The Tonto National Forest dominates central Arizona and spans 2.9 million acres of arid forests, deserts, and mountain passes. It’s the fifth biggest national forest in America, and while the land may be stark and barren, you can find plenty of cool things to do when you explore what the forest has to offer.
Discover the Tonto National Monument
Tonto National Forest takes its name from Tonto, a historical site that holds some of the oldest surviving structures in America. Ancient dwellings sit under a massive cliff just a few short miles away from Roosevelt Lake, and the different designs of the Upper and Lower Cliff Dwellings tell a story about the peoples who lived here. You should definitely make a point of seeing the Tonto ruins the first time you visit the forest.
Boat Across Lake Roosevelt
Natural lakes don’t get very big in Arizona. Theodore Roosevelt Lake is a manmade lake created by the Roosevelt Dam. Roosevelt Lake is only about 21,500 acres in size, but it’s the biggest lake in Arizona and is a popular destination for swimming and boating. The park authorities have a few restrictions on motorboats to keep swimmers and boaters who prefer smaller crafts, like canoes and sailboats, safe, so the lake is a nice place to relax and move at your own pace.
Hike the Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail crosses the entire state from north to south, and that means it goes straight through Tonto National Forest. A good spot to get on the trail is Roosevelt Lake, since the trail meets the lake to cross the dam where you’ll find spectacular views of the beautiful blue water. From there you can either head south and skirt the magnificent Superstition Mountains or head north to explore the Mazatzal Mountains. The trail doesn’t climb any of the peaks in either direction, but more intrepid explorers don’t have to stray far from the trail for rock climbing towards the summit.
Climb the Four Peaks
The Four Peaks are visible from most locations in Phoenix and its suburbs, daring all its residents to try and climb to the top. If you feel you’re up to the challenge, there’s a trail that leads up to the base of Browns Peak, the tallest of the four and the easiest to climb. You’ll need to have some climbing experience to get all the way to the peak from where the trail ends, but if you reach the top you’ll get to see all of Phoenix laid out 5,000 vertical feet below you.
With millions of acres to explore, you can always find new and interesting things to do in Tonto National Forest. With ancient ruins, the biggest lake in Arizona, the longest trail in the state, and mountains you can see from Phoenix, there’s no doubt that Tonto has all kinds of cool activities for every skill level, including some of the toughest rock climbing challenges you’ll find anywhere in Arizona.