Exploring the Heart of Arizona: The Best Things to do in Payson, AZ

If you’ve spent any time in dry and arid Arizona, then you might have found yourself dreaming of the ocean. Did you know that there was once a time when a shallow ocean bursting with aquatic life covered the entire state? Times have changed, but Payson, Arizona is bursting with a new kind of life – all it needs is an adventurous visitor to explore all it has to offer! There is no shortage of things to do in Payson, AZ either! 

Whether you’re into a hundred million-year-old ocean fossils, outdoor adventures, educational tourism, or some great shopping, you’ll fall in love with the dynamic city of Payson! We hope that you’ll end your day with a visit to Explore the Attic, a shop full of treasures and unique souvenirs for just about anybody! 

Not sure where to start? We’ve curated this guide to help you plan your best time-traveling adventure here in “The Heart of Arizona!” Keep reading for a selection of the best things to do in Payson, AZ! 

picture of a lake through the trees taken around the woods canyon lake area in Payson, Arizona

Journey to the Payson Paleo Site

Maybe your adventure in Payson began hundreds of millions of years ago and you didn’t even realize it! If you’re looking for things to do in Payson, AZ with kids, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Paleo Site. Once there, you will be able to go on a genuine fossil hunt! 

When you arrive, you’ll find what looks like a beach up in the mountains. You won’t need any experience to chip away at the rock and sort through the sand in search of strange and alluring signs of life! 

This is the perfect destination for budding paleontologists of all ages. If nothing else, the little ones can blow off some steam in the great outdoors!

Explore the Shoofly Village Ruins

Another destination that will allow you to time travel in the present is the Shoofly Village Ruins. They are one of the most unique things to do around Payson, AZ if you love history and a good story. 

The native, prehistoric Mogollon people inhabited the ruins somewhere around one thousand years ago. Much of their history remains in the form of 80 rooms, a large stone wall, and examples of prehistoric construction. You can learn about how they lived over two hundred years. 

Feel free to pack a lunch and enjoy a full day outdoors. You’ll have access to picnic tables and restrooms when you arrive so you can take your time exploring!

Hike the Railroad Tunnel Trail

Long after Payson’s shallow sea had evaporated and the Mogollon dispersed, plans went into place to build a railroad. It would run from Globe to Flagstaff, cutting neatly through Payson on its way. This would have made a huge difference for inaccessible Payson, which was difficult to access due to seasonal conditions on the roads. 

Unfortunately, the proposed railroad line was never completed. It would prove to be too costly to accomplish. The relics of the early construction remain, however, and you can visit them on your trip to Payson!

The Railroad Tunnel Trail is a challenging hike ideal for adults. You will feel like an explorer as you traverse the one-mile tunnel. There is plenty of nature to explore while you’re there! 

Tour the Rim Country Museum

If you prefer your history in a more accessible form, you might enjoy a visit to the Rim Country Museum and Zane Grey Cabin. You won’t have to hike or pack a picnic to enjoy the wide variety of exhibits on display. Members of the local historical society run the museum, so you’re sure to meet a knowledgeable docent who can walk you through the most interesting exhibits!

The museum will provide you with a survey of many periods of Payson history. You can learn more about the region’s native peoples or brush up on your rodeo history. You can even tour a blacksmith’s shop and get a sense of how local artisans used to work.

While you’re on-site, you can check out the Zane Grey Cabin. This is the home of prolific Western author Zane Grey, whose work is still revered to this day! 

Catch History in Action at the Rodeo

Did you know that Payson is home to the world’s oldest continuous rodeo? Since Payson was fairly inaccessible to outsiders until the 1960s, the locals made their own fun. The first Payson rodeo took place in 1884, and has been going strong ever since! 

You might hear a few conflicting things about Payson’s stake as the world’s oldest rodeo. The early days were a bit rough and tumble and disorganized! Even so, locals will staunchly maintain that you will not find an older rodeo anywhere on earth! 

The world’s oldest continuous rodeo has been running for over 130 years and takes place in Payson every August. If you’re lucky enough to be in town, you can catch barrel racing, bareback riding, roping events, and more! 

Discover the Best Things to Do in Payson, AZ

There is no shortage of fun things to do in Payson, AZ. If you visit, you’re sure to return home with plenty of fabulous memories and thrilling stories about your time exploring our favorite place in the state! If you’re seeking new stories, we can help you out there, too!

One of the best things to do in Payson, AZ is visit Explore the Attic! 

We’ve collected everything from awe-inspiring antiques to colorful contemporary treasures. When you step into our shop, you’re sure to find something with history and heart! Visit our online shop to preview just a few of the stories we have for sale at the best-kept secret in Payson!

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