Arizona might be best known for its sizzling temperatures and parched deserts, but Payson turns the stereotype on its head. Thanks to its location in the very heart of the state, it enjoys a much more temperate climate than you’d expect, with distinct seasons and wonderfully varied terrain. As a result, it offers a little bit of everything, from sunbathing to skiing, hiking to fishing. It’s also got a fabulous array of entertainment options, guaranteeing visitors round-the-clock fun regardless of the season. If you’re planning a visit, check out our guide to the 20 best things to do in Payson, AZ.
20. Check out the wildlife at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery
The Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery is one of the biggest production sites of trout in the state. Although impressive, that’s not the main reason to come. What is is the gorgeous scenery and the huge variety of animals that call it home. If you’re in the mood for a few pleasant hours of birding and wildlife spotting, it’s a must-visit. Before you leave, stop by the hatchery to feed the fish.
19. Enjoy some 10-pin fun at Rim Country Bowl
If you’re in the mood for some 10-pin action, grab a group of friends and head for the Rim Country Bowl. Along with the lanes, there’s a bowling pro-shop where you can get bowling holes drilled and pick up some new equipment. If you’re not a massive fan of bowling, there’s plenty of other entertainment options to enjoy, including shuffleboard, several pool tables, and a games arcade. There’s a great assortment of food and drink options available, but if nothing on the menu takes your fancy, the always excellent Arizona Bar is just next door.
18. Have a dog’s dinner at Macky’s Grill
Payson loves dogs. Loves them so much, in fact, that’s it’s almost harder to find a restaurant that doesn’t accept them than one that does. That said, if you’re looking for a fun time with Fido, the best place in town to head is the always lively cowboy-themed Macky’s Grill. Although dogs aren’t allowed inside, you can pull up a chair on the outdoor patio to enjoy a meal together in the sunshine. The food is classic diner fare, with a great range of tasty sandwiches, burgers, steaks, soups, and salads. Portions are hearty, service comes with a smile, and the prices won’t make your wallet groan.
17. Visit Mazatzal Hotel and Casino
Mazatzal Hotel and Casino might not be the biggest or swankiest casino in the world, but its small size and quaintness just add to the appeal. If you’re in the mood for a spot of gambling, it’s definitely worth planning an evening here while you’re in Payson. If you’d rather not test your luck, stop by to enjoy a meal at the restaurant instead – the brunch is said to be one of the best in town.
16. Tickle a trout at the Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout
If you want to enjoy some fishing while you’re in Payson, don’t miss a visit to Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout. You don’t need a license, and everything you need for the day is included in the cost of admission, including poles, nets, buckets, and even services like fish cleaning and packaging.
15. Visit Deming Pioneer Park
Described as an unmissable location by Travel Aspire, the Deming Pioneer Park is a fascinating place to spend a morning, an afternoon, or even a whole day. Operated by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, the park features a series of displays that tell the story of Payson’s rich heritage, from stories about pioneer life to the town’s geological history and Native American culture. It’s also just a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy some of the beautiful Arizona sunshine.
14. Take a ride at Kohl’s Ranch Stables
If you like the idea of exploring Payson’s gorgeous scenery on horseback, head on over to Kohl’s Ranch Stables. The center offers accompanied rides around the idyllic Butterfly Canyon, passing through forests and meadows and offering sublime views over the surrounding meadows. The horses are all exceptionally friendly, while the accompanying guides are always happy to answer any questions you have about the local area. Rides cost $30 per person and are available from 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday and 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays.
13. Grab a coffee at Common Grounds
If you’re in need of a caffeine fix, take the advice of Trip 101 and check out Common Grounds. A firm local favorite, it offers a much cozier experience than the usual chains with their decadent coffee. Service always comes with a smile and the locally roasted beans pack a big flavor punch. While you’re there, treat your sweet tooth to some of the excellent baked goods. If it’s warm, you can enjoy your coffee out on the sunny patio.
12. Discover the art of candlemaking at Payson Candle Factory
If you’re shopping for gifts or just really, really like candles, don’t miss the Payson Candle Factory. The factory has been keeping Payson supplied in candles for over 30 years and is always happy to offer visitors a tour of its facilities. While you’re there, you’ll get to see the entire process that goes into candlemaking, from the dipping of the wicks in wax to the carving of the shape. You’ll even get the chance to have a go of making one yourself… although be warned, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Before you leave, stop by the gift shop to pick up a supply to take home.
11. Hike the Railroad Tunnel Trail
Recommended as one of the top attractions in Payson by tripbuzz.com, the Railroad Tunnel Trail offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Arizona’s railroads. Until relatively recently, Payson was virtually impossible for trucks to access during winter due to both the weather and the poor roads. To counter the problem, a rail line was proposed to run from Globe, Arizona to Flagstaff in the 1800s. A tunnel was excavated by the Arizona Mineral Belt Railroad through the Mogollon Rim, but the plans were abandoned when the company ran out of funds. The remnants of the tunnel can still be visited today, offering hikers the chance to explore its structure while enjoying some glorious views over the surrounding scenery along the way.
10. Explore the Shoofly Indian Ruins
History buffs are certain to get a big kick out of the Shoofly Indian Ruins. Historians believe the site was occupied sometime between 1000-1250 AD. Although it’s lain abandoned for hundreds of years, there’s plenty of remnants of the once-thriving community to explore, with over 80 adobe, stone, and wood structures to discover. The site is open from sunrise to sunset each day, with no admission charge.
9. Take a tour of the Payson Pioneer Cemetery
Visiting a cemetery might sound morbid, but the Payson Pioneer Cemetery is actually a fascinating place to spend a few hours, offering visitors the chance to tour the resting places of over 100 people who helped shape Payson into the place it is today. One of the most famous is John Meadows, whose grave is actually the oldest on the site. He along with his son Henry (who’s buried next to him) were two of the final victims of conflicts with a band of rogue White Mountain Apaches in the late 1800s.
8. Enjoy a show at the Sawmill Theatres
Catch up with the latest releases at the Sawmill Theatre. With six big screens and three daily showings, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a movie night. Tickets are cheap, the chairs are comfortable, and the snacks are plentiful… what more could you want?
7. Enjoy a beer at Jakes Corner Bar
If you like your beer to come with a side order of fun, be sure to stop by Jakes Corner Bar while you’re in Payson. An old-school biker bar, it regularly features live performances from Western music acts. With a heady combination of cheap drinks, tasty burgers, and entertaining locals, it’s a great place to spend an evening. There’s even a few horseshoe pits in the outside drinking area if you want to play a few rounds.
6. Pick up some produce at Payson Farmers Market
If your kitchen’s looking bare, take the advice of The Crazy Tourist and make your way to the Payson Farmers Market at Sawmill Crossing Plaza. Established in 2009, the market takes place every Saturday morning from summer through late fall. All of the food on offer is grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of Payson, guaranteeing both top-quality, wonderfully fresh goods and minimal carbon footprint. Expect to find a lovely spread of wild Arizona honey, natural agave nectar, fresh and cured meats, freshly baked bread and pastries, and more besides.
5. Cool off at Rumsey Park
Payson might not get as sizzling as certain other parts of Arizona, but it can still get pretty toasty in summer. If you’re beginning to wilt under the heat, you’ll find few better places to cool off than Rumsey Park. Its huge outdoor swimming pool is always a ton of fun to splash around in, and there’s plenty of cool, shady spots where you can enjoy a picnic too. If you’re in the mood for something a little more active, you’ll be spoilt for choice with its 4 lighted tennis courts, softball fields, volleyball courts, skate park, horseshoe pits, and outdoor gum. For the little ones, there are two interactive playgrounds to explore. There’s even a dog park for Fido to have as much fun as the rest of the family.
4. Enjoy a round of golf at the Payson Golf Course
If you can’t resist a round or two of golf on vacation, you’re in luck. The Frank Hughes/Russell Zakariasen designed Payson Golf Course offers a fantastic day of golf for both amateurs and scratch golfers alike. Depending on how much time you have, you can choose between a 9 or 18 hole game. If your swing is getting rusty, head for the practice range to brush up on the basics. Set among towering ponderosa pine trees and backdropped by rolling hills, it’s a lovely setting for a day on the green. While you’re there, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the local wildlife, which includes everything from herds of elk to migrating geese. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Ernie, Payson’s very own bald eagle.
3. Have a picnic in the beautiful Green Valley Park
If you’re looking for a green space in which to relax, take the advice of thecentsableshoppin.com and head for Green Valley Park. Located just off of Payson’s Historic Main Street, the park features 3 lakes, miles of walking paths, and enough opportunities for recreation to keep you entertained the whole day long. If you visit in fall, be sure to cast a line at the fishing lake – it’s restocked every week with 700 pounds of rainbow trout, so you’re almost guaranteed a catch. If fishing isn’t your kind of thing, enjoy a picnic (there are even outdoor cooking facilities if you want to have a barbeque), feed the ducks, or simply sit back in the grass and soak up the sun.
2. Hike the Mogollon Rim
As Smart Travel notes, the Mogollon Rim, which once formed part of the huge Colorado Plateau, is one of the top attractions in Payson. Novelist Zane Gray used to spend his vacations here in a one-room cabin – the original cabin was destroyed by a fire in the 1990s, but you can check out a replica at Rim Country Museum (more on which coming up). The views from the lookout point are extraordinary. There are also dozens of trails to explore, along with a scattering of campsites for anyone who wants to spend a night under the stars.
1. Take a tour of Rim Country Museum
Named as one of the best things to do in Payson by travelcrog.com, the Rim Country Museum And Zane Grey Cabin is a must-visit for history buffs. Offering an intriguing glimpse into the past, it aims to tell the story of the area through a rich variety of indoor and outdoor attractions. One of the key highlights is Zane Grey Cabin, an amazing reconstruction of the cabin in which celebrated novelist Zane Grey wrote almost half of his novels. Other exhibits not to miss include the Blacksmith Shop Display, Apache Display, and Payson Rodeo Heritage Display.