Some of the best outdoor recreation near The Verdes and Fountain Hills can be found in the Tonto National Forest.
With over 2.9 million acres, the Tonto National Forest is the largest national forest in Arizona and the seventh-largest in the United States. It features some of the most rugged and beautiful lands in the country. It ranges from the flatlands and cacti in the Sonoran Desert to the highlands and pine trees of the Mogollon Rim. It is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the country with three million visitors annually.
Tonto was established in 1905 with the purpose of protecting the watersheds and major reservoirs within its borders. This includes the chain of six man-made lakes along the Salt and Verde Rivers. It has a rich history of producing copper, gold, silver, lead, zinc, uranium, and many other metals and minerals. It is not heavily timbered, yet it still provides 4 million board feet of saw logs and other forest wood products each year. The forest has an abundance of fish and wildlife with more than 400 vertebrate species.
Tonto National Forest’s rich heritage reaches thousands of years into the past as a home to several prehistoric indigenous groups who hunted and gathered throughout the region. The Hohokam arrived in the area about a thousand years ago and became excellent farmers, craftsmen, traders, and warriors. They built large towns and villages and dug hundreds of miles of irrigation canals around the Phoenix area.
For those who love outdoor recreation, Tonto has some of the best recreational opportunities in the state. There are hundreds of miles of trails throughout a variety of terrain. Some of the most popular include Massacre Falls, Butcher Jones at nearby Saguaro Lake, Horton Creek, Water Wheel Falls, Picketpost, and Fossil Creek.
In addition to dispersed camping opportunities, there are also dozens of developed campgrounds throughout the forest. From beach camping on Bartlett Lake to Superstition camping near Tortilla Flat, to cool pine camping at Christopher Creek, you can find a location year-round.
Other popular activities include rock climbing, horseback riding, hunting, OHV riding, water activities, and scenic drives.
For more information, visit fs.usda.gov/main/tonto/home.