Payson is a town in northern Gila County, Arizona, United States. Its location puts it almost exactly in the geographic center of Arizona. It has been called "The Heart of Arizona". According to the Census Bureau, the population of the town is 15,301.
At an elevation of 4,921 feet (1,500 m), the town has a total area of 19.5 square miles (51 km2). The Mogollon Rim lies to the north; there are a few small lakes in the area. Nearby communities include Star Valley, Pine, Strawberry and Rye, all within Gila County.
Payson has an atypical version of a Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csa) with a dry period in early summer followed by heavy monsoonal thunderstorms and rain from frontal cloudbands in the cooler months. Like more typical Mediterranean climates, however, forest fires tend to be extremely prevalent during dry summer periods.
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 Payson area is a popular destination for rockhounds. In various areas surrounding the community can be found quartz crystals rivaling Herkimer diamonds in quality, 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 large Parks, Green Valley Park and Rumsey Park. 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.