Tucked away in a tiny valley surrounded by a forest of pine trees, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has been in the making for thousands of years. It is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. The discovery of the small and beautiful valley between Pine and Payson was documented in 1877 by David Gowan, a prospector who stumbled across the bridge as he was chased by Apaches. Gowan hid for two nights and three days in one of several caves that dot the inside of the bridge. On the third day, he left the cave to explore the tunnel and green valley surrounding it. Gowan then claimed squatter's rights. In 1898 he persuaded his nephew, David Gowan Goodfellow, to bring his family over from Scotland and settle the land permanently. After a week of difficult travel from Flagstaff, the Goodfellows arrived at the edge of the mountain and lowered their possessions down the 500 foot slopes into the valley by ropes and burros. Today, visitors can stand on top of the bridge or hike down below to capture the true size and beauty of this geologic wonder.
My 6 year old was a trooper. The hike down is not bad. The rocks can be challenging for young kids. Due to the nature of warlike the full trail, we had to go back up then down on the other end. The view was wonderful and the hike was nice. The view kept changing as we went. If you have kids who like hiking in the rocks, do the hole trail. Me and her will be going back to complete the full trail. Worth every minute of the trip would recommend it to anyone.
I am intoxicated by my time spent in the southwest recently. To discover this trail and run upon its climbing, jagged ridgeline, the experience was mightily refreshing and rewarding (both physically and aesthetically). Running it in the evening with the sun setting, the manzanita wilderness offers purple hues on its angular rocks, and an open sky that beds the juniper/cacti/manzanita/ponderosa covered mountains that endlessly extend into Arizona countryland. Many places to stop and take breathtaking views.
The trail has been on my list for years and finally, we made it to the trail head @ 4:30pm last Sunday. Managed to pick up an empty water bottle on the trail and a Superman hat - both in great condition... Wonder if the previous gal lost it. Anyways. There was water on the trail within the first .6 miles a little stream that we cleaned up and made into a nice little washing pool. Down below on the majority of the trail you could see many moderate and large pools that if willing to hike down and bushwack to, could find yourself a Shangri-la. We ran into some black bears. A mama and her cubs. The Cubs made an interesting sound like water glugging out of a jug. Anyways, they were carting away from us and had a comfy 50 feet of thick canopy and rocky water creek to make any encounter unlikely. Still, it raised our heart rates. 3.6 miles into the very rocky trail you encounter Big Kahuna. You are lured to your left by the sounds of a natural shower. Scurry around some boulders and there you will come face to face w the infamous fall Big Kahuna. The fall I'm sure rages in spring and is a frozen spectacle in the winter. This time of year however, the fall was nothing stronger than a shower but was fun to climb and half way up it is a separate pool and it's very beautiful up there. The waterfall is fed by the run off from a large meadow of pine trees rooted on century's of storm debri and soil. Go further up the trail to get a spectacular look at the very tree medow that feeds the fall with is percolated spring run off. At this point the view behind you looks like Flatiron from the Superstions, but you are about 2200 ft in elevation higher resting around 6800 ft (this being about .5 miles up trail past the water fall) By this time the sun was setting. I grabbed some twilight photos w unbridled aperture, and then we bombed down the trail in our full suspension mountain bikes and got back to the truck in the wide open parking lot by 8:15 w a hint of ambiance left in the Western skies. Very pretty hike - even in the middle of the summer. Water, forest, fauna. Great getaway. Only 90 mins from Phoenix!!!
Barnhardt is the best hike I've done on the 87. The variance in terrain is astounding (at least when I went). There were areas covered in low shrubs, flat plains, cliffs, burnt areas and creeks and even pseudo-pine regions if you go back far enough. Apparently there is an actual flowing creek you can get to, but I did not manage to find it (was summer, not sure if seasonal).
I did the Barnhardt trail + an extra few miles to the north, doing part of the loop then turning back.
This is a moderate to difficult hike. I don't recommend doing the ~24 miles that I did in a single day. If you do, double the amount of water you would normally bring if it's summer and the creeks are dry. Also, bring sun protection.
The initial Barnhardt trail is good enough. You don't really need to meander through the northern mountains like I did. You won't miss much.
What a hike! This is not your average "go hiking" experience! You will be climbing over rocks and crossing water by playing leap frog. Kids all loved it. They are 5,11 and 17. The 5 year old got a bit lazy towards the end but he was a trooper. We had a picnic while we were about half way through. You go from feeling like you are in the pines to almost a rainforest experience. Can't wait to come back!
Heidi G. on Pine Creek Trail
Beautiful and enjoyable for kids. There are areas you'll be climbing over rocks but, nothing terrible. Loved it!