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Nestled into the heart of Tonto National Forest and less than two hours from Arizona's state capital Phoenix, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has become a popular motorhome camping spot. The state park is visited by locals and travelers alike looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and breathe in some of that fresh Arizona air.
Tonto Natural Bridge, which is the park’s main feature, is considered to be one of the largest natural limestone bridges in the world. The 183-foot arch was first discovered in 1877 by David Gowan, who later raised a family nearby and eventually passed away there in 1926. Most people come to explore the park on foot on one of the many walking trails. However, water-skiing, ATV riding, and rock climbing are also popular activities to get stuck into when you book an RV in Gila County.
Hiking is by far the best way to admire the spectacular bridge and surrounding rock formations with well-marked paths leading into and around the cave. The park is home to four trails, which range in difficulty level but can be completed in under an hour. When you’re RV camping at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park with any small children or less able walkers, head to one of the paved paths that cross the top of Tonto Bridge where you can appreciate just how enormous the bridge really is. If you’ve packed your hiking boots and are up for a challenge, follow the signs for Pine Creek Trail or Gowan Trail. You’ll need a decent level of fitness to complete these hikes, as the paths are steep, rough and include an uneven set of stairs to climb back up.
When you’re looking for somewhere to cool down on a hot Arizona summer day during your Tonto Natural Bridge State Park camping trip, it’s worth making the short drive south to Canyon Lake. Encompassing nearly 1,000 acres, this freshwater lake has become a hotspot amongst boaters, fishers, and water sportsmen alike. The lake’s wide-open expanse is perfect for an exhilarating afternoon on a jet ski, while its small coves and quieter spots can be explored via kayak, or with your best fishing rod in hand. Speaking of fishing, you’ll find everything from largemouth bass to walleye, crappie to rainbow trout in these fruitful waters.
As you’re looking for a real adventure, rock climbing and bouldering can also be on the cards during your visit. There are countless climbing sites peppered throughout the forest, but only experienced climbers should tackle these (unless you’re with a qualified guide). Found not far from the Lost Dutchman State Park, the unusually named Totgoblin Rock can be accessed via the Siphon Draw Trail. Once at the foot of the cragged rocks, climbers can start to steep ascent to the top, which can take between 2-3 hours.
While there’s nowhere to set up camp with your RV rental in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park itself, the Flowing Spring Campground is just a fifteen-minute drive away. Facilities are basic here, and more appropriate for an overnight stay. Around forty RV-friendly campsites are arranged around two different loops, each surrounded by high cliffs and a scenic creek. The beauty of the spot perhaps makes up for the lack of hook-up facilities and basic vault toilet facilities. Luckily, it’s free!
When you’re in the market for something a little more accommodating, you’ll need to head back into Payson., where there also happens to be a handy Walmart to stock up on groceries and fuel. Amongst others, travelers will find the Payson Campground and RV Resort a welcome sight. With nearly 100 sites to offer, each with water, electric and sewage hook-ups, you’ll feel more than comfortable here. Additional amenities include modern restrooms, a dump station, laundry room, an outdoor swimming pool and games room.
When you rent a camper near Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, you’ll be within reaching distance of Phoenix, a city full of cultural and family-friendly activities. If you only have time for one activity, make it the Desert Botanical Gardens. Stretching across 140-acres, visitors are given the opportunity to discover over 50,000 plants, many of which are native to the region and/or endangered. Five well-marked trails make it easy to explore the gardens and highlight the importance of eco-conservation, desert living, the plants and people of the Sonoran Desert, and the significance of desert wildflowers.
To continue the theme of the natural world, take your Phoenix camper rental to the city’s zoo. The site is split across four different themes: The Arizona Trail, African Trail, Tropics Trail, and Children’s Trail, so you can set your eyes on lions, coyotes, Galapagos tortoises, Asian elephants, and emus all in one day. If you’ve got any little ones, don’t forget to time your visit with feeding hour at the petting farm!
For something a little more culturally enriching, The Heard Museum is a place where American Indian history and, more specifically, their artwork is preserved and celebrated. Collaborating with local tribes around Arizona, the museum puts on a healthy rotation of exhibits within its 11-gallery space. After you’ve wandered around the rooms, head to the gift shop where authentic native art is on sale, including prints, jewelry, carvings, and paintings.