Hiking in Tonto National Forest and Hellsgate Wilderness

For as much as we loved Gila National Forest in New Mexico, the section of Tonto National Forest near Payson, Arizona really kind of blew us away. It was a similarly arid, open forest with tons of ponderosa pines, but the area we were in (mostly near Houston Mesa) had gorgeous rivers and creeks as well. Our first hike was down the surprisingly lush East Verde River where we walked the banks and rock-hopped down from a picnic area. We then followed that up with an exploration down Webber Creek which we came upon while driving the forest roads on Houston Mesa.

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Along Webber Creek:

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Next up was a more difficult hike in the Hellsgate Wilderness on a trail that led to a gorge. Unfortunately we got to our turn around time (dictated by remaining daylight hours) prior to reaching our destination, but our 12-ish mile hike was really lovely, featuring tall trees, and epic views from the ridge lines. Also, I found the sign at the trailhead to be quite amusing: “Do Not Assume You Will Be Rescued.”

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Our final hike was a section of the Highline Trail as we were leaving the forest heading north. The backpacking trail follows the Mogollon Rim and overlooks the forested mesas and canyons to the west though the morning we arrived it was overcast and gray, which saidly did not make for the best photos.

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