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Tonto Creek flows along the northern edge of Tonto National Forest, just beneath the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona. It feeds Theodore Roosevelt Lake, and makes up one of many tributaries that flow into the Salt River. As the creek continues to flow south, forming narrow channels through rocky canyons, it meets the Hellsgate Wilderness. The foreboding wilderness name depicts jagged rocky terrain that surrounds canyon depths up to a thousand feet. The creek continues to flow south through the wilderness, and eventually widens across flatter land that opens up into the Sonoran Desert.

The Tonto Creek Hatchery, managed by the Arizona Game & Fish Department, is located at the headwaters of the creek and is open to the public during visiting hours. Tonto creek is stocked with Rainbow Trout, and young Apache

Willow Flycatcher

Trout populations are reared here before re-stocking as adults in other creeks with suitable spawning habitat. Recreational day-use sites are located close to the hatchery. They are wonderful areas to have picnics among the pine forests. There are also multiple camping sites to begin your trek along several hiking trails in the area. It’s not uncommon to find Bald Eagles perching nearby while fly fishing along the creek.

Tonto Creek flows along the small town of Gisela, south of Payson, whose pioneering roots began with miners. No matter how you choose to experience Tonto Creek, you have many options for day-trips or overnight stays. Spend time along the northern stretches of the creek hiking through cool pine forests in the middle of Summer. Hike along the southern stretches of the creek to observe a real desert oasis, and catch a glimpse of the endangered Willow Flycatcher in the Spring.

Featured photo of Tonto Creek courtesy of the HikeArizona.com, where the Del Shay Trail crosses Tonto Creek.


Anne Stahley is a Water Conservation Specialist with the City of Glendale’s Conservation & Sustainable Living Division, one of fifteen Water – Use It Wisely partners to offer water saving advice and programs. Discover more water-worthy sites to visit across the state by checking out our Celebrate Arizona Water blogs, or view our favorite photo submissions from our Celebrate AZ Water Photo Contest at the Celebrate AZ Water Photo Gallery.

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