Hike of the Week: Buckhead Mesa near Payson

Mare CzinarMay 19, 2023
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On a mesa 700 feet above the gorge of Pine Creek and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, a bumpy back road meanders among juniper-dotted meadows and open rangeland.

The unmarked dirt road that traverses the flat expanse of Buckhead Mesa 10 miles north of Payson in Tonto National Forest is an easy course with many points of interest including a wildlife water hole that attracts birds, elk and myriad little critters.

  • LENGTH: 4.2 miles roundtrip
  • RATING: easy
  • ELEVATION: 5,085 – 5,241 feet
  • BEST SEASON: October – May
  • FACILITIES: none


  • In Payson, go 10.5 miles north on State Route 87 to the turn off for Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (Forest Road 583) on the left just past milepost 263.
  • Continue 0.8-mile on FR 583 and turn left onto a dirt road where there’s a cattle guard and stop sign.
  • Park on the dirt turnout located a few yards past the junction.
  • Roads are paved up to the trail turnoff.