.
The natural bridge was initially discovered in 1877 by pioneer David Gowan, who constructed Goodfellow Lodge, which housed members of his family until 1948 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park was formed millions of years ago due to volcanic lava, seawater, and precipitation.
You can enjoy the splendid views from four observation points to see the beautiful travertine rocks in the 400-foot tunnel running through the bridge’s centre.
Located only 20 minutes from town, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is home to several hiking trails that descend into Pine Canyon and picnic trails scattered throughout the property around the natural bridge.
The most popular trail is the waterfall trail leading you to a beautiful waterfall cave, and the 0.5-mile pine creek, Gowan and Anna Mae trails take you through the rich landscapes. Each hike takes an hour or so to complete.
PLAN A DAY TRIP TO WILLOW SPRINGS LAKE
One of the best day trips from Payson you can plan is to Willow Springs Lake at the top of the Mogollon Rim, surrounded by beautiful forests comprising Ponderosa Pine, Oak, and Douglas Fir trees.
Due to its excellent location, the lake has cooler temperatures in the spring due to the snow melt and summer.
It is one of the best experiences to enjoy a picnic by the gorgeous blue waters lake surrounded by evergreen forests or dip in the cold waters of Willow Springs Lake.
You can hike along the many trails and camp overnight. In summer, enjoy kayaking, tubing, fishing and boating in the lake.
FIND FOSSILS AT THE NACO PALEO SITE
If you love exploring fossils, you should add a visit to the Naco Paleo Site, one of the best things to do in Payson Az for adventure lovers to hunt for treasures of fossils.
Naco Paleo Site is home to one of the largest deposits of Shale-Limestone in Pennsylvania, obtained nearly three hundred million years ago, as it was once covered by the sea, and comprises thousands of invertebrate fossils, reptile fossils, and contemporary fish fossils.
You can bring tools to excavate and go looking for fossils and collect them as Invertebrate fossil collection is permitted at the site.
You need a permit to enter that can be obtained at the centre beside which there is a large parking site for RVs and cars. Note that you can collect invertebrate fossil and has to be reported to the rangers.
ENJOY A RELAXING DIP IN VERDE HOT SPRINGS
One of the best things to do in Payson Az is Verde Hot Springs, located in the ruins of a former resort in south Sedona in Yavapai County.
The hot springs, sitting on the site of an abandoned hot spring resort which burnt down in the 1960s, left only two cement pools and a few fountains.
Located near the Fossil Springs Wilderness Area, you can easily plan a day trip to Verde Hot Springs while exploring Sedona, Flagstaff, and Prescott.
Verde Hot Springs has water temperatures reaching 98.6°F to 105°F.
Among the best natural hot springs in Arizona, these hot springs are free to enter and a perfect way to unwind while enjoying the stunning landscapes around the resort.
The pools also attract hot spring purists or nudists regularly, so expect people to be soaking in their birth suits.
PICNIC AT WATER WHEEL FALLS
One of the most famous waterfall hikes in Arizona with kids and pets is Water Wheel and Ellison Creek Waterfalls.
It is one of the best things to do in Payson Az, and is ideal for beginner hikers as well, thanks to the short distance and easily accessible trail.
You can enjoy a nice swim at the waterfalls and the swimming holes on this hike or picnic with your kids, soaking in the fantastic views around you as crystal-clear mountain water pours from the East Verde River, creating deep gorges and dramatic waterfalls.
Since the entire trail runs the length of the river, you have the options to sunbathe, picnic, swim and relax at many places before making it to the waterfalls.
The waterfall hike starts from the Houston Mesa Road parking lot. In a short while, you will pass through the East Verde River on your right amidst boulders.
About 0.25 miles into the trail, you’ll get your first chance to dip into the chilly water of Ellison Creek.
You can stop by and picnic or continue your hike to encounter granite boulders, soon after which the small creek turns into a beautiful turquoise river.
You only have to go on this trail for about half a mile past these boulders to arrive at the roaring waters of Water Wheel Falls.
If you are looking for a longer walk, continue on the trail to the Bridal Veil Falls, another among the list of the best waterfalls in Arizona. If you want to avoid crowds, weekdays are the best days to enjoy picnics here.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Spring, summer and Falls are the best months to visit Water Wheel Falls, but it is best to avoid monsoons since the area is frequently prone to flash floods.
Check the forecast before heading out on the trail to avoid dangerous conditions.
VISIT PAYSON DURING CHRISTMAS
December is one of the best months to plan a trip to Payson as it is one of the best Christmas destinations in Arizona.
Add Payson to your bucket list if you are looking for a holiday without many crowds.
Attend the annual Electric Light Parade, when Payson into a winter wonderland on the first Saturday of December.
Held on Main Street in Payson, Arizona, the event that runs from 6 PM is one of the top attractions where Main Street comes to life with brilliantly lit floats and carolers singing the musicals.
The Swiss Village Christmas lighting is another popular event not to miss if you are traveling with your family, as you can meet Santa and enjoy a cup of hot cider.
Enjoy rides and games, shop for local crafts, and listen to live musical performances to get into the holiday spirit. Other attractions you must check out include Gospel Choirs, Brunch, and Christmas Dinners.
Payson hosts the unique and popular Holiday House Lighting Contest, where people decorate their homes to add to the fun, and children sing Christmas carols.
SWIM IN THE ELLISON CREEK WATERFALL
One of the fun things to do in Payson Az with kids is exploring Ellison Creek Waterfall, which you can combine on your visit to the Water Wheel day use area as Ellison Creek is beside.
Located between Payson and the Mogollon Rim, Ellison Creek is one of the best swimming holes in Arizona as the plunging waterfall forms a crystal-clear pool attracting hikers and families seeking a picnic amidst lush forests.
This out-and-back hike leading to Ellison Creek Waterfall is over two miles and moderately complex due to some wash crossings, loose rocks and slippery sections, best tackled with good hiking shoes and water shoes.
The trailhead lies at a parking lot on Houston Mesa Road, with restrooms available.
Take care while stepping on rocks that can be slippery, and check the water levels that vary according to the seasons.
You will be rewarded with the sights of a stunning waterfall plunging from 3650 feet to form a pretty pool amidst the rocks.
Some points offer perfect spots for diving into the waters. Lounge, sunbathe, relax, and enjoy a picnic lunch with your family, admiring the views of the pool and the waterfalls.
You can bring your pets on a leash on this trail and fish for trout.
Due to its popularity, expect crowds if you go during the summer months, especially during the weekends and crowds.
HIKE THE RAILROAD TUNNEL TRAIL
If you love hiking, add the hike along the Railroad Tunnel Trail to your list of things to do in Payson Az that will take you through the wilderness secluded from any signs of civilization.
Also, as the name suggests, you will stumble upon many rail lines on this trail, including a railroad track that connected Las Vegas, Boulder City, and Hoover Dam bordering Nevada.
This trail was formed in the 1880s when a tunnel was excavated by the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad through the Mogollon Rim to allow ore transport, but it had to be stopped.
This abandoned tunnel in the 19th century turned into a secluded spot for hikers as it offers fantastic views of the Mogollon Rim along the way.
Also, the Historic Railroad Trail offers splendid views of both Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, Arizona’s largest artificial reservoir.
One of the best ways to access the Railroad Tunnel Trail is via the Colonel Devin Trail, which is about a mile long, but steeper and packed with loose rocks and gravel. Hence it is recommended to wear hiking shoes with great grip and comfortable clothes on this Payson hike.
CHECK OUT RIM COUNTRY MUSEUM
Visiting Rim Country Museum is one of the best things to do in Payson AZ.
Operated by the Arizona Historical Society, Rim Country Museum gives you glimpses into Payson’s cultural history and has extensive collections about the works and the life of author Zane Gray, who vacationed here regularly and is known for many classic books depicting the history of the Old West, with many movies inspired by them.
Although Zane Grey was born in Ohio, he is one of the most celebrated individuals in the town as most of his novels are set in Arizona. Stop at his holiday cabin, the Zane Grey Cabin, a replica of his cabin that was created after the fire in the 1990s.
The museum, housed in a former Forest Ranger Station dating back to 1907, also features many artefacts of the Native Americans, especially the history of Apache indigenous and their culture, including the World’s oldest rodeo, Payson Rodeo, a blacksmith shop, and a refurbished sawmill.
STROLL THROUGH THE CEMETERY
One of the unique and offbeat things to do in Payson Az visits the Payson Pioneer Cemetery, a chance to pay tribute to the contributors to the history of the town.
FUN THINGS TO DO IN PAYSON AZ
WATCH A MOVIE AT SAWMILL THEATRES
One of the fun things to do in Payson Az for movie fans is watching the latest blockbuster at Sawmill Theatre, a locally owned and operated movie theatre in the community offering movie fans an excellent experience.
Sawmill Theatres is a fully digital small-town movie theatre equipped with a great sound system and stadium seating in six theatres consisting of six large flatscreen TVs that can rock along with the option for matinee pricing.
Choose any classic or the latest movies to watch from one of its six screens or watch a 3D film with hot and delicious popcorn, and chilled drinks.
ENJOY A ROUND OF GOLF
Whether you have never played Golf before or you love playing, a visit to Payson Golf course is one of the fun things to do in Payson Az.
Located amidst rolling hills and pine trees, the Payson Golf course comprises a practice range, a 9-hole or 8-hole golf course, and a cafe for a few hours of fun with your family.
DEMING PIONEER PARK
Another green space perfect for a stroll and get to know the history of the town is Deming Pioneer Park, one of the things to do in Payson with kids.
Maintained by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, Deming Pioneer Park at the corner of Main and McLane, and was established to pay homage to the brave pioneers who explored and founded the city in the area more than a century ago.
It is one of the best about the history of the first settlers, the Native Americans, especially the livelihood, culture, and geological history of the city.
LEARN ABOUT FISHING IN TONTO CREEK FISH HATCHERY
Located within the Tonto National Forest, one of the fun things to do in Payson Az is Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery known for the production of nearly 50,000 lbs. of trout every year or 15% of trout stock in Arizona,
Located at over 6500 feet, Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery is one of the best places to learn all about fishing, from fish catches and production including cutthroat, rainbow, brook, tiger and Apache trout via a self-guided tour.
The visitors centre is a great place to start to know all about fishing. Enjoy the views of the stream forming a canyon. Your kids will love the pond where you can feed the fish.
Tucked into the woods beneath the Mogollon Rim, the hatchery grounds are also home to rich wildlife, so do not be surprised if you come across deer or coyotes. You can also camp overnight.
SHOP FOR ANTIQUES
If you love shopping for antiques, one of the best Payson Az attractions is heading to Payson. This cute shop has been around for over 30 years and you will be transported back in time as you stroll through their collections in the ancestral house for long-lost relics.
From warplanes to rare sewing machines, photographs, antique furniture, dishes, toys, books, electronics, jewellery, souvenirs, glasses, albums, and home and garden decor, you have plenty of things in the Attic.
VISIT KOHLS RANCH TABLE
If you want to enjoy horseback riding with your kids, head to Kohls Ranch Stable, one of the fun activities in Payson Arizona, where you can have a fun day with the horses whether you want to learn horseback riding or you are an expert wanting a fun ride.
The stable is typically open for trail rides between May and October, and it can get crowded during the weekends.
You will ride through a lovely forest where you can watch a wide variety of birds, deer and elk, and beautiful views of the mountains.
RANCHO TONTO CATCH-A-TROUT
If you want more fishing activities and fun, head next to Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout, one of the fun things to do in Payson Az with kids as you can teach them how to fish, including fish cleaning, packaging, and ice.
At this Payson attraction located also below Mogollon Rim, you can learn about catching rainbow trout.
This homestead is free to enter and fish as well, including poles, bait, nets and buckets being free to use. You only need to pay for the fish you catch.
You can also stay overnight here in their accommodation if you wish to stay longer.
Opening hours – 10 AM to 5 PM in summer. (Opening days and timings change during fall and spring).
SHOP AT PAYSON CANDLE FACTORY
Another stop worth making if you love shopping is Payson Candle Factory, one of the oldest shops and among the fun things to do in Payson Az.
The Payson Candle Factory is a one-of-a-kind shop which began out of a passion for making handmade candles turning into a place of exquisite candle art where you can shop for candles of different shapes and sizes.
Not only do they offer traditional candles, but you can also shop for hand-carved ones, or even get your candles customized making them a perfect souvenir.
One of the fun things to do in Payson Az with family playing a round or two of bowling at the Rim Country Bowl, a family-friendly fun centre.
Rim Country Bowl has a pool hall with pool tables and dart boards that you can enjoy with snacks and drinks at the bar.
MAP OF THINGS TO DO IN PAYSON ARIZONA
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PAYSON AZ
Spring and summer are popular and crowded months to visit Payson in Arizona as the weather is pleasant and excellent for being outdoors.
If you want a white wonderland winter, plan a trip to Payson from November through March to experience high-country snow.
HOW TO GET TO PAYSON AZ
Payson is located about two hours from Phoenix and Flagstaff. If you are arriving from Phoenix, take Highway 87 or the Beeline Highway from Greater Phoenix and continue north to reach Payson Az.
WHERE TO STAY IN PAYSON AZ
Majestic Mountain Inn is located in the Tonto National Forest; this hotel features 100 Ponderosa Pines on site.
You can rent the entire property for yourself, a three-bedroom villa featuring a pretty patio, views of the city that you can admire from the terrace, a garden, barbecue facilities, free WiFi and free private parking.
Luxurious Bungalow in Payson offers a hot tub, a perfect retreat in the winter. You can enjoy skiing nearby as it is closely located on the slopes.
The air-conditioned villa consists of 3 bedrooms, a living room, a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge and a coffee machine, and two bathrooms with a shower and a hot tub.
One of the best Payson cabins if you are looking for a well-furnished, centrally located holiday home is Hidden Gem Retreat in the Heart of Payson.
Hidden Gem Retreat in the Heart of Payson features a three-bedroom house with a garden, private kitchen,
and balcony with a beautiful garden, mountains and city views.
The holiday home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, free WiFi, a Barbecue, bed linen, towels, a flat-screen TV, a dining area, a fully equipped kitchen, a 24-hour front desk, and a business centre.
Hidden Gem Retreat in the Heart of Payson also offers a relaxing spa at their spa centre.
Check out this list of the 15 Best Cabin Rentals In Payson Arizona, to experience a relaxing stay amidst gorgeous locations.
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