- Well-preserved cliff dwellings were occupied by the Salado culture during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries. The people farmed in the Salt River Valley and supplemented their diet by hunting and gathering native wildlife and plants. The Salado were fine craftsmen, producing some of the most exquisite polychrome pottery and intricately woven textiles to be found in the Southwest. Many of these objects are on display in the Visitor Center museum.
The monument is located in the Upper Sonoran ecosystem, known primarily for its characteristic saguaro cactus. Other common plants include: cholla, prickly pear, hedgehog, and barrel cactus (blooming April through June); yucca, sotol, and agave; creosote bush and ocotillo; palo verde and mesquite trees; an amazing variety of colorful wild flowers (February through March); and a lush riparian area which supports large Arizona black walnut, sycamore, and hackberry trees.
Animals native to Tonto National Monument include: whitetail and mule deer; mountain lion and bobcat; javelina, porcupine, coyote, and ringtail; jackrabbit and desert cottontail; several squirrel, chipmunk, and bat species; all four species of North American skunk; three rattlesnake species; Arizona coral snake; over a dozen other snake species; Gila monster and over a dozen other lizard species; four toad and frog species; and over 100 bird species.
Tonto National Monument was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, one of the first National Monuments to be proclaimed under the new Antiquities Act of 1906. Since then, these pristine ruins have been both protected and open to the public to enjoy. Tonto National Monument presents a unique opportunity to walk through the original rooms which once housed a thriving community.
Erosion had long been at work carving out recesses in a layer of siltstone partially exposed on the hillside. The floors of these alcoves were littered with debris from the ceiling. Bonding rocks with mud, the Salado constructed apartment-style dwellings adequate for sleeping, storage, cooking and protection. The pueblo now called Lower Ruin consisted of 16 ground floor rooms, three of which had a second story. Next to this was the 12-room annex. You have the opportunity to see these ruins up close. A 1/2 mile, self-guiding foot trail with booklet and interpretive signs climbs 350 vertical feet to the Lower Ruin. Allow about an hour for the round-trip walk.
The Upper Ruin, located within a similar shelter on a nearby ridge, was much larger - 32 ground floor rooms, eight with a second story. Terraces and rooftops provided level open spaces for work and play. The highlands offered a bounty of useful plants and animals. A dirt/rock, 1.5 mile trail, ascends 600 feet to the Upper Ruin. You must be accompanied by park staff to visit the Upper Ruin. Guided tours to the Upper Ruin are provided from November through April and last three to four hours. Two to three tours are given weekly, depending on staffing. Reservations are required. Tours are limited to 15 people and often fill quickly; call early for reservations.
One visitor center with exhibits and 12-minute orientation slide program; sales outlet for interpretive literature; hands-on display; restrooms, vending machines for snacks and soft drinks, public telephone. Parking lot has limited turning radius; vehicles longer than 30 feet and towing another vehicle experience difficulty negotiating the turn. Large vehicle parking is available .5 mile below visitor center at picnic area.
The picnic area has eight tables, four covered with shade Ramadas; one handicapped accessible. There is a fully accessible restroom located here. Per vehicle entry fee. From Phoenix, take State Highway 60 (Superstition Freeway) east to Globe/Miami (75 miles); turn left (northwest) on State Highway 88; drive 30 miles to Tonto National Monument entrance.
From Scottsdale, take State Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) north to State Highway 188 (80 miles); turn right (southeast) on 188 and drive 35 miles to State Highway 88 (at Roosevelt Dam); then drive four miles east on 88 to Tonto National Monument.
A popular alternate route from Phoenix travels the Apache Trail. From Phoenix, take State Highway 60 (Superstition Freeway) east to Apache Junction; take exit marked "Apache Trail; Salt River Lakes; State Highway 88"; follow Apache Trail through Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat, about 18 miles; about 4 miles northeast of Tortilla Flat, the road becomes graded dirt for the next 24 miles to Roosevelt Dam. After passing the dam, stay on 88 for 4 more miles east to Tonto National Monument. This route provides some of the most spectacular scenery in Arizona, but is narrow, curved, and steep in places. It is not advisable during wet weather.
From Tucson, take State Highway 77 north to Globe (100 miles); at intersection of 77 and State Highway 60, follow 60 through Globe to State Highway 88; turn right (northwest) on 88 and drive 30 miles to Tonto National Monument.
From Flagstaff, take Forest Highway 3 (Lake Mary Road) to State Highway 87 (55 miles); turn right (south) on 87 and drive 72 miles to State Highway 188 (17 miles south of Payson); turn left on 188 (southeast) and drive 35 miles to State Highway 88 (at Roosevelt Dam); then drive four miles east on 88 to Tonto National Monument.