Payson - A Backcountry Fly-In That EVERY Airplane Can Make 

By James Nebrig 



Many fellow fliers look with envy at the impressive array of backcountry fly-ins that the Arizona Pilots Association and Recreational Aviation Foundation have put together in the Arizona backcountry. While these fly-ins sure look like a lot of fun, the sad reality is that with low wings and a low-slung prop, many of our airplanes could never be confused for backcountry machines. While the majority of our backcountry airstrips will accommodate these aircraft, many aircraft owners prefer to not risk the chips and dings possible on these airstrips. Consequently camping adventures tend to be reserved for those folks with taildragging, short/rough field airplanes.


For those who are in the same boat as us, (you know who you are, but don’t despair!) Arizona aviators are fortunate to have one of the absolute best air camping facilities in the country just sixty miles or so northeast of Phoenix, as the crow flies, up in Payson, Arizona. Best of all… this campground is right in the middle of a modern municipal airport, Payson Regional Airport (KPAN). Payson features a 5,500’ x 75’ paved and lighted runway with plenty of paved parking right next to the campground as well. Come with room in the fuel tanks, as Payson features some of the cheapest 100LL prices in the state.

We are now finishing the planning for our annual APA/RAF Payson Fly-In and Air Camping Weekend, which will be held on April 7-8. Throw your tent and sleeping bag in the plane and join us Saturday night for a potluck dinner and overnight stay at the campground. You can camp just a few feet from your airplane, and we are going to have a happy hour, potluck dinner, and then enjoy the sounds of some of our more talented members who moonlight as amateur guitar and banjo pickers. It is tradition that many of our campground chefs will be bringing their trusty Dutch ovens and try out some of their best chuck wagon recipes for everyone. Don’t know how to cook? No problem, as Payson is also the home of one of the best airport restaurants, the Crosswinds Café.


For those who have never been air camping at Payson, (or even air camping at all!) you couldn’t find a better place to “go backcountry” for the first time. Payson Airport Campground features individual campsites right next to the paved aircraft ramp, fire rings with free firewood, grills, running water, real bathrooms (you know…the kind that have sinks and flushing toilets) as well as HOT showers! Sure, you can tell all your friends that you were “roughing it,” but only you and your fellow air campers will know the true story. The campground has the best views of the spectacular Mogollon Rim in the state!

If you want to stay overnight, but your idea of “roughing it” is a Holiday Inn, then come up anyway. Payson has dozens of motels in every price range, and the Airport Manager has reserved the courtesy car for the group, so we can shuttle people back and forth to the airport.

Children are ALWAYS welcome at our fly-ins. The kids have plenty of room to roam at KPAN, and we always stock up on marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey bars for the kids to enjoy s’mores by the campfire. So, load the kids and grandkids up in your plane and bring them along! The cost of the weekend - nothing but your gas and food. The memories that you will make with them – PRICELESS!


So, APA’ers…it is time to pull the plane out of the hangar and set a course for Payson the first weekend in April to join your fellow APA’ers for some fun and fellowship around the campfire.

For further information, you can e-mail James Nebrig at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We look forward to seeing you there!

As always, watch our Facebook site for last minute news on events, including weather cancelations or rescheduling.

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