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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

P.O. Box 1245
Payson, Arizona 85547
Phone: (928) 476-4202

The park is located off Hwy 87, just 10 miles north of Payson. Please note speed limits on the steep, winding mountain road before the park entrance.

You find this state park in a tiny valley surrounded by a forest of pine trees. Tonto Natural Bridge has been in the making for thousands of years. Experts believe it is the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point.

In 1877 David Gowan, a prospector who stumbled across the bridge as Apaches chased him, documented the discovery of the small and beautiful valley between Pine and Payson. Gowan hid for two nights and three days 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. Gowan then claimed squatter's rights.

In 1898 he persuaded his nephew, David Gowan Goodfellow, to bring his family over from Scotland and settle the land permanently. After a week of difficult travel from Flagstaff, the Goodfellows arrived at the edge of the mountain and lowered their possessions down the 500-foot slopes into the valley by ropes and burros.

Today, visitors can stand on top of the bridge or hike down below to capture the true size and beauty of this geologic wonder.

According to state geologists, the formation of Tonto Natural Bridge went through several stages of development.

The west side of Pine Creek was formed by a flow of lava in the form of rhyolite. The rock eroded, leaving behind purple quartz sandstone. The rock layers were then lithified, tilted and faulted.

The area was then covered by seawater, leaving behind sediment of sand and mud. Volcanic eruptions covered the rock layers with lava, forming a basalt cap. Through erosion, the basalt cap broke down and was shifted by faults, creating Pine Creek Canyon.

Precipitation began seeping underground through fractures and weak points in the rock, resulting in limestone aquifers. Springs emerged as a result of these aquifers, carrying the dissolved limestone and depositing calcium carbonate to form a travertine dam. The waters of Pine Creek then eroded through the travertine and formed the Natural Bridge.

  • Memorial Day - Labor Day: 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • April, September and October: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • November - March: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Closed Christmas Day

Park Facilities

  • Walking trails and viewpoints
  • Picnic tables and gift shop
  • Portable restrooms
 
 
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