Brief History of the Railroad Tunnel
North and east of Payson in the early 1880’s there was an attempt to bore a hole through the Mogollon Rim to facilitate a train route from Globe, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ. The vision called for 180 miles of railroad track including passing straight through the colossal 2,000-foot escarpment of the Mogollon Rim. The purpose of the railway was to move ore from Globe to Flagstaff where both the Pacific and Atlantic Railroads intersected.
In August 1883 work began on drilling a 3,100 foot tunnel to ascend the Mogollon Rim. 42 men labored all summer. After running low on funds twice the railroad was abandoned. The project failed, but today the entrance to the railroad tunnel keeps the story alive and sits above Washington park as Payson's railroad tunnel to nowhere. Had the project been succesfull it would have connected Payson with the rest of the southwest.
Access the Railroad Tunnel up from Washington Park Trailhead
To access the tunnel by the trail shown in the video head to the Washington Park Trailhead north of Payson, Arizona. At the Washington Park Trailhead you will see large signs with maps showing the way to the Railroad Tunnel Trail.
You will be following the Colonel Devin Trail #290 to the Railroad Tunnel Trail #390. The Colonel Devin Trail is a rugged dirt road through a wooded canyon that follows along the waters of the East Verde River.
Once you reach the Railroad Tunnel Trail there will be a marked sign that and you will begin to ascend up to the tunnel itself. It is an easy hike until you get close to the tunnel where the trail gets somewhat steeper, but still manageable for a healthy hiker.
You will not see the tunnel until you are right on it. Then you will see the large tunnel and the old stone powder house which still remains near the mouth of the tunnel. The ledge near the tunnel provides tremendous views and plenty of shade making it a great spot to stop and relax before making the hike back.
Access the Railroad Tunnel From the 300 Road heading down to the tunnel
The Railroad Tunnel Trail can also be accessed from both the top of the Mogollon Rim near General Springs Trailhead by making a short .75 mile hike from the edge of the Rim to the tunnel below. You can park near the historical marker of the Battle of Big Dry Wash. The trail is part of the Colonel Devin Trail #290/Arizona Trail which is accessible from the 300 Road along the Rim. The upper trail is a steep descent with sand and loose rock that make it a tricky hike.
To reach the upper trailhead from Payson, head north on highway 87, then turn right at Forest Road 300. Forest Road 300 is a well maintained dirt road. Follow Forest Road 300 for 12 miles before reaching the Battle Monument on the north side of the road.
There are markers for the Arizona Trail on the south side of Forest Road 300. Follow them south. The trail follows power lines and is a relatively steep descent. When the trail reaches a creek, cross it and follow signs for the Railroad Tunnel Trail. About a half-mile from the trailhead, the trail bends northward and climbs up to the tunnel. You will see stacks of rocks marking the way.