By Adam Triplett ’10
It may be starting to finally cool down in the Valley, but just a short three hour drive away and you can find temperatures 20 degrees or more lower than the city.
The cool air and beautiful scenery of the Mogollon Rim, just east of Payson, is a great getaway from the Valley.
The Rim Road, Forest Road 300, is a designated US Forest Service camping area and is part of the Tonto National Forest. There are camping spots that are developed, which usually means there will be a bathroom within walking distance and is accessible by any vehicle because the road is paved.
However, the fun really begins where the pavement ends. A few miles after you begin driving on the Rim Road there is a fork in the road, one leading to Woods Canyon Lake and the developed campgrounds, and the other going down a well-graded dirt road that runs for approximately 60 miles.
The longer 60-mile stretch of the rim road will take about two hours to fully drive, unless you stop to look at the beautiful lookout points, in which case the drive can take anywhere from two to six hours.
The main road, 300, can be driven by standard passenger cars with average ground clearance, but do not go exploring on the side trails without a high-clearance, off-road type vehicle.
While driving down a small path on the way to Horseshoe Lookout there was a 2-foot rock shelf that required four-wheel-drive to properly clear.
Camping along the Rim Road is considered “primitive” in Forest Service terms, but that simply means a dirt road leads to a big dirt patch where you can setup your tent, chairs, tables, etc. There are several turnoffs along the dirt portion of the road, all of which are clearly marked by USFS markers with numbers such as 197.
Be sure to bring warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag, as even this early in the year the temperatures at night can fall into the 20s.
Along with good camping spots, there are several trail heads leading from the side roads where camping is designated.
If you are the hiking type be sure to bring plenty of water and chose the trail carefully. Some trails are an easy mile hike in the lowland areas and others can be up to 12 miles climbing over the hills and through the valleys on top of the Mogollon Rim.
If you would rather kick back and relax, there are multiple lakes in the area, the biggest of which being Woods Canyon Lake, complete with its own bait shop and parking.
The other lakes can be found by taking the turnoffs along the dirt portion of the road. These smaller lakes are clearly marked and are generally a right turn off the road. Each one of the lakes also has camping areas either right near the lake or on the road leading to it.
Getting there is the easy part, deciding to leave is always the hard part. The easiest, and fastest way to get to the Mogollon Rim is to take Loop 101 to Shea Boulevard and head east until Shea runs into Highway 87 out of Fountain Hills, about 11 miles.
Once on the 87, travel 62 miles north into Payson and turn onto Forest Road 260, heading east.
The turn is a right off the 87 past McDonalds, and yes, in Payson a McDonalds is indeed a landmark. Once on FR 260 travel for 29 miles to the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff, this is Forest Road 300, the Rim Road.
Help the Forest Service, and do your part. Whatever you pack in, make sure to pack it back out and leave the area just as beautiful as when you got there for the next set of campers.