Payson Weekend Adventure With Kids
This past May was absolutely remarkable weather-wise here in Phoenix. The temperatures were unseasonably low, extending our beautiful outdoor activity season by several weeks. On the spur of the moment, we decided to take advantage of this and have one last hurrah when we realized the the cool temps were about to end.
Over Memorial Day weekend, our family enjoyed a one night campout in Payson at the Houston Mesa campgrounds. Houston Mesa is very close to the center of Payson, so even though it felt like a wilderness getaway, convenience was close by.
This campground was great for our family because each site has a metal fire ring and picnic table. Each loop also has a bathroom facility with actual plumbing, consisting of a flush toilet and sink. There is also a shower building with coin operated showers. Come prepared though, each shower costs three dollars in quarters. You can also buy firewood onsite for seven dollars a cord, however the same cord of cost only five dollars in the Payson Walmart and six at a local gas station.
(My handsome husband felt it important to note that the speed limit on the 87 in Payson is 40 MPH, which is a big sudden shift from the 60 MPH coming into town. It’s very easy to speed on in to town unaware of how fast you are going, and the cops are not shy about handing out tickets! )
My kids absolute favorite thing to do is roast anything over the campfire. So dinner was hot dogs, roasted by our children while my hubby and I prayed nervously that no one would be injured by a child wildly swinging a hot dog around yelling, “It’s done!” Small packets of ketchup and mustard saved from restaurants are super handy for camp food. Dessert was the classic campfire staple, s’mores. My kids love roasting marshmallows, which they gleefully tried to catch on fire as often as possible.
For breakfast the next day, they enjoyed toasting crescent rolls with their long forks over the fire.
A scenic 20 minute drive north of our campsite is a beautiful park called Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The park is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and costs $7 for Adults 14 and older, and $4 for children 7 to 13. Children under 7 are free. Because our kids are young and they were literally up at the crack of dawn, we were at the park right around opening. I wanted to see the Natural Bridge, so we chose the Anna Mae trail.
My family had never been here before so we didn’t know what to expect. It was spectacular! The trail immediately goes down, but it meanders through a few switchbacks so it’s not too steep. Most of the steps are actual stairs shaped by wooden boards, or rocks that form stairs. The sound of the rushing water got my kids ready for an adventure. Once you reach the bottom of the canyon, the real fun begins!
My favorite thing to do as a kid was climb around rocks, so when I saw that the rest of the trail leading up the bridge consisted entirely of rocks and boulders spanning the river, I was so excited! Our girls are aged 7, 6, and 3, so my husband and I had to do a considerable amount of helping them. It was so much fun! My husband helped the big girls, and I focused on the little one. We moved with the speed of a herd of turtles, and grace of a baby kitten learning to walk. But we did it, and with no injuries! I highly recommend everyone wearing either hiking boots or sturdy sneakers, and long pants to help protect against scraped knees.
As we got closer to the bridge, the rocks got very slick, and we ended up crawling up most of them and sliding down the other side. One gentleman in front of us actually slid too hard and cut up his hand and arm. But I had bandaids, so we stopped for a moment to help out. He was a good sport, because all the bandaids I had with me were My Little Pony.
The moment came when we finally rounded the corner and the expansive Natural Bridge loomed over us, mist spraying down the side from the strong wind tunnel it created. It was so beautiful! We got right underneath it and took some time to celebrate the moment and soak in the surprising vastness. The kids were very impressed.
After a few minutes, we started back, clambering precariously over the slippery rocks. My three year old was pretty done in, so she got to ride in style… piggy back style that is, on my back over the rocks. Once we reached the trail side of the river, we found a little nook to hang out and catch our breath.
My small backpack was crammed with water and granola bars, and my 6-year-old noticed I was tired. She sweetly offered to carry my pack for me, and I told her no thank you, I wanted her to be unencumbered and able to watch her own steps carefully. She asked me why I carried the supplies, and I said to help our family, and someday she would probably carry the backpack for her own family. Then she oh so innocently asked, “Mom, how come the mommies do all the work and not the daddies?” A lady on the trail behind us almost fell over laughing.
The climb back up was very steep, but not difficult. It’s the same way out of the canyon as in. After a quick chat between a kind park ranger and my 6 year old, we found an empty picnic table and pulled our cooler out of the car. What a perfect place for a picnic!
After this fun adventure, we went to Rumsey Park, a playground in downtown Payson, mostly hanging around the swings. There was also a small fenced-in skatepark area, so next time we go, we’ll remember to bring scooters and skates.
Then we headed back to our campsite, packed up and hit the road. It was a great change of pace, and a wonderful way to take advantage of the last few days of this perfect weather!
For more information on the state park, please visit their website at https://azstateparks.com/
For more information on the Houston Mesa campground, please visit their website at https://www.recreation.gov/
Interested in other kid friendly weekend adventures? Bearizona near Flagstaff might be just what you’re looking for!