Things to do in Payson, AZ, are aplenty despite it being so underrated. From family fun to romance, the city has something intriguing to do for everyone.
Commonly referred to as the “Heart of Arizona,” Payson is almost surrounded by the Tonto National Forest. This means that it is well known for its gorgeous landscape and breathtaking natural features.
The mild weather makes Payson perfect to visit in any season. Completely opposite to the dry desert parts of Arizona, the city boasts many coldwater lakes and the Mogollon Rim formation.
Needless to say, it’s no surprise that there are many things to do in Payson, AZ. From outdoor activities to family-friendly museums, the city has something for everyone.
What is Payson known for?
Just ninety minutes north of Phoenix lies the small town of Payson. The little town is most famous for hosting the world’s oldest continuous rodeo every year since 1884.
Aside from the rodeo, it is also responsible for several other yearly events. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Payson, AZ:
Kid-Friendly Things To Do in Payson, AZ
Rim Country Museum
The Rim Country Museum is an indoor, and open-air museum made up of replicated 19th-century buildings that were rebuilt using the original foundations. However, the Haught cabin was moved one plank at a time to be closer to the current buildings.
Visitors can expect to see exhibits on a blacksmith’s shop, Ancient Peoples, Apaches, rodeo, ranching, mining, and even a pioneer kitchen inside the museum. It aims to showcase the natural and cultural history of the area.
During your time at the attraction, you will also see the Zane Grey Cabin. This is a replica of a cabin built near the top of the Rim by Zane Grey in 1921. Unfortunately, the original cabin was destroyed in the Dude fire in 1990.
Located in Green Valley Park in an area called “Rim Country,” the two-story museum sits just under the stunning Mogollon Rim. Visitors can opt for a docent-led tour o a self-guided tour through the attraction.
Kohls Ranch Stable
The perfect place to spend an active afternoon with the kids is Kohls Ranch Stable. A favorite among locals and tourists alike, their scenic horseback Rides in the Forest are well worth the trip.
They offer multiple other options, including Trail Rides and Adventure Rides if the Forest isn’t something you want to explore. They also offer Horseback Riding Lessons every day for beginners.
Best of all, it’s reasonably priced: A one-and-a-half-hour ride is about $75. Keep in mind that the stable is mainly open for trail rides between May and October.
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Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout
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Located near the former “Green Valley” property of Sam Haught, Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout is a kid-friendly fishing pond. Plus, one does not need a license to fish.
Make it an all-day trip and plan to picnic at one of their many picnic tables and grills. If you decide to make it a weekend, check out the three-bedroom guest house that they rent out. The house sleeps nine and includes DirecTV.
The ranch borders Tonto Creek and offers visitors a chance to catch rainbow trout. The fishing prices cover everything you’ll need, including the fishing pole, bait, net, and bucket, as well as cleaning, packing, and any assistance you may need with your catch.
Family Things To Do in Payson, AZ
On to family fun, the Sawmill Theatres is exactly what you are looking for! The fully digital small-town movie theater boasts stadium seating that can rock as well as the option for matinee pricing
The locally-owned movie cinema showcases all-new films both on the big screen and for private viewing, making it the perfect choice for a family movie night.
Choose from one of its six screens or watch a 3D film before exploring the shopping center it is located within or catching a meal at one of the restaurants nearby.
Naco Paleo Site
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For the archeology lovers, from all the things to do in Payson, AZ, this is the one for you! While the area may look like a desert now, hundreds of millions of years ago, most of Arizona was part of a shallow sea. The sea eventually dried up, leaving behind the deserts and mountains the area is known for.
However, it also left behind hidden remains of the creatures that lived in the sea. Put on your paleontology hat and grab the chance to see some of these fossils up close at the Naco Paleo site.
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The next stop is the Peteetneet Museum. Once a historic schoolhouse, the museum sits within the old school building built in the early 1900 and is named after the Native American chief Peteetneet.
Explore artifacts including pictures, written stories, and treasures from the area, or opt for a guided tour to unpack the history of the themed rooms in the museum.
The People Preserving Peteetneet’s primary focus is to preserve the local history and culture via its twelve display areas and several other areas. It also boasts a permanent art collection in its Art Gallery that displays new exhibits every second month.
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Romantic Things To Do in Payson, AZ
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Perhaps you aren’t looking for family fun but rather fun yet romantic things to do in Payson, AZ. Then I highly recommend visiting the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
Located in central Arizona, it is often referred to as the biggest natural travertine bridge globally because it stands a whopping 183 feet above the 400-foot long tunnel and is about 150 feet wide at some points.
Explore the three hiking trails before sitting down to enjoy a romantic lunch at the picnic area. Even better, book a romantic weekend stay at the Goodfellow Lodge at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
Mazatzal Hotel and Casino
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Perhaps the outdoors is not your idea of romance, why not book a room at the Mazatzal Hotel and Casino. Run by the Tonto Apache Indian Reservation, the hotel is just an hour from Phoenix and quite close to Payson.
The all-suite hotel boasts large rooms overlooking the Mazatzal Mountains, and all guests have access to the hotel’s indoor swimming pool, spa, and fitness center, among other facilities.
East Verde Picnic Area
Another great romantic thing to do in Payson, AZ, is to plan a date at the picturesque East Verde Picnic Area. Visitors flood the area because of its stunning proximity to the Forest, rivers, and lakes.
Find a calm and private spot near one of the streams under the tall pine trees in the Mogollon Rim and set up your Instagram-worthy picnic date. If you want to add some activities before the picnic, consider horseback riding, hiking, or mountain biking through the rugged area while taking in the wildlife.
Shopping in Payson, AZ
Payson Candle Factory
One of many great things to do in Payson, AZ, is to go shopping at local businesses, and one of my favorites is the Payson Candle Factory which was founded in 1979.
The 800 square foot store has grown to almost 6000 sq ft filled with candles and gifts. You may also score some collectibles if you shop carefully.
Open seven days a week; the store is popular among tourists and locals because aside from buying candles, you can watch them being made too. So make sure you’re ready to take pics and buy some souvenirs when you visit.
Explore the Attic
Operating for over 20 years, Explore the Attic in Payson, Arizona, is a must-visit when you’re shopping for a piece of history. The store is well known for its unique antiques and hidden treasures from the past.
You will find anything from 1940’s model airplanes to vintage machines amongst the old records and furniture pieces. The atmosphere will remind you of searching through an old family attic, and each dealer has something different and unique to offer from their collections.
Once you’re done exploring the rooms filled with dishes, toys, books, and even albums, make your way outside to explore all the outdoor items and American Indian collectibles often on sale.
The store is open every day and is the perfect place to find a piece of the past to add warmth and history to any home or office.
Sweet Country Charm Fudge and Gifts
Sweet Country Charm Fudge and Gifts is a sweet lovers paradise. The local gift and fudge shop was even voted the “Best Gift Shop in Rom Country” in 2019 and 2021.
Filled with friendly locals, the shop was opened by Rebecca Acord, who started making homemade fudge in 2009. The store currently offers more than 150 flavors of fudge that they rotate through as well as a large selection of other sweets and freshly roasted coffee.
Free Things To Do in Payson, AZ
Green Valley Park
While many of the activities we’ve mentioned will cost some money, do not despair, there are many free things to do in Payson, AZ, including a visit to Green Valley Park on Payson’s Historic Main Street.
The park features a huge lake, lots of grass, as well as picnic areas, playgrounds, and benches. Grab the kids, make some sandwiches, and enjoy a mini picnic while watching the ducks, then enjoy some me-time while the kids play.
The park actually has three separate lakes and almost 4 miles of paths, so if you want a fun place to explore alone and on a budget, this is the place to start. You can even fish in the park, and there is ample safe parking.
Look up what events are upcoming in the park before planning your trip because there are many. Evert Saturday night in June and July, the park hosts free Summer Concerts, so remember to bring a blanket or some chairs to watch the show.
Or plan to visit for the 4th of July Hometown Celebration and discover the local food vendors while soaking in the atmosphere, music, games, and fireworks display.
Another municipal park worth visiting is Rumsey Park. The 82-acre park is home to the Taylor Pool and five baseball or softball fields.
It also boasts two multi-purpose fields, six pickleball courts, and three tennis fields, as well as two sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, and playgrounds. Bring your dog along to enjoy the dog park or hit the skate park.
Check out the horseshoe pits and six ramadas before enjoying a quiet afternoon reading at The Payson Public Library that is located within the park.
Coconino National Forest
If you’re after a stunning view, then the Coconino National Forest is the place for you. Explore the sprawling landscape from the red rocks of Sedona to spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim and then make your way to Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks.
The Mogollon Rim is a bluff where the elevation of the earth sharply changes. It forms part of the Colorado Plateau and is more than 200 miles long. It runs directly through Arizona in between Yavapai County and the New Mexico border.
The rim is named after the Spanish Governor of New Mexico: Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón. He was the governor between 1712 and 1715.
As we mentioned earlier, the Mogollon Rim was also the original site of the hunting cabin built by author Zane Grey that was burnt down in 1990. With no cost to visit, the towering sandstone and limestone Kaibab and Coconino cliffs are well worth seeing at least once.
Not to mention you will also get to see the deep Fossil Creek and Pine Canyons and overlook the sprawling Ponderosa pine forests from the rim’s slopes and plateaus.
The area is a hiker’s dream, and the horseback trails that curl through the forested parts of the site are straight out of the fairytales. Take your fishing or skiing gear depending on the weather and make a day out of your trip. Better yet, grab your camping gear and enjoy the Camp Colley outdoor adventure camp.
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Things To Do in Payson, AZ with Dogs
Ellison Creek Waterfall
Still, in the same general area, take your dog for a run to the Ellison Creek Waterfall and swimming area near Payson and the Mogollon Rim. The waterfall is a short mile-long hike from the parking lot on Houston Mesa Road.
There is a dirt path to the waterfall that cuts through dense plant life and slate formations. For half of the journey, the road runs along the river.
The waterfall sits high at a whopping 3,650 feet above the ground and flows into a large pool at the bottom that you can swim in. The popular local spot boasts pet-friendly trails, but please remember they must be on their leashes when near the waterfall.
There are also restroom facilities at the beginning and end of the trails. Be aware that the waterfall site tends to be extremely full in Summer. I highly advise wearing non-slip shoes as it does get extremely wet and slippery too.
Another great hiking trail that is pet-friendly is the Pine Trailhead. The trail happily welcomes pups on leashes, as long as you also clean up behind them to explore its wooden pathway into the huge Coconino National Forest.
The path cuts through the towering pine trees and over the edge of the Mogollon Rim before curling through the Tonto National Forest. The trail is great fun for dogs but also offers stunning views for you to enjoy too.
Things To Do in Payson, AZ in December
Electric Light Parade
The festive season is here, and Payson, AZ, has tons to do in December. One of the things that caught my eye is the annual light parade.
The event turns Payson into a winter wonderland on the first Saturday of December. Held on Main Street in Payson, Arizona, the event runs from 6 pm.
Best of all, the event happens regardless of the weather. So whether it’s pouring rain or clear skies, the stunning procession of floats, Santa Claus, and even a marching band will continue. Soak up the music and atmosphere for the fun night out.
If you’re looking for things to do in Payson, AZ, consider the Christmas Cheer event this December. Calling all moms and children, join the Payson Moms Blog’s first event.
The event aims to celebrate Christmas together at Culver’s Payson and will offer free crafts for kids. Visitors will also get one free scoop of custard. You can get tickets on the Payson Moms Blog and must present them to enter the venue.
Celtic Angels presented by TCCA
Another great Christmas program to attend is the magical Celtic Angels concert. Singing Irish favorites and seasonal classics, the group’s vocals and instrumentation will blow you away.
The live concert will be held on Monday, December 20. Tickets can be purchased for $25 from TCCA Rim who promises to bring quality entertainment to the Rim Country with annual concerts. They also support the fine arts in Payson schools.
2nd Annual Bowl for Tots
Lastly, the second Annual Bowl for Tots is a worthy and fulfilling event in December. Held on December 4, visitors are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy and receive a free Laser Bowl in return.
The laser bowl is about $15 in value ad the event aims to collect great toys to donate to the Toys for Tots organization. They then donate the toys to local underprivileged children to bring joy this festive season.
Places to Eat in Payson, AZ
Started in 1997, Macky’s Grill is a family-owned restaurant that was started by Greg and Cari Day. Unfortunately, Greg passed away in 2016 from cancer, but the grill remains a beloved family business.
The couple’s children have ensured that it continues to provide the best service and food in Rim Country. Thus it’s no surprise that they have won multiple awards for their quality.
The community-focused relaxed environment of the restaurant is cowboy-themed and family-friendly. They offer a huge selection of Southwestern American items like appetizers, burgers, and creative hot dogs. Their seafood and steak entrees will leave you drooling for more.
The sandwich platters come highly recommended, especially when paired with one of Macky’s renowned chili or soup. You are even given the choice of coleslaw, pasta salad, or fries.
Aside from fantastic food, Macky’s also boasts a massive selection of beer and wine. Best of all, their patio is pet-friendly; however, it is only open when the weather is good.
Another great restaurant to visit is Fargo’s Steakhouse that is located in downtown Payson, Arizona. You’ll find the casual restaurant at 600 Highway 260.
This one is obviously for the steak lovers out there; however, don’t underestimate how good their martinis and seafood can be. The restaurant is run by Rick and Jeri Stockman, who opened it in 2004 after moving to the area from Tennessee.
Now, the steakhouse has become a community favorite for lunch and dinner. They strive to serve delicious food and boast a pet-friendly patio if the weather permits.
The lunch menu offers a selection of sandwiches, artisanal wraps, and burgers, as well as delicious appetizers. Dinner, on the other hand, sticks to heartier dishes like delectable seafood or steak entrees.
I highly advise making reservations if you’re planning a special night as it fills up quickly. The restaurant itself recommends reservations for groups, especially if you are more than six people. They offer a call-ahead service at least 30 minutes before you arrive.
It is open from Monday to Thursday from 11 am – 9 pm and Friday to Saturday from 11 am – 9:30 pm. The restaurant is closed on Sundays except on July 4th, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Day, Labor Day, Christmas Day, and Christmas Eve.
Payson Farmers Market
If you are looking for something a little less formal but still filling, try options from the local Payson’s Farmers Market. The market is on South Beeline Highway in Payson at the Sawmill Crossing Plaza.
The popular local Saturday morning gathering spot has been running since 2009. However, it only runs from late fall to the end of summer, so I recommend first checking if the market is open before planning your visit.
The market is both a great place to socialize with locals and enjoy food grown within 100 miles of Payson. With over forty stalls boasting fresh produce, free-range beef, bread, pastries, and more, there’s something for everyone.
I highly recommend stocking up on the tasty jams and artisanal coffee and teas. You can even get a massage and discover the work of some local artists while you’re there.
Now that we’re exploring informal and more relaxed dining options let me introduce you to the Common Grounds coffee shop. The shop uses locally roasted beans to craft a delicious selection of coffee that pairs perfectly with its fresh pastries.
Soak in the cozy atmosphere and classic decor, or people watch from the outdoor patio while indulging in a delicious mid-day cup of coffee. The café’s only aim is to ensure that everyone feels welcome and has a space to build friendships and enjoy meaningful conversation.
If coffee isn’t your thing, indulge in their many homemade pastries, specialty teas & quality syrups. There is definitely something that will tickle your tastebuds.
Jakes Corner Bar
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Another local favorite I highly recommend visiting is Jakes Corner Bar. You may even think it looks strangely familiar because it was once used as a shooting location of the 2018 film of the same name.
The biker bar aims to show off the impressive Western musicians in the area while you indulge in budget-friendly food and drinks.
This is the place you visit when you’re in desperate need of comfort food like burgers and fries. Where else will you be able to play a round of horseshoes outside a bar?
Is Payson worth visiting?
Considering the sheer variety of activities and attractions the town has to offer, I recommend visiting the area. It’s a great place to experience the best Arizona has to offer.
Especially since Rim Country is beautiful in any season and is so versatile, whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or an adventure, Payson, AZ, has something for you to do and enjoy.
Does Payson, Arizona, have a downtown?
Yes, the small town does have a downtown area. Many of the activities and restaurants mentioned above fall within downtown Payson.
It’s clear to see there is an abundance of things to do in Payson, AZ and one would find it extremely difficult to be bored. Especially since there is something for everyone including the children and pets.
So plan your trip carefully and give yourself enough time to explore everything the area has to offer. Just remember to pack your fishing, camping, and picnic gear because this is definitely the place to kick back and enjoy the outdoors.