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Payson, Arizona
Green Valley Park
Green Valley Park
"Arizona's Cool Mountain Town"
Location of Payson in Gila County, Arizona
Location of Payson in Gila County, Arizona
Payson, Arizona is located in Arizona
Payson, Arizona
Payson, Arizona
Location in Arizona
Payson, Arizona is located in the United States
Payson, Arizona
Payson, Arizona
Location in the United States
Payson, Arizona is located in North America
Payson, Arizona
Payson, Arizona
Location in North America
Country United States
State Arizona
County Gila
Incorporated 1973
 • Type Council-manager
 • Body Payson Town Council
 • Total 19.36 sq mi (50.13 km2)
 • Land 19.35 sq mi (50.11 km2)
 • Water 0.01 sq mi (0.02 km2)
5,000 ft (1,524 m)
 • Total 16,351
 • Density 845.10/sq mi (326.30/km2)
Time zone UTC-7 (MST (no DST))
ZIP codes
85541, 85547
Area code(s) 928
FIPS code 04-53700
GNIS ID(s) 32746, 2413121

Payson is a town in northern Gila County, Arizona, United States. Due to Payson's location being very near to the geographic center of Arizona, it has been called "The Heart of Arizona". The town is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest and has many outdoor activities year round. As of the 2020 census, the population of Payson was 15,813.


Payson considers its founding year as 1882, at which time it was known as "Green Valley". On March 3, 1884, a post office was established with the help of Illinois Representative Lewis E. Payson. The first postmaster was Frank C. Hise. In honor of Representative Payson's help, the town's name was changed to "Payson".

Payson had its first rodeo in 1884. Payson considers its rodeo the "world's oldest continuous", as it has been held every year since.

In 1918 author Zane Grey made his first trip to the area surrounding Payson. He would come back with regularity through 1929, and would purchase two plots of land near Tonto Creek, including 120 acres (49 ha) from Sampson Elam Boles under Myrtle Point. Grey wrote numerous books about the area and also filmed some movies, such as To the Last Man, in the Payson area in the 1920s.

During Prohibition the manufacture, sale, and distribution of liquor was plentiful. The transactions took place on historic Bootleg Alley.

During the 1930s an effort began to try to get Payson a better road to connect it to the outside world. At that time Payson was very isolated, with a trip from Phoenix to Payson taking eight to twelve hours. Throughout the 1950s work on a paved road from Phoenix to Payson progressed, and the paving was completed in 1958. A few years ago this highway, State Route 87 (also known as the "Beeline Highway"), was expanded to four lanes.


Located in northern Gila County at 34°14′22″N 111°19′39″W / 34.23944°N 111.32750°W / 34.23944; -111.32750 (34.239462, -111.327456), at an elevation of 5,000 feet (1,500 m), the town has a total area of 19.5 square miles (51 km2). The Mogollon Rim, the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, lies to the north of Payson, with elevations exceeding 7,500 feet (2,300 m); there are many cold water lakes on top of the rim. They are stocked with fish by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Payson is bordered to the east by the town of Star Valley. Other nearby communities are Pine, Strawberry, Gisela and Rye, all within Gila County. Globe, the Gila County seat, is 80 miles (130 km) to the south via State Routes 87 and 188. State Route 87, the Beeline Highway, leads southwest 90 miles (140 km) to Phoenix and northeast 90 miles (140 km) to Winslow. State Route 260 leads east from Payson 90 miles (140 km) to Show Low.

Zane Grey Country

Art Gallery in Payson
Down the Street Art Gallery on Main Street in Payson

"Zane Grey Country" is a term for the area around Payson. This term was most often used in the 1970s and 1980s, and appeared in the header of the local newspaper, the Payson Roundup. In recent times it has fallen somewhat out of favor, as the term "Rim Country" has become more popular among locals.


Owing to its elevation of almost 5,000 feet (1,500 m), Payson has what is classified as a Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csa), though atypical for this climate with its early-summer drought and late-summer rainfall. Whilst average temperatures do reach the high 80s to mid 90s in summer, the town’s altitude usually keeps it protected from the 100 °F (37.8 °C)+ temperatures usually found at Arizona’s lower elevations. Monsoon storms often develop in the later afternoon, bring heavy rainfall to the area and also lower the temperature a bit. Summer nights cool down into the 50s.

Winter is also mild, with cold nights. January's average nighttime low is 25.3 °F or −3.7 °C with some nights in the teens, but by mid-afternoon, the temperature has usually risen into the 50s. There are only a few days of real winter, with 23.3 inches (0.59 m) of annual snowfall, but very little snow cover. The weather in Payson is as varied as the landscape, and a snowstorm is often followed by weather so warm that any accumulation melts away within a day or two. In spring the desert blooms with a fiery array of Indian paintbrush, primrose, and the golds and fuchsias of cactus blossoms and other brightly-colored wildflowers. In this mild climate, neither summer nor winter are “indoor” seasons.

On Monday, November 5, 2001, between about 8pm and 10:30pm, Payson was treated to a rare display of the Northern Lights. It is extremely rare and only happens during solar flares because Payson is so far south. The lights appeared in a red color.

Climate data for Payson, Arizona
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 77
Average high °F (°C) 54.4
Average low °F (°C) 25.3
Record low °F (°C) −8
Precipitation inches (mm) 2.33
Snowfall inches (cm) 4.8
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 inch) 6.4 5.9 7.0 3.9 3.1 2.2 9.6 10.6 6.5 4.7 4.5 5.1 69.5
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 inch) 1.7 1.3 1.7 0.7 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 0.7 1.2 7.4
Source: NOAA


Historical population
Census Pop.
1970 1,787
1980 5,068 183.6%
1990 8,377 65.3%
2000 13,620 62.6%
2010 15,301 12.3%
2020 16,351 6.9%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2019, there were 15,297 people living in Payson, AZ and is the 2,788th largest city in the United States. 5,832 households, and 4,070 families residing in the town. The population density was 791 people per square mile, which is 1275% higher than the Arizona average and 773% higher than the national average. There were 7,033 housing units at an average density of 361.2 per square mile (139.5/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 92.5% White, 0.2% Black or African American, 2.6% Native American, 0.5% Asian, <0.1% Pacific Islander, 3.0% from other races, and 1.3% from two or more races. 9.3% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 5,832 households, out of which 21.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.6% were married couples living together, 8.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.2% were non-families. 26.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.71.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 18.1% under the age of 18, 4.6% from 18 to 24, 15.3% from 25 to 44, 25.9% from 45 to 64, and 36.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 57.1 years. This is approximately 54% higher than the Arizona average of 37. The male/female ratio was 0.9:1. English was spoken by 93% of people and Spanish was spoken by 5% of people.

The median income for a household in the town was $33,638, and the median income for a family was $38,713. Males had a median income of $30,900 versus $23,750 for females. The per capita income for the town was $19,513. About 6.5% of families and 9.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.1% of those under age 18 and 4.7% of those age 65 or over.


Looking North on Highway 87 in Payson during snowfall.

Ninety-seven percent of the land around Payson is under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service (Payson is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest) or by tribal governments. Consequently, much of the land is available for hiking, horseback riding, fishing and hunting activities. Tonto Natural Bridge, the largest known travertine natural bridge in the world, is located just northwest of Payson in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, a unit of the Arizona State Park system. The area incorporates three golf courses, two of which belong to private country clubs. Mazatzal Casino, a tribal casino, is operated by the Tonto Apache Indian Reservation near the south end of the city. The casino also provides Thanksgiving and Christmas buffets.

A097, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Arizona, USA, 2004
Tonto Natural Bridge

The Payson area is a popular destination for rockhounds. In various areas surrounding the community quartz crystals can be found, some rivaling Herkimer diamonds in quality, as well as geodes, agate and onyx. Fossils are commonly found in the Paleozoic strata that is exposed along the Mogollon Rim to the north and west of Payson along State Route 87 and State Route 260.

Payson is known for its rodeo which is the oldest continuous rodeo in the world.

Payson has two parks, Green Valley Park and Rumsey Park. Payson also has two lakes which are part of the Urban Fish Program. A community swimming pool is located near Rumsey Park and the town hosts free outdoor concerts in the summer. Other activities include intramural sports like baseball and football. Payson also has a small skatepark.


Payson is the site of the annual Arizona State Championship Old Time Fiddlers Contest, held in September. The fiddle contest features both local and nationally known players and awards cash prizes. Payson is also home of two rodeos. In May the Multi-Purpose Event Center across from the Tonto Apache Indian Reservation hosts the Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo. In August, the historic August Doin's Rodeo (1884) takes place making Payson, Arizona the "Home of the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo." Prescott, Arizona is known as hosting the "World's Oldest Rodeo" (1888) but took a hiatus during World War II.


The Payson Senior Center operates the Beeline Bus, which provides local bus service to Payson, Star Valley, and Mesa del Caballo. Mountain Valley Shuttle stops in Payson on its PhoenixShow Low route.

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