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Tonto Wilderness - 2021 CANCELED

APRIL  2022

Tonto National Forest is the 5th largest in the US with almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacularly beautiful country, ranging from Saguaro cactus-studded desert to pine-forested mountains beneath the Mogollon Rim. Our destination is 20 minutes east of Payson Arizona, 6,000 feet above the desert floor. Forests of ponderosa pines, seasonal creeks and streams provide a scenic backdrop for day hikes or backpacking.  Along the Mogollon Rim, a 200-mile cliff of stunning sculpted red rock canyons and buttes, there are numerous scenic trails and opportunities for enjoying nature and relaxing.

We will travel in a chartered, air-conditioned bus up to Tonto National Forest, spending four nights at Sharp Creek Campground or backpacking with the group of your choice. We’ll enjoy hiking, campfires, starry nights, and good company. We offer both base camp and backpack trips of varying difficulty for participants. Base camp participants will be able to choose which hike they would like to do each day.

This tent-camping and backpacking trip is for adults who are in good health and are physically fit. Participants must provide their own meals and camping equipment. Upon registration, you will receive an email confirmation and information about an optional pre-trip meeting to meet your leaders and ask questions (highly recommended for first-timers). A handout will also be available with suggestions about what to pack, weather, safety tips, etc. We look forward to having you join us!

Visit our Trip Rating System to determine which Trip is right for you.

Trip 1
Type of Trip: Backpack
Name of Trip: Highline Trail #31 Pine TH
Leader: April Armijo, Assistant Leader: Sussi Yamaguchi
Trip Rating: H15D Event Capacity: 8
Number of Backpack Days: 4, Number of Backpack Miles: 35 +/- Number of Day Hike Miles: TBD (optional)

Join us on a exploratory backpacking trip on the Highline Trail #31. We will determine the total mileage depending on participants' interest. Minimum will be 35 +/- miles. The first part is the Arizona trail starting at Pine TH and going east. Payson Roundup states that “The Highline Trail #31 is one of those trails that should be on an Arizona backpacker’s bucket list. It is the essence of hiking and backpacking in Rim Country. It is rugged, spectacular, wild, beautiful, peaceful, hot and cold. It comprises every element you would hope to find in a memorable backpack trip. There are deep canyons you have to descend into, many with beautiful streams or springs and riparian areas, and then stark high ridges you must climb, to be rewarded with spectacular views.The Highline Trail follows the base of the Mogollon Rim and so travels through every single canyon or drainage that comes off of the Rim — and there are many.

Participants should be in excellent hiking condition and should have previous backpacking experience.

Trip 2
Type of Trip: Base Camp
Moderate to Hard
Name of Trip: Day Hikes
Leaders: Karen Nelson, Mike Fry Assistant Leaders: Alice Fichandler, Monica Elrod
Event Capacity: 30

We will camp in the lovely Sharp Creek Campground about 22 miles east of Payson, Arizona under the Mogollon Rim. Our bus will shuttle us to and from our trailhead each day. There may be an opportunity to stop at the grocery store in Payson on the way back to the campground when the town is “on the way.” Here are some of the hikes that are planned for you to choose from. Specific hike itineraries may change due to weather, trail condition, or leader discretion.


Leader: Karen Nelson Assistant Leader: Alice Fichandler

MONUMENT PEAK/BOULDER LOOP TRAILS – (M7C) These trails are two of the most popular in the Payson Area Trail System (PATS) on the outskirts of Payson, AZ. The Monument Peak Loop Trail (4.1 miles) features ponderosa pines, as well as a variety of flora and fauna. We will connect to the Boulder Trail Loop (2.4 miles) via a short walk on Granite Dells Road (0.4 miles). The Boulder Trail Loop offers hills, rocks and washes, along with spectacular boulders it’s named for. There is less than 500 feet of elevation gain in each of these trails, making this “moderate” hike, fairly easy. 

TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK  – (M5B) We will hike four short trails located close together in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, including Gowan Trail and Pine Creek Trail. These trails provide easy access to the world’s largest travertine arch. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot-long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. There is a $5/person entry fee to the park, which will be paid by the hike leader as part of the bus trip. 

HORTON SPRING VIA HORTON CREEK TRAIL – (M7C) We will hike about 3.5 miles on the Horton Creek Trail to Horton Spring. Horton Spring is an unusually large spring, where water literally gushes from the side of the rim supplying Horton Creek. While we will experience a 1,200 foot elevation gain, this is considered an “easy” trail. Of course, what goes up must come down. We will return to the Trail Head the same way we came. 

Leader: Mike Fry Assistant Leader: Monica Elrod

HORTON CREEK TRAIL, HIGHLINE TRAIL, DERRICK TRAIL LOOP – (M10D) This popular loop travels up the Mogollon Rim to the always gushing Horton Spring, using the Highline Trail to connect the Derrick and Horton Creek trails. The Rim’s transition forest and Horton Creek’s riparian channel support a wide variety of flora and fauna, from agave cacti to ponderosa pine and butterflies to mule deer. This hike is a more difficult version of the Horton Spring vis the Horton Creek Trail hike, but you will be rewarded with amazing views and even a hillside “beach” for lunch.

FISH HATCHERY TO KNOLL LAKE VIA BABE HOUGHT TRAIL – (M9E) The trail was built and used by Babe Haught to pack crops and supplies over the Mogollon Rim to and from Winslow. The trail begins in the small parking lot just before the Tonto Fish Hatchery entrance. There is no easing into this trail, it’s uphill from the start as the hike ascends the face of the Mogollon Rim (about 1.5 miles). The trail passes through the area of the Dude Fire of 1990. The landscape is scarred from the fire and charred skeletal of pines, oaks, and junipers still stand. The steep rocky exposed slopes are covered with manzanita, scrub oak, yuccas, sotol, and varieties of agave. This area is home to wildlike such as elk, deer, black bears, and wild turkey. Birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and turkey vultures soar on the thermals. From the top of the rim, it is a fairly flat hike to Knoll Lake (3 miles) for lunch before retracing our step back down the trail to the hatchery.

Trip 3
Type of Trip: STAFF and LEADERS
Event Capacity: 9

Space: Limited to 47 participants (including leaders and assistants)

Cost: $ 240

Registration Opens: Friday March 6, 2020 at 6:00 am

Pre-trip Meeting:  TBD 

Departure: Wednesday April 22, 2020 at 9:00 am

Return: Sunday April 26, 2020 at approximately 7:00 pm

For more information: Please contact Karen Nelson, Trip Coordinator, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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