Houston Mesa Campground is located in the forested northern section of Tonto National Forest, just one mile north of Payson, Arizona and less than two hours from Phoenix.
With family, equestrian and tent-only campsites, this campground can accommodate a range of visitors and offers plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors, including several miles of hiking and horseback riding trails nearby.
As the fifth largest forest in the United States, the Tonto National Forest is one of the most-visited "urban" forests in the United States (approximately 5.8 million visitors annually). Its boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.
Many visitors come to Houston Mesa to horseback ride, hike, camp and picnic. Houston Mesa Loop Trail is a 9-mile round trip through a pinyon and juniper woodland and can be accessed from the horse camping area. The Houston Mesa Interpretive Trail is a 0.5-mile self-guided trail.
Houston Mesa has 74 campsites, including 29 equestrian sites for campers with horses or mules, and 17 tent-only sites for those who want a quieter experience. There are several amenities to make campers feel at home, including showers (coin-operated) and flush toilets. All of the sites are accessible.
The horse camping section (Mule Deer Loop) is across the street from the main campground and features 29 individual sites with tables and grills. Corrals are also available. Campers who reserve these sites must have horses or mules.
The campground is located at an elevation of 5,200 ft. in a mixed forest and shrub area, with spacious campsites offering both sun and shade. Winters are pleasant and cool with cold nighttime temperatures, while summers are warm and sunny, providing a nice getaway from the hotter deserts around Phoenix. Hawks, eagles, javelina, deer, fox, skunk and coyote live in the area.
Campers who make the quick trip to the town of Payson, one mile south, will find restaurants, shopping and other conveniences.
Scenic driving and outdoor recreation abound in the surrounding Tonto National Forest, which embraces almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacularly beautiful country, ranging from saguaro cactus-studded desert to pine-forested mountains beneath the Mogollon Rim.
ADA Access: N
We really liked this camp ground, we just didn't like the experience. The spaces are spread apart and there is plenty of room. But you can have up to 10 people, 2 car and ONLY 2 tents. So be prepared to sleep in groups I guess, we weren't. Also the camp host was nice but seemed to cater to the people she knew, she drives by A LOT and checked up on us almost every hour, we go to camp to get away, not be bothered. She really did not make us feel welcomed but we really did like where the camp site was so we're just hoping a new host is there if we ever go back.
We had a great time here, sites are good size and well kept! Amenities were in great condition and our favorite day use river spot is 15 minutes away👌🏻 A+++
This site is well kept and spacious. And the closest site to Water Wheel which is about ten miles away and Arizona’s best kept secret. I usually set up camp the afternoon before and get up early to make the drive to Water Wheel and get in a day hike. This place has extraordinary water falls and swimming holes. I have probably camped at Mesa Houston more than any other place in Arizona just so I can hike Water Wheel and have never had a negative experience. Payson is beautiful and this camp site is near amenities and great hiking spots.
This campground has really nice sites, that can accommodate large trailers. Each horse site has two large corrals, a fire pit, and picnic table. There is water locations around the campground as well as bathrooms. Across the street is the main non horse campground, and there is pay showers if needed and an amphitheater there. The trails weren't my favorite, a bit rocky, but were not bad either. The campground is a great location near Payson.
We LOVE Houston Mesa! This is our second time staying here, and we had an even better time this time then last time (and we had an amazing time last time, so that was hard to beat).
Located just 1.5 hours from Phoenix, this is a super easy getaway from The Valley. Houston Mesa Campground is also right off the main highway of town, so if you forgot something (or just want McDonalds instead of hot dogs) you can find civilization about 2 minutes away.
This time we went up with friends and stayed at sites Black Bear 4 and 5. These sites were PERFECT to book together, since they made one huge space when connected. We had 3 families, each with large tents, and had plenty of space. We will stay at these same sites next time. The bathroom is also right next to site 3, so it was easy to walk to.
Bathrooms are clean and have flush toilets. There are showers available at a central shower building, but we did not use those.
Each site comes with a picnic table and a fire pit (complete with BBQ grill topper). I also found the sites to be freshly racked on arrival, so that was nice.
There is also a great nature walk at the park that you can do with young kids. Every few feet is a sign describing local animals and plants.
A short 15 minute drive away is the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park -- a must see in the area! Beautiful and easy hike to see a absolutely gorgeous natural wonder.
As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time - at Houston Mesa I was testing the GrubStick Deluxe Kit.
Wow. Wow. WOW. This set is a GAME CHANGER for campfire cooking. We have been using dinky little forks forever and having to buy new ones every few trips because they get bent out of shape or burned up. This kit will last you FOREVER. They are so well made!
This kit includes two grippy telescoping handles, and then a ton of accessories (2 fork toppers, a cage for whole S’mores, a cage for burgers, a small metal rod to make bacon cups, and a large metal rod to cook dough). There are also 4 other accessories, like hot pags and cage openers that are thoughtful additions. AND they come in their own mini duffel bag!
My friends were seriously blown away when they saw our set and were asking so many questions about it. My favorite part was the dough rod, because we made delicious campfire cinnamon-sugar crescent roll cylinders!!
5 Stars for GrubStick, can’t wait to try out new recipes!
Check out my video review here: https://youtu.be/JPNznJ7wApE
So grateful for the showers. Love this campground.
All paved driving and campsite parking except equestrian area no hookups they have places to fill water and to dump. Restrooms and showers nice a clean.
Nice spot . No hook ups ,full bath and showers .Very nice and quiet but noisy on weekends. Helpful staff.
What a great day at Houston Mesa! We are from Phoenix and the weather has been 115 every day, so we needed a break from the heat. This campsite was only an hour and a half from our house, and there was a 30 degree temperature drop. Loved the relief!
Each of the sites has a lot of space and are well spread out and mostly shaded. Our site was gorgeous with big trees and no one we could see or hear nearby. When we arrived, one of the camp hosts came right to our spot in a golf cart to check if we needed anything and to give us a pamphlet on bears (yikes!).
There are several bathrooms with flush toilets, and each was clean and well cared for. Showers are there and are coin operated ($3 for 6 minutes). Firewood is also available to purchase for $7 a bundle.
Features we loved: privacy, clean bathrooms, and they even had an adorable nature trail! The kids loved running from sign to sign. There is also an amphitheater there, if you were having a family or group gathering.
The campground is rather close to the highway, so you do get some noise off of that, but it really wasn’t bad and didn’t bother me a bit.
Really recommend this place, we can’t wait to come back!
As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get products to test from time to time. At Houston Mesa, I got to test out some OOFOS OOahh Sport Slide Sandals.
These sandals are SO SOFT and SQUISHY! They claim to absorb 37% more than other foam type shoes, and I sure believe it. They are incredible soft and take a lot of pressure off my feet.
I chose the slip on ones because I like to wear socks with my sandals (haha) especially while camping. Going in and out of the tent I could put these on and off so easily, I loved it.
The only negative thing I have to say about them, is that I got a small blister on my instep while wearing them (barefoot). This is hardly a negative remark because I have VERY sensitive skin (my feet always get blisters if I’m not wearing socks) and I have been wearing these all day every day since I got them!
I promise these will be your new favorite sandals! Perfect for camping, the gym, around town, or lounging around the house!
Grab your own pair at https://www.oofos.com/
For a video of the campground from our trip, visit: https://youtu.be/ZAtHtVGTjU4
This campground is within a three minute drive of Walmart, Home Depot, and restaurants. You can have a pizza delivered here. Very convenient, very crowded, but I recommend this spot to families with young kids trying to acclimate them to camping or adults who want to camp but also go out for drinks in town. Water Wheel Falls is a 15 minute drive, where a pool collects beneath a small waterfall, popular for swimming. The campsite has a host and firewood available for purchase.