A Guide To Pine, Arizona (And What You Shouldn’t Miss)
Pine, Arizona, makes a refreshing trip for hiking amid the pines, natural wonders – and some great pizza. Here are the best things to do.
If you’re thirsty for cool resin-scented air – and for a getaway from city traffic – head Northeast for a day trip to Pine.
It’s where the state’s cactus-dotted Sonoran Desert gives way to snowy towns and ponderosa pines.
And this little community, with its weekend hipsters, delicious eateries and stunning hiking trails, will surely surprise you.
Getting to Pine
Take the AZ-87 N through the enormous Tonto National Forest. The land gets rockier and the trees get denser.
There are green rolling hills and curvy roads and patches of snow by the road. The change in the scenery – after less than a two-hour drive – is remarkable.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
A friendly ranger greets you at the visitor’s center.
It’s a small cabin where a stuffed owl and bear’s head hang on the wall alongside old illustrations of the area’s first settlers. There are coloring books with local wildlife for children, and souvenirs like Arizona honey and mineral rocks in the tiny gift shop.
Black and white photos over a brick fireplace depict Scotsman David Gowan, who first documented the bridge in 1877 as he was hiding from Apache tribe members. Gowan later claimed squatter’s rights and persuaded his family to emigrate to the area.
The rustic Goodfellow Lodge is adjacent and it looks like a gorgeous place to spend the night nestled among the pines. Built in the 1920s, it’s designed to feel like the early 20th century.
The travertine bridge
The showpiece at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is the world’s largest natural travertine bridge, which stands 56 meters high over a 120-metre tunnel.
To get there, take a short and steep hike down through the rocky hills and end at a creek at the base of the natural bridge.
The bridge was formed over the centuries by geological forces that have carved out its shape.
First, a series of underground springs with mineral-laden waters built up deposits of travertine. Then Pine Creek, a stream flowing through the canyon, eroded a passageway that left the rocks above standing as a natural bridge.
Watch a small waterfall trickle down into the creek and the surreal formations that tower above recall a sci-fi movie set.
Make your way back uphill and then gaze down at the natural bridge.
The park offers four viewpoints that are easily accessible from the parking lot for views of the bridge from above and the other side. The pathways are great for taking in some nature and the pine trees and cacti that grow side by side.
There’s also a picnic area that makes a great resting point after the hike.
The Nature of the Mogollon Rim
Wander around the creek and explore the greenery.
The Mogollon Rim includes ponderosa pine, pinyon, juniper and scrub oak that’s a relief from the dry Phoenix desert.
The park has informative signage all about the surrounding nature, like sugar sumac bushes and pointleaf manzanita.
Information points set up around the park tell about the plants and their uses. There’s Canotia, leaf-less to reduce water loss and thrive in a dry environment. There’s shrub live oak, a food source for mule deer and porcupines. And Beargrass, used by early Native Americans to make rope, matting and clothes.
After a couple hours wandering the trail, you’ll be ready for lunch.
Old County Inn
The Old County Inn serves woodfire pizza, delicious salads and craft beer in a cozy atmosphere.
With its post-punk playing in the background, a menu of microbrews on a chalkboard and a staff uniform of red flannel, the place feels decidedly hipster. And it’s always packed.
It’s probably not what you’d expect from a small Arizona community founded by the Mormons. But then again Pine and nearby Strawberry are in the grip of a renaissance as rapidly-growing weekend destinations for Phoenix’s urban sophisticates.
Order a woodfired pizza called White with olive oil, fresh ricotta, mozzarella, grana padano and parsley. To drink, there are great craft beers like the ironically-named Scottsdale Blonde, a lightly hopped and very smooth beer brewed in Tempe.
The place is packed and service is swamped, but the delectable pizza is worth the wait.
Tonto National Forest – Pine Trailhead
For some more hiking before sunset, the Pine Trailhead is just off Pine’s main road.
It goes through a peaceful and verdant canyon, full of maples, oaks, ponderosa pines and a beautiful running creek.
Take an hour to hike through the trees and cross the creek by hopping across a line of rocks. The air is bright and clear and there are patches of snow on the ground in winter.
It’s a great jumping off point for several trails in the area. Though in winter, it’s muddy and the clay sticks to your shoes and makes things a bit slippery.
The Pine Trailhead is also part of the Arizona Trail, which stretches some 1,287 kilometers from Mexico to Utah, and all across Arizona.
This diverse path links desert, small communities, forests and canyons.
Spend the evening wandering around Pine’s residential streets, the crackling of pine needles at your feet.
The neighbourhood is filled with wooden cabins and a few Airbnbs. If you look carefully, you’ll spot some local wildlife too.
Back to Phoenix
Though Pine is just a short day trip from Phoenix, the great food and stunning hiking will leave you invigorated with nature.