You might think of Phoenix as an oasis in the middle of a desert, but there’s a ton of diverse natural beauty just at its doorstep. One of those places is the Tonto National Forest & Land Bridge.
This is actually two spots that are found within one larger area. But both are certainly worth exploring. So that’s what we’ll cover in this post. You’ll get a mini guide to both the Tonto National Forest and the Land Bridge because let’s face it; you don’t want to miss either!
Tonto National Forest
There are a few special facts about the Tonto National Forest.
First, it’s huge. It’s actually the fifth largest National Forest in the United States. Second, for many, it doesn’t look like their conventional idea of a forest at first. Third, the forest is home to the Tonto National Monument which is home to a few cliff dwellings that are hundreds of years old.
Once in the Tonto National Forest, there is plenty to do. As one of the few ‘urban forests’ in the country, being so close to Phoenix, this area gets millions of visitors each year. So there are a number of hiking and biking trails, camping spots, rock climbing, picnic options, and fishing opportunities.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Once inside Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, the Land Bridge is the main attraction. It’s easy to see why.
The Land Bridget is estimated largest natural travertine bridge in the world. It stands over a 400-foot tunnel and is about 180 tall at it’s highest point. It was discovered in 1877, purely by accident, when a Scottish man named David Gowan was hiding in the area.
The best way to see the bridge is to follow one of three trails: Waterfall Trail, Pine Creek Trail, and Gowan Trail. Each of these will bring you to the bridge or give you spectacular views of the bridge and nearby waterfall. So these aren’t to be missed!
From Phoenix, it’s about a two-hour drive to the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Head out of Phoenix on the 202 going East then take AZ-87 North. It won’t be long before you leave the suburban sprawl and start heading into the mountains. About halfway through the trip, you’ll hit the Tonto National Forest and then its just under an hour to the Land Bridge, following AZ-87.
Tonto National Forest and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park are open year round, but the opening and closing hours will vary slightly during the summer and winter months. Last entry to the Land Bridge is usually around 4 pm daily.
If you live in Pheonix or if you know you’re going to be in the area on a trip, don’t hesitate to take a half day and spend some time wandering the Tonto National Forest & Land Bridge.