Periwinkle blue butterflies, tumbling waterfalls, red-capped mushrooms, and vines heavy with wild grapes. Wander the fairy-tale setting of Tonto, Horton, and Christopher Creeks, just below Arizona's Mogollon Rim, and you half expect Snow White and her dwarfs to show.
The labyrinth of creeks and enchanting pine forests are an easy escape from Phoenix's broiling Indian summer and offer a refreshing day of wading, fishing, and picnicking. Truly a storybook kind of day.
Getting there: Horton, Tonto, and Christopher Creeks ― and the village of Christopher Creek ― are about 20 miles east of Payson along State 260. For more information, contact Tonto National Forest (928/474-7900) or the village of Christopher Creek.
Pull into Tonto Creek Hatchery and check out the visitor center, which serves as a de facto local museum, detailing wildlife and the area's devastating 1990 wildfire. On weekends, a host talks trout and reveals secret fishing holes. Tonto Creek Rd., 4 miles north of State 260; www.azgfd.gov or 928/478-4200.
Horton Creek Trail. Stroll 4 miles gently uphill to a spring where water gushes from a hillside. Kick off your sneaks and stand knee-deep. Trailhead at Upper Tonto Creek Campground, Tonto Creek Rd. (Forest Rd. 289), 1 mile north of State 260; 928/474-7900.
See Canyon Trail. Stop for a picnic at Christopher Creek. Splash, boulder-hop, or walk 1 mile up the lush See Spring Trail to the creek's headwaters. Trailhead at Forest Rd. 284, 2 miles north of Christopher Creek Loop; 928/474-7900.
Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout. Catch your own dinner at this stocked pond on a scenic historic homestead. $1 pole rental, $.60 per inch of caught fish; open daily through Sep 4, open Fri-Sun starting Sep 8; Tonto Creek Rd., 2 miles north of State 260; 928/478-0002.
Tall Pines Market. Pick up picnic supplies at the pocket-size country store lined with s'mores fixings, fishing licenses, and better-than-decent wine. 1101 Christopher Creek Loop, Christopher Creek; 928/478-4550.
Creekside Steakhouse and Cabin. End your day at the longtime local haunt with a rack of ribs and homemade blueberry cobbler. $$; 1520 Christopher Creek Loop, Christopher Creek; 928/478-4389.