If you’ve never been to Payson, AZ, you must go. This small mountain town is big enough to have all you need, cool enough to be comfy even in the heat of the Arizona summer, and has plenty of outdoor recreation opportunity. I head there periodically throughout the summer, either camping or staying at the convenient, affordable and well-kept Super 8 on Hwy 260. There are tons of places to hike – my passion. Tiny little Pine is 15 miles down a lovely winding road, where you’ll find crafts and several nice cabin spots. There are many opportunities here and nearby to camp including national park areas, at all levels of price and facilities.
There are two events coming up next weekend that are well worth checking out. Payson is noted for its rodeos, and they draw a big crowd. If you want to attend, make lodging reservations – if you still can – RIGHT NOW. May 18 and 19 is the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo, an annual event for decades. It’s $12 for seniors, $14 for other adults. The Payson Aero Fair at the Payson airport is free, though if you want to take a plane ride it’s $30.
Payson has two great local parks, both a stone’s throw from the downtown area. (Don’t get caught up in the Historic Downtown hype, though. That’s a total snooze!) Green Valley Park has lakes, fishing, walking paths, picnic areas, and is home to the Zane Grey historic cabin, with a nice tour that tells you all about the life of the famed author. My favorite park, on whose grounds is a a well-equipped local library, is Rumsey Park. There are tennis courts, softball fields, a skateboard park and seemingly miles of places including gazebos where you can pull your car or RV in under the pine trees and pick a picnic table to dine. It’s my favorite place to bring my laptop and get some work done while still enjoying the outdoors.
My favorite dining – and drinking spot – is the Buffalo Bar & Grill. The food is simple but good and low-priced, and the atmosphere very welcoming. There’s a nice bar area, with pool table, and live music on the weekends and sometimes other evenings as well. It’s on Hwy 87, right next door to the Days Inn, and near the junction with Hwy 260. I’ve stayed at the Days Inn and it’s acceptable, and has a nice indoor pool. The rooms don’t measure up the Super 8, however.
The Payson Campground and RV Resort is on Hwy 260, right across the street from the Super 8. It has everything you could want in a campground, while still being right in town. There’s a community room with TV, a nice pool, very clean restrooms with showers. I have two complaints – the spots are very close to each other, and not all of them have picnic tables. And if you make a reservation and have to cancel, they WILL NOT give you a refund. If you don’t mind being on top of your camping neighbor and you’re new to camping, this is a good place to go. It has both RV and tent spots, and the price is low.
From Phoenix you can get to Payson in less than two hours, so it’s not an impossible distance for a day trip. If you have the time, though, do spend a night or two. If you get to Payson you won’t want to leave.