Established in 1907, the Tonto National Monument is situated in the Tonto Basin of the Upper Sonoran Desert in Arizona, and protects two prehistoric cliff dwellings of the Salado people. These people occupied the region in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, suddenly and inexplicably abandoning the villages developed here about 500 years ago. The cliff dwellings were situated high up, overlooking the Tonto Basin which is currently flooded, forming Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The Salado culture farmed the Salt River Valley and were also hunter gathers and craftspeople. Pottery and textiles that have been discovered here at the cliff dwelling sites are on display at the visitor center museum.
The visitor center located at the monument has a museum, exhibits, bookstore, and presents an 18-minute film outlining the archaeological findings and natural features of the park.
The terrain is rugged, natural, and beautiful, located in the Superstition Mountains on the northeast edge of the Sonoran Desert. The park has an arid climate and habitat and the Salt River running through the region provides a water source for local wildlife. A campground is available for RV campers just a few miles away on Roosevelt Lake.
Tonto National Monument is located just 0.8 miles southwest of Route 188, the Apache Trail, a short distance from the shores of Roosevelt Lake. The address for GPS purposes is 26260 N AZ Hwy 188. Travelers should check local road conditions when traveling in the area as winter weather can cause icy conditions, and rain storms can cause flash flooding.
From Phoenix you can take State Highway 87 towards Payson, turn right on Highway 188 to head southeast, and continue for 39 miles to the Tonto National Monument on the right side. This route is recommended for visitors coming from Scottsdale or Fountain Hills areas.
Alternatively you can take State Highway 60 from Phoenix towards Globe, turn left on Highway 188 to head northwest, and continue for 25 miles to the monument on the left. This is a more desirable route for visitors coming from Mesa or Casa Grande.
The scenic route, State Route 88, from Phoenix, is very winding and has unpaved sections. You can take this route from Apache Junction for 47 miles to State Highway 188, then turn right and proceed two miles to the Tonto National Monument. The route is not recommended for RV trailers or vehicles with low clearance, and takes about 2.5 hours on a narrow rough road.
Travelers from Tuscon can go north on Highway 77 towards Globe, then turn left onto Highway 60 to pass through the town of Globe. Turn right onto highway 188 going northwest for 25 miles to the monument.
Traveling from Flagstaff take Lake Mary Road for 55 miles to Highway 87, then head south on Highway 87 through Payson to Highway 188. Turn left on Highway 188, and follow this route for 39 miles to the monument on the right hand side.
There is no camping in Tonto National Monument, however, the Tonto National Forest has numerous campgrounds, the closest of which is the Windy Hill Campground, which is under two miles away.
Campers are required to purchase a pass for the area, which is available at an automated machine located at park recreation sites. Windy Hill Campground is situated on Roosevelt Lake and provides ample water sport and recreational activities. Both motorized and non-motorized boats are permitted on the lake and there is fishing, with a variety of species in the lake, and boat launches nearby as well as a marina across the lake. Many hiking and cycling trails are situated nearby..
Sites are unserviced and can only accommodate RVs and trailers 32 feet or less in length. Amenities include flush toilets and showers as well as drinking water supply.
Visitors to the Tonto National Monument that want to enjoy a picnic in the natural beauty of this rugged region, or on the lake shores of Roosevelt Lake, will find plenty of nearby picnic areas to accommodate them.
A shady picnic site is located just down the road from the visitor center, and is easily accessible as part of your trip to the monument. Many campgrounds, day use areas, and picnic sites surround Roosevelt lake so early in the season, before it gets too hot, pack a lunch, and choose a spot to enjoy a meal and take in the beautiful scenery at the same time.
The numerous hiking and horseback riding trails in Tonto National Forest are also open to cyclists. Mountain bikers enjoy the rough challenging terrain in the area. Cyclists must yield to pedestrians and horses when encountered on the tails, and safety gear including a helmet is required.
Make sure you take lots of water, as there are steep elevation changes on the trails and temperatures during the day are extremely hot. Cyclists may choose to venture out early in the year and earlier or later in the day to avoid the midday heat.
Tonto National Monument not only protects the cliff dwellings of ancient peoples, but also the desert ecosystem and habitat of many unique plants and animals. Although only two square miles in size, there is an abundance of animals in the park.
Visitors can spot 40 different mammal species, 32 reptile species, 6 amphibian species, and 160 bird species in the region, and on the trails up to the dwellings. Many of the mammals are nocturnal, and are more likely to be viewed in the evening than in the heat of the day. These creatures often dig burrows into the soil to stay cool during the day. Reptiles are more likely to be out sunning themselves in the heat.
There are tewn hiking trails in Tonto National Monument, and maps are available at the visitor center. Five trails are rated as moderate in difficulty, ranging in length from 0.7 to 6.3 miles, and situated at between 2440 and 5685 feet above sea level.
The canyons and desert provide stark beauty, and the mountains in the background are a great backdrop for a hike. This activity may be more appropriate in cooler months, as summer heat can be extreme.
Dogs are allowed on a leash on the Lower Cliff Dwelling Trail, although not at the site itself or in the visitor center. Ensure you have good hiking boots for rough terrain, and pack lots of water to stay hydrated.
The numerous trails in the National Forest are open to equestrians, and many riders enjoy the beautiful mountain and desert scenery from horseback. Trails open to horseback riders in the Tonto Basin Ranger District include, Cemetery Trail, Chillicut Trail, Davey Town Trail, Gold Ridge Trail, and Oak Glade Trail. If those aren't enough for you and your horse, you can also venture onto Pigeon Trail, South Fork Trail, Thompson Trail, Tule Canyon Trail, Vineyard Trail, and Y Bar Trail.
The Frazier Horse Camp is situated just two miles from the Tonto National Monument, a five minute drive away, and accommodates horses on trips to the area. Fall is an ideal time for riding when temperatures abate somewhat.
The Tonto National Monument is open all year around, however, the lower cliff dwelling has extended hours during the winter months, and guided tours of the upper cliff dwellings are only available from November until April, with reservations open for booking October 1.
Two ancient cliff dwelling sites are situated at Tonto National Monument for visitors to explore. The Lower Cliff Dwelling can be accessed by a paved half mile trail, that is self guided from the visitor center. The trail is fairly steep, up a rocky hill, and is closed for uphill travel at 4 PM daily in the winter, to give visitors time to visit the site, and return by closing time at 5 PM. The ruins of the lower dwelling contain 19 rooms, and a ranger is usually on site to answer questions.
The upper ruin contains 40 rooms, and is a three mile round trip hike. The upper ruin is only accessible on guided tours with a ranger, which must be booked in advance. At the sites of these dwellings many archaeological discoveries and artifacts have been made, shedding light on the Salado Phenomena that occurred 700 years ago when several Native American cultures merged to form a society whose activities include village life, farming, and hunting and gathering activities. The visitor center provides information and exhibits of the archaeological finds from the dwelling sites and the region.