3 Summer Getaways in Arizona's Rim Country

Explore the rugged terrain and backcountry trails, cool water play and picnic areas, and good eats.

Natural bridge in Tonto Bridge State Park in Arizona, picture
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, between Payson and Pine, hosts the largest natural travertine bridge in the world.
Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock

The Beeline Highway, Arizona State Route 87 north of Mesa and Chandler, Arizona, got its name from weekenders desiring to make a beeline out of the valley's hot summer temperatures to the cool climes of the Rim Country trio—Payson, Pine, and Strawberry.

One of Rim Country's most famous visitors was author Zane Grey, whose mega-selling westerns immortalized cowboy life in the West. Fifteen of his books, including Under the Tonto Rim, portray the area and his relationships with local folk. Experience an ample slice of the outdoorsman's life when you tour a replica of his cabin near Green Valley Lakes in Payson (Zane's original cabin burned down in the 1990 Dude Fire). You'll get a feel for what you can expect in the trio of towns at the Rim Country Museum next door. The outdoor paradise that Zane Grey wrote about can be experienced today through each of the gateway towns.

Pleasant Pace in Payson

Use Payson, with its rich Old West flavor, as a base for exploring the adjacent Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests and their cool water play areas that include lakes, streams, and the Salt and Verde rivers. The town was built by pioneers and ranchers among steep, rugged hills that make for some of the best summer urban road-biking opportunities in the state.

For those who don't want to say goodbye to all the comforts of city life, Payson has many hotels adjacent to greenways and shady picnic spots, making it a fine outpost.

A pleasant day trip from Payson is a sightseeing drive into the high country and to Woods Canyon Lake only 36 miles away. Here, enjoy fishing, kayaking, or mountain biking at 7,500 feet.

Continue on AZ-260 until you reach the notorious Forest Service Road 300, also known as Rim Road. This spectacular road runs parallel to the edge of the Mogollon Rim, a 2,000-foot escarpment that gives Rim Country its name. The road wows with 51 miles of breathtaking vistas and was used by pioneers, ranchers, and Indian fighters. Today, Rim Road provides many prospects for exploration, including the site of the 1882 Battle of Big Dry Wash.


Peaceful Retreat in Pine

If you're seeking tranquil solitude in cool ponderosa forests, then Pine, located 15 miles northwest of Payson, might be the ideal place to make your base camp. As a gateway community for the Arizona Trail, Pine is the happy host to international hikers, who come to the area to trek the 800-mile National Scenic Trail from its southerly border of Mexico to its northern border of Utah. Pine's renowned Fire on the Rim Bike Race attracts mountain bikers from all over the nation, and the surrounding biking and hiking trails are sure to please outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. 

The delightful town's abundance of antique stores (pick up a list of all the antique shops in Payson, Pine, and Strawberry at the Rim Country Chamber of Commerce) will keep you captivated. Fun eateries like That Brewery offer live entertainment and patio dining during pine-scented evenings.

While in this area, don't miss Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Located between Payson and Pine, it offers hiking trails to Pine Creek for water play and the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, a geologic wonder. Situated just below the Mogollon Rim and surrounded by pine trees, the state park has picnic areas, the historic Tonto Lodge, and a gift shop.

Country Escape in Strawberry

Just 3 miles north of Pine, Strawberry is closest to the Mogollon Rim and is on the west end of Forest Service Road 300. The smallest of the Rim Country triad, Strawberry offers sizable backwoods experiences: hiking the challenging Fossil Springs Trail through wilderness areas to falling water, RVing on backcountry trails.

While in this charming town, explore the oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona, built by pioneers in 1885. The one-room building made of hand-scribed pine logs is a living museum.

Make family memories at the Cabins on Strawberry Hill, where you can roast marshmallows around the campfire or explore the Tonto National Forest right outside your back door.

This article was first published in Arizona Highroads in May/June 2015 and updated in March 2019.