Guest writer: Maria Hechanova
(Payson, Ariz.) -- Rim Lakes Vista Overlook on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest side of the Mogollon Rim in Payson is one of the most popular spots to take Instagrammable photos.
The Mogollon Rim stretches about 200 miles, but Rim Lakes Vista Overlook is arguably the easiest to access with a small parking lot that puts you only a few steps away from stunning views that include rock overhangs, pine trees, and mountains.
The goal of this fall photo session was to document the baby bump. I wasn’t in any shape to do any strenuous hiking at 29 weeks pregnant with my second child and I wanted to be close to parking in case my first child needed to go back in the truck for a break.
If you’re staying at The Strawberry Inn, plan for about an hour drive from Strawberry to Rim Lakes Vista Overlook in Payson.
How to get to Rim Lakes Vista Overlook in Payson from The Strawberry Inn:
Take N. Tyler Parkway (across from Home Depot) to access another part of Highway 260. Drive about 30 miles east on Highway 260 and turn left on Rim Road. Rim Lakes Vista Overlook is about a 3 mile, 5-minute drive down Rim Road. If you need a reference point, it’s also about 2 miles south of the Woods Canyon Lake Recreation Area.
If you have any questions about location and if Rim Road has closed to traffic due to snow for the season, call the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Ranger office 928-333-6280.
Good to know
There’s a paved trail that runs parallel and a few feet away from Rim Lakes Vista Overlook that’s a good option for parents who get nervous about kids getting too close to the ledge.
My family and I are "morning people," so a sunrise 6:45am photoshoot made sense. According to our maternity photographer, Mikaela Durfee, it’s also the best way to avoid crowds.
I found Mikaela on Instagram while researching professional Payson-area photographers. She launched her photography business in 2015 and has lived in Payson the last 12 years.
The mom of five’s specialty is photographing families and she did not disappoint. She's such a pro and blew me away with how prepared and patient she was with our squirmy toddler.
If you’re interested in hiring her for a fall session, reach out quickly on her website mikaeladurfee.com since most of her weekends are already booked at the time this article was written.
Where to eat
After our shoot, Mikaela recommended we eat breakfast at the kid-friendly Crosswinds Restaurant at Payson Municipal Airport located at 800 W. Airport Rd. B in Payson. It doesn’t have a website or much of an online presence, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The experience was worth the trip!
The 21-table restaurant is bright and cozy. Its windows face the runway that hugs the forest line. Our toddler was thoroughly entertained and loved watching the pilots prep their small airplanes, taxi, and take off all while eating her French toast. She also liked looking at all the model airplanes hanging from the ceiling.
Crosswinds Restaurant current owner, Darla Annabel, will be celebrating 21 years in business next month (November 2023).
“You can’t beat the view,” she boasted over the phone. She fell in love with the location while relocating from the Mesa area.
“I want everyone to know I’m truly blessed with the crew I have working with me,” she said. Part of the crew includes her adult daughter Valerie, grandson Will, and long-time employee Rana.
Annabel claims she "doesn’t know the definition of burnout" and is grateful for support from locals, tourists, and the aviation and motorcycle communities.
Most of the pictures on the wall or model airplanes hanging from the ceiling were donated from people who wanted to add to the aesthetic.
According to Annabel, Crosswinds Restaurant’s popular menu items include the chicken fried steak, homemade chili and cheese omelet, apple pie, and signature peanut butter fudge pie.
Crosswinds Restaurant is a hidden gem with a low online profile - until now.
Maria Hechanova is a former television news reporter. She left her dream job at Good Morning Arizona in 2022 with the intention of temporarily taking a break to focus on motherhood. Fast forward to 2023, plans changed and Maria pivoted her career to desert preservation and the nonprofit world serving as executive director for Save Our Mountains Foundation which operates North Mountain Visitor Center in Phoenix. To volunteer and learn more, click here: https://northmountainvisitorcenter.org/