Exploring Arizona's Largest National Forest - Tonto National Forest

Anne Bonfert

Tonto National ForestEdmundo Mendez, Jr./ Unsplash

The landscapes of Arizona are as vast and diverse as your imagination allows it. From flatlands, pine tree forests over desert scenes up to alpine tundra - you can find it all. Depending on where you want to spend your vacations and what your favorite activities are you'll get what you are looking for.

Tonto National Forest is the fifth largest of its kind in the United States and the largest one in the State of Arizona. This specific national forest has landscapes ranging from an elevation of 1,400 feet in the Sonoran Desert up to almost 7,500 feet in the famous ponderosa pine forests.

The name of the forest comes from the Spanish invaders. "Tonto" means "dumb" in Spanish. It has been established in 1905 and became a National Forest in 1907. In later years surrounding areas and other forests have been added to the established park. The Tonto National Forest includes today eight wilderness areas which are all within its boundaries or partially inside of it.

Wildlife in the forest has been plentiful and thanks to the early protection of the environment one can see today still many of them. Home in the Tonto National Forest are desert raccoons, bald eagles, black bears, coyotes, skunks, bobcats, desert mule deer, and many other.

Due to the variety of wildlife, many hikers enjoy the countless trails throughout the forest and wildlife viewing is one of the popular activities among visitors. Adventure enthusiasts and adrenaline seekers are loving the forest due to its rugged terrain and beautiful scenery. The highlands of the Mogollon Rim is standing out in front of the flatlands and the Sonoran Desert cacti.

Lakes are plentiful in the park and many beaches are popular holiday destinations for those looking for some relaxed time. Those man-made lakes are also a great place for families. Fishing friends love to go higher into the mountains trying their luck for trout in the meandering streams of the Mogollon Rim.

Many visitors escape the heat in the summer months and look for shade under the tall pine trees in the higher levels, camping where it's a bit cooler.

About 60 campgrounds are to be found in Tonto National Forest. Depending on your style of camping and the comfort level you require for an overnight stay you can pick from the huge variety of available sites. Some of the campgrounds are rather basic while in others you can even rent a cabin for yourself and your family.

Don't forget that Tonto National Forest is each year victim of several fires raging through the country. Those wildfires are dangerous and often human-caused. Be careful when walking and hiking in the forests and do not light any fires in the area.

A few paved roads are leading into the national forest. You can take the AZ 87 from Phoenix to Payson and the AZ 188 from Globe to AZ 87. A selection of lesser roads known under the name of Apache Trail is located between Mesa and Theodore Roosevelt Lake.


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I am a traveler. Photographer. Writer. Teacher. Skydiving instructor. Adventure enthusiast. Nature lover. And fell in love with the African continent. My stories go around travel, nature and all kinds of adventurous activities.


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