Photographing Tonto National Forest


Added by Laura Clarke

If you've never driven through the Tonto National Forest and you're a road trip enthusiast, you would love these amazing winding roads and stunning mountain views.

Directions:From anywhere in the valley you will be able to get to Tonto NF via AZ-202 Loop E, the US-60 E or the I-10 E. Eventually you want to get off on N Apache Trail (AZ-87) and from here on out, this is the road you'll be driving on. You'll continue to drive on N Apache Trail for about 58mi. Keep in mind that these are unpaved shaky dirt roads, so prepare yourself to drive at about 25mph the whole way through. After about 29 mi you will come across the Roosevelt Dam which is a hidden landmark within the Tonto NF. After passing the Roosevelt Dam you can continue on AZ-87 and drive back towards Apache Junction which will be another 43mi, take E US Highway 60 towards Globe to Apache Junction which is 81mi, or drive north towards Payson taking Beeline Hwy which runs for 91mi.

The Scenery:This drive gave us about 3 hours of nonstop scenic mountains and peeks of Canyon Lake, Roosevelt Lake and Apache Lake (amongst others.) All three of these lakes laid beautifully perpendicular to the forest's mountains. Tonto NF also features small one-way bridges that make for a interesting rocky industrial photos. We came across one of the bridges that hovered over a creek which tends to be higher during monsoon season. This is a great time to stop and take the time to photograph your surroundings as you will have designated spaces to park. As you keep driving on the dirt road you will come along many more sights of Tonto's landscapes as well wildlife so have your camera ready at all times! Tonto NF gets pretty darn dark at night which is great if you want to watch the millions of stars as you drive. You can also find a safe spot to park your car and watch the stars from the roof. Taking advantage of this darkness and snap some night shots of the stars wouldn't be a bad idea either. Depending on the time of year, you may want to bring a light jacket since it cools down after sunset. This drive is truly an experience that you'll never forget. I suggest you get out of your car and treat your eyes to the great outdoors. The road can become somewhat congested around campsites but once you're deep IN the forest, the thought of being alone out there in pure silence with your camera can really make you feel all sorts of ways!

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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