Tonto National Forest


Looking east on the Apche Trail: Fish Creek Hill
Fish Creek Hill
A small pool in the creek at Tortilla Flats

As elevations on this almost 3-million-acre property range from 1,300' to 7,900', you're going to find everything from sweltering desert cactus-strewn countryside to cool mountain pine forest here. Tonto National Forest is the 5th largest National Forest in the country and sees roughly 5.8 million visitors each year. The Forest spans the area north and south between Phoenix and the Mogollon Rim and extends eastward to the boundaries of the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian Reservations.

The Tonto was originally established to protect the watersheds around a couple of major reservoirs. Now there are 6 major reservoirs on the Forest storing more than 2 million acre-feet of water. The Verde River crosses the Forest from east to west and is still Arizona's only Wild and Scenic River Area. About 589,300 acres of the Tonto are contained within 8 designated wilderness areas.

Tonto National Forest also includes 38 mineral districts with historic recorded production. The mines here produce gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, uranium, manganese, molybdenum, asbestos and mercury. All of this has to be carefully managed because the Forest also contains habitat for 21 species of fish and wildlife that are on the state and federal Threatened and Endangered Species lists.

The Tonto is not a heavily timbered forest but about 4 million board feet per year are harvested as fuel wood, saw logs and other wood products. The Tonto is also allowed a maximum cattle grazing load of 26,000 head but long term drought conditions have required a reduction in that to about 20% for the last several years.

Critical fire season usually starts in May and lasts until the monsoon season starts to pick up around mid-July. During that critical season the Forest has averaged about 330 fires per year over the last 10 years.

Tonto National Forest is also home to many ancient ruins left by the Hohokam, Salado and Sinagua cultures, cultures that flourished here from before the time of Christ up to about 750 years ago. In this countryside you can find ancient pit houses and stone pueblos with rubble piles filled with bone and stone tools, pottery shards and other artifacts. If you find any of these things in your travels, enjoy them and then leave them where you found them: archaeologists can learn so much more about an artifact if it isn't separated from the matrix in which it was found. Many descendants of these ancient cultures are found today among the Zuni, Hopi and Pima tribes and they still consider this countryside to be sacred as the homes of their ancestors. Often, members of these tribes return to certain places in the Forest for rituals that have been performed regularly for a thousand years now.

The Forest contains almost 900 miles of maintained trails (although the vast majority are not suitable for motorized vehicles of any type). The busiest trails are in good condition while the rest tend to be in poor to very poor condition (something about cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting funding to everything except defense and law enforcement). You can find everything from a simple stroll on a paved trail with interpretive signage to a multi-day strenuous cross-country trek over steep grades and through heavy bush on a route that is continually disappearing... The farther you get from the cities, the fewer people you'll meet along the way. But this is Arizona and the summers tend to be quite hot: make sure you have a hat, good sunblock and lots of water with you. You'll also want a good map, a compass or GPS device, and forget the cell phone: they fail most when you need them most.

A view near the Superstition Mountains
 

Campgrounds

A view of mining rubble on a hillside

Below is a listing of developed recreation sites (campgrounds, picnic areas, etc) in the various ranger districts of Tonto National Forest.

Cave Creek Ranger District Recreation Sites

Site Name Elevation Amenities Stay Limit (days) Notes
Seven Springs 3,400' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableShort trailer and RV camping available 1 Nature Trail, Water in daylight hours only
CCC 3,500' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Primitive sites, Water in daylight hours only
Cave Creek Group 3,500' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Group site, 100 Person Max, Reservable
Horseshoe 1,900' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Verde River access, No motor boats
Riverside 1,600' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Verde River access, No motor boats
Catfish Point 1,900' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Verde River access, Primitive sites, No motor boats
Mesquite 1,900' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Verde River access, No motor boats
Needle Rock 1,600' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Verde River access, No motor boats
Sheep Bridge 2,100' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Upper Verde River access, No Toilets, Primitive sites, No motor boats
Bartlett Marina 1,800' FeesBoating available nearby 1 Universal Access, Camping
Jojoba (Boating) 1,800' Camping sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Bartlett Reservoir, Paved boat launch, Camping Oct-Mar, Reservable
Rattlesnake Recreation Site 1,800' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearby 14 Bartlett Reservoir, Day Use, No motor boats, Universal Access, Handicapped Facilities, Nature Trail
Rattlesnake Group 1,800' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearby 14 Bartlett Reservoir, Day Use, Group facilities, Reservable, No motor boats, Universal Access, Nature Trail
S.B. Cove 1,800' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Bartlett Reservoir, Primitive sites, Handicapped Facilities, Nature Trail, Universal Access, Reservable
Bartlett Flat 1,800' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Bartlett Reservoir, Primitive sites
Ocotillo Rec & Boating Site 1,900' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Horseshoe Reservoir, Paved boat launch
Sears Kay 3,300' Picnic sites availableBoating available nearbyShort trailer and RV camping available 1 Archeological Site, Universal access
Box Car 1,600' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Verde River access, Primitive sites, No motor boats
Yellow Cliffs (Boating) 1,798' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Bartlett Reservoir, Paved boat launch, Handicapped Facilities, Reservable
Juniper 3,500' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Primitive sites, no toilets
Cave Creek Trailhead 3,500' Camping sites availableFeesShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Paved Parking
Bronco Trailhead 3,400' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Nature Trail, Group sites, Horse Pens

Globe Ranger District Recreation Sites

Site Name Elevation Amenities Stay Limit (days) Notes
Oak Flat 3,900' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Universal Access
Sulphide Del Rey 6,000' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14  
Pinal & Upper Pinal 7,500' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 No water in Winter
Icehouse CCC 4,600' Picnic sites availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Trailhead, Universal Access, Day Use
Kellner 4,500' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFees 14 Reservable, Group facilities
Jones Water 4,000' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Universal Access
Pioneer Pass 5,900' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Trailhead
Timber Camp Horse Campground 6,000' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Single camping for equestrian campers only when not reserved for group use, Reservable, Group facilities
Warnica 4,500' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFees 14 Reservable, Group facilities
Timber Camp Recreation Site 6,000' Camping sites availablePicnic sites availableFeesShort trailer and RV camping available 14 Single camping only when not reserved for group use, Reservable, Group facilities

Mesa Ranger District Recreation Sites

Site Name Elevation Amenities Stay Limit (days) Notes
Granite Reef 1,300' Picnic sites availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 Day Use, River Access Point, No motor boats
Phon D Sutton 1,320' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 River Access Point, Bus Stop, No motor boats
Coon Bluff 1,340' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 River Access Point, No motor boats
Salt River Rec, Inc. 1,400' Fees 1 Bus Shuttle, Tube Rental, Day Use, Concessions
Goldfield 1,400' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 River Access Point, Bus Stop, No motor boats
Blue Point 1,400' Picnic sites available 1 River Access Point, Bus Stop, No motor boats
Water Users 1,400' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 River Access Point, Bus Stop, No motor boats
Saguaro Lake Ranch 1,400' FeesFishing available nearby 14 Resort Facilities, River Access Point, Tube Rental, No motor boats, Concessions
Saguaro Del Norte 1,500' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearby 1 Saguaro Lake, Day Use, Paved Boat Launch
Saguaro Lake Marina 1,500' Picnic sites availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 Saguaro Lake, Paved Boat Launch, Resort Facilities, Universal Access, Concessions
Butcher Jones 1,500' Picnic sites availableFees 1 Saguaro Lake, Day Use, Swimming Beach
Bagley Flat 1,500' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Saguaro Lake, Boat Access Only
Acacia 1,700' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 Canyon Lake, Day Use, Swimming Beach
Palo Verde (Boating) 1,700' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 Canyon Lake, Day Use, Paved Boat Launch
Boulder 1,700' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearby 1 Canyon Lake, Day Use, Universal Access, No motor boats
Laguna (Boating) 1,700' Tent camping availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 Canyon Lake, Paved Boat Launch, Day Use
Canyon Lake Marina 1,700'' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Paved Boat Launch, Resort Facilities, Universal Access, Concessions
The Point 1,700' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearby 14 Canyon Lake, Boat Access Only
Tortilla 1,800' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 RV Dump Station, Hook-ups (no elec.), Reservable
Tortilla Flat Resort 1,800' FeesDrinking water available 1 Universal Access, Concessions, Resort Facilities
Sheeps Crossing 1,400' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearby 1  
Pebble Beach 1,400' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 1 1 day limit except during camping season (Oct 15 - Apr 15)

Payson Ranger District Recreation Sites

Site Name Elevation Amenities Stay Limit (days) Notes
Houston Mesa 5,200' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 Universal Access, Nature Trail, RV dump station, Some Reservable
Houston Mesa Equestrian Camp 5,200' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 2 Group sites, Universal Access, Reservable, RV dump station, Nature Trail
Christopher Creek 5,600' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Universal Access
Christopher Group 5,600' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Group facilities, Reservable
Lower Tonto Creek 5,600' Tent camping availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Tonto Creek
Upper Tonto Creek 5,525' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Tonto Creek, Trailhead
Ponderosa 4,600' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 RV dump station, Nature Trail, Naturalist programs
Ponderosa Group 5,600'' Tent camping availableFeesDrinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 Group facilities, Reservable, "Juniper" or "Blackjack"
Water Wheel 5,000' Tent camping availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 East Verde River, Primitive sites, No Toilets
Second Crossing 5,100' Tent camping availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 East Verde River, Primitive sites, No Toilets
Horton 5,500' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearby 1 Day Use only
Third Crossing 5,100' Tent camping availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 East Verde River, Primitive sites, No Toilets
Flowing Spring 4,600' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 East Verde River, Primitive sites
E. Verde Crossing 4,600' Picnic sites availableFishing available nearby 1 East Verde River, Day Use
Verde Glen 5,600' Tent camping availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 East Verde River, Primitive sites, No Toilets
Sharp Creek 6,000' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 Universal Access, Handicapped Facilities
Sharp Creek Group 6,000' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Reservable, Group facilities, Manzanita 1, 2, 3

Pleasant Valley Ranger District Recreation Sites

Site Name Elevation Amenities Stay Limit (days) Notes
Rose Creek 5,400' Tent camping availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 Primitive sites
Airplane Flat 6,600' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Near Canyon Creek, Primitive sites, Universal Access
Upper Canyon Creek 6,600' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Near Canyon Creek, Primitive sites, Universal Access
Valentine Ridge 6,600'' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Near Canyon Creek, Primitive sites
Haigler Canyon 5,250' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Haigler Creek, Primitive sites, Universal Access
Alderwood 5,200' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Haigler Creek, Primitive sites
Colcord Ridge 7,600' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Primitive sites, Universal Access
Sawmill Flats 5,400' Tent camping availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 Primitive with toilet
Reynolds Creek Group 5,200' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Group facilities, Reservable, Universal Access
Workman Creek Area 5,400' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 3 Sites, "Falls," "Cascade,(Day Use)" "Creekside (Day Use)," Primitive sites

Tonto Basin Ranger District Recreation Sites

Site Name Elevation Amenities Stay Limit (days) Notes
Apache Lake Resort 1,900' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Paved Boat Launch, Hook-Ups, Concessions
Burnt Corral 1,900' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Apache Lake, Paved Boat Launch
Upper Burnt Corral 1,900' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Apache Lake, Primitive sites
Indian Point 2,200' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Paved Boat Launch, Universal Access, Apache Lake
Orange Peel 2,100' Picnic sites available \Fishing available nearbyBoating available nearby 14 Facilities Closed, Primitive sites
Bermuda Flat 2,100' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Closed 11/15 to 2/15, Roosevelt Lake, Boat launch, Primitive sites, Universal Access, Camping Feb to Nov only
Cholla 2,100' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, Universal Access, Paved Boat Launch, near RV dump station - 10/1 to 3/31: stay limit 6 months
Cholla Bay 2,100' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, Primitive sites
Bachelor Cove 2,100' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, Primitive sites
Vineyard Canyon 2,100' Picnic sites availableFeesFishing available nearby 1 Roosevelt Lake, Shoreline Access, Universal Access
Roosevelt Marina 2,100' Tent camping availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, Paved Boat Launch
Lakeview Trailer Park 2,100' Tent camping availableFeesDrinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, RV Spaces with Hook-ups
Windy Hill 2,100' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, Paved Boat Launch, Universal Access - 10/1 to 4/30: stay limit 6 months
Grapevine Group 2,200' Picnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, Paved Boat Launch, Universal Access, Group facilities, Reservable
Schoolhouse 2,100' Tent camping availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Roosevelt Lake, RV dump station (6 mi. away), Paved Boat Launch
Diversion Dam 2,200' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFishing available nearbyBoating available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 5 River Access Points, Salt River, No Motor Boats
Cotton Wood 2,100' Picnic sites availableFishing available nearby 1 Roosevelt Lake, Universal Access
Frazier 2,200' Tent camping availablePicnic sites availableFeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Horses OK, Roosevelt Lake, Group facilities, Reservable, Horse Corrals
Frazier Group 2,200' FeesDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyTrailer and RV camping available 14 Horses OK
Roosevelt Lake Visitors Center 2,200' Drinking water availableTrailer and RV camping available 1 Universal Access
 
Photos courtesy of TheArmchairExplorer, CCA-by-SA 4.0 License