Tonto National Forest

Arizona > Tonto National Forest

At 2,969,602 acres, Tonto is by some distance the largest of the six national forests in Arizona, and has the most interesting, diverse scenery, with terrain and elevation ranging from the Sonoran Desert (1,400 feet) to the Mogollon Rim (7,400 feet). Besides desert and mountains it contains lakes - mostly artificially created, fertile river valleys, rocky canyons and flat plains. Much of the area is covered by cacti, in particular the familiar giant saguaro, but there are also dozens of smaller species. The cactus colonies merge with bushes, chaparral and grasslands above 4,000 feet, while the higher hills to the north support varied woodland habitats including juniper, mixed fir and ponderosa pine. Tonto National Forest contains eight separate wilderness areas, all of which have quite limited access as the land is generally steep and rough, without many trails, and experiences harsh weather for most of the year.

Tonto National Forest
Map of the Tonto National Forest

The Apache Trail Bartlett Reservoir Tonto National Monument Tonto Natural Bridge State Park Fish Creek Tonto Creek Theodore Roosevelt Lake


To the southwest, the Tonto National Forest boundary follows the edge of the Superstition and New River Mountains - beyond stretches the low, flat desert, the ever-expanding city of Phoenix and the 'Valley of the Sun'. From Phoenix, I-17 runs north through the Agua Fria River valley, with the edge of the forest a few miles to the east; this extends for about 40 miles, past the new Agua Fria National Monument as far as Cordez Junction. Tonto is then bordered to the north by the Prescott, Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, and to the east by the Fort Apache and San Carlos Indian Reservations. The northern boundary is defined by the Mogollon Rim, a 2,000 to 3,000 foot high escarpment that forms the southern edge of the great Colorado Plateau, which stretches for over 100 miles across central Arizona.


Few paved roads penetrate this vast area; just AZ 260 across the north, US 60 across the south, AZ 87 from Phoenix to Payson and AZ 188 from Globe to AZ 87. There are a selection of lesser roads, most well known being the Apache Trail between Mesa and Theodore Roosevelt Lake, through the Superstition Mountains. Roosevelt is the largest of the man made lakes; others are the Saguaro, Canyon and Apache Lakes, Bartlett and Horseshoe Reservoirs.


Towns with hotels near the Tonto National Forest are Apache Junction, Camp Verde, Gold Canyon and Payson.
Highlights: Largest and most varied of Arizona's six national forests, containing Sonoran Desert plains, abundant cacti, narrow canyons, lakes and mountains up to 7,400 feet
Nearest city with hotels: Payson
Management: USFS
Location: 34.229, -111.324 (Payson)
Seasons: All year

Places of Interest in the Tonto National Forest

  • Apache Trail - dramatic road from Phoenix to Roosevelt Lake
  • Bartlett Reservoir - lake with pristine desert and mountain scenery
  • Fish Creek - rocky canyon in the Superstition Mountains
  • Superstition Mountains - rugged hills east of Phoenix, with many hiking trails
  • Theodore Roosevelt Lake - desert lake in the hills near Phoenix
  • Tonto Creek - beautiful desert stream through a rugged canyon
  • Tonto National Monument - two well-preserved cliff dwellings high above Roosevelt Lake
  • Tonto Natural Bridge - largest travertine bridge in the world
  • Tonto National Forest - Photographs

  • 16 general views of the Tonto National Forest
  • photograph
    Cactus-filled valley
    The setting sun

    A lone saguaro
    Saguaro flowers


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