Payson Area Trails System

Story and Photos By Mare Czinar

Whether your canine hiking companion is a natural outdoor sporting type, trusty follow-you-anywhere pal, or an older buddy who’s satisfied with a roam around the block, the Payson Area Trails System (PATS) has a route to suit. Late spring is the ideal time to visit the town of Payson which sits at a cooler 4800 feet of elevation below the Mogollon Rim. The pine-shaded community has an eclectic network of interconnected hiking trails that complement the maze of national forest routes on the town’s periphery.

Using a core of paved suburban walking paths and bikeways, the system rolls out to incorporate dirt trails and 4×4 roads that seamlessly bridge the urban-forest interface. Although each trail in the system offers a satisfying journey, we’ve canine-curated a selection based on doggie energy levels.

LEADER OF THE PACK:  Houston Loop.   Got an experienced hiking dog with boundless energy? Try this undulating trek with magnificent vistas, seasonal creeks and a great workout. With two main trailheads and excellent connectivity with other system trails, it’s easy to customize the length and difficulty of this quad-burning, classic Rim Country trek.

LENGTH: 4.5-mile loop from the Chaparral Ranch trailhead OR 9.6-miles roundtrip from Houston Mesa trailhead

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 4,800’–4,950’ (Chaparral) OR 4,800’ – 5,200’ (Houston Mesa)

Chaparral Ranch Trailhead: From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go right (east) onto 260 and continue 2.4 miles to Chaparral Pines Drive. Turn left (north) and go 1.2 miles to the Chaparral Ranch Trail access turnout. There’s parking for about 3-4 vehicles. Do not block private driveways in the area. Large groups should access this trail via the Houston Mesa Trailhead.

Houston Mesa Trailhead: From the intersection of State Routes 87/260 in Payson, go 1.7 miles north on 87 to Houston Mesa Road. Turn right (east) and continue 0.8 mile to the trailhead on the right (past the “horse camp”). From here, follow Houston Trail 3 miles to the loop.

MIGHTY MUTT: Cypress-Boulders Loop
Located in the Granite Dells area southeast of town, this mildly challenging hike is perfect for dogs with a sense of adventure and moderate stamina. The route explores the diverse terrain of Stewart Pocket with edgy ascents, dips into water-whittle gullies and meanders among bizarre lumps of sculpted granite. Scrub oak and junipers provide patches of shade for rest stops and water breaks.

LENGTH: 7.3 miles round trip

RATING: moderate

ELEVATION: 4485’- 4932’

Boulders Trailhead: Go 3.3 miles on Granite Dells Road (which will turn into FR435 after 1.3 miles) and park at the Monument Peak trailhead on the left just before a roadblock. From here, hike down to the roadblock on FR435 and hike 0.5 mile (crossing 3 concrete bridges) to the deep gully on the left. Continue another 0.25 mile down FR435 and follow the ATV track across the gorge, then hike up to the PATS sign on top of the embankment.

Cypress Trailhead: From the State Route 87/260 junction in Payson go right and follow SR 260 less than a mile to Granite Dells Road on the right just past the Safeway. Continue 1.9 miles on Granite Dells to a small easy-to-miss sign for Cypress Trail. There’s no official parking area, just find a spot along the road being mindful of the private driveways in the area.

LITTLE YAPPER: Monument Peak Let’s face it, not every dog is up to (or willing to tolerate) a long, challenging hike. For older dogs or those who don’t like to tangle their tresses, the Monument Peak Trail is a great choice. In addition to being light on length and easy-on-the pads, the suburb-brushing trail doubles down on scenic beauty, circling the eponymous peak for a sweet traipse through sunny meadows and cypress glens.

LENGTH: 3.3-mile loop

RATING: easy

ELEVATION: 4,630’ – 4,795’

From the intersection of State Route 87/260 in Payson, go less than a mile east on SR260 to Granite Dells Road (located just past the Safeway center). Turn right and go 3.3 miles on Granite Dells Road (which will turn into Forest Road 435 after 1.3 miles) to the Monument Peak trailhead on the left.


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