Tonto Natural Bridge is one of Arizona’s most impressive but lesser-known natural landmarks.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Arizona is probably best known for its impressive canyons (such as the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon), while Utah is best known for the largest natural arches in the nation. Still, Arizona lays claim to the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, and today it is protected in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
Natural bridges can also be found in other parts of the country; one of the most impressive outside of the conservation region is Kentucky Natural Bridge State Resort Park. To see the most impressive natural arches in the United States, visit Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument. Utah is full of amazing landscapes – there’s a reason it’s home to five of America’s national parks.
What is the Tonto Natural Bridge
The Tonto Natural Bridge is said to be the largest of its kind in the world and stands over a 400 foot long (or 120 meter) tunnel. It is one of the wonders of nature that is much more impressive in person.
- Tunnel Width: 150 feet or 46 meters at the widest
- Tunnel Length: 393 feet
- Height: 183 feet or 56 Meters
- Travertine Thickness: 60 feet
Tonto Natural Bridge was first documented by David Gowan in 1877 while hiding from the Apache from whom he had stolen land (another version of the story is that he was prospecting for gold). While in Arizona, get a taste of the Wild West and visit Tombstone – Old West site of the famous Gun Fight at the OK Corral.
David Gowan chose to live near the natural bridge, and his family continued to live there until 1948.
The Gown family lodge still stands in the park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eventually, the bridge and surrounding land became a state park in Arizona.
Most natural bridges around the world are made of sandstone or limestone. What makes the Tonto Natural Bridge unique is its size and the history of its creation.
The natural bridge was created thousands of years ago. Volcanic lava, seawater, and precipitation combined to form a travertine dam, according to Visit Arizona. But over time, the dam broke, and water seeped through. Gradually the water eroded the travertine below, creating the natural bridge.
Plan a Visit to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is located just off State Route 87 in central Arizona.
- Park Opening Hours: 9.00 am to 5.00 pm
- Entry fee: $7.00 Adults 14 & Older
The state park has a visitor center with information and a gift shop. There are restrooms outside the visitor center. Note that the visitor center closes one hour before the park closes. The park facilities are basic, but there are outdoor picnic tables with grills throughout the park.
It doesn’t take long to see the park, and it makes a great side trip while traveling across Arizona or heading to the Grand Canyon. Take the time to visit the restored Gowan family lodge situated on the grassy meadow above the bridge. Inside are some Gowan family heirlooms, furnishings, and more.
Hiking Trails At Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has several short walking trails, and they close an hour before the park does (also, the last entrance to the park is at 4.00 pm). Dogs are not allowed on these paths.
Trails in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park:
- Pine Creek Trail: 0.5 Mile Long Mixed Developed & Undeveloped And Leads To Pine Creek Natural Area (Allow One Hour)
- Waterfall Trail: 300 Feet Long Walk to Waterfall Cave (Allow 15-20 Minutes)
- Pass Track: 2,200 feet long, leading to a River Bottom Observation Deck (Hourly Allowed)
- Anna Mae Trail: 500 Feet Long, leading to Pine Creek Trail & Natural Bridge
These are all very short walks; For the ultimate hike in Arizona, consider hiking the 800-mile long Arizona National Scenic Trail and really see the natural beauty of the Southwest.
Tonto Natural Bridge can be seen from many angles in the park. There are four great views from the paved walkways on top to appreciate the impressive size of the bridge.