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Payson is located in Gila County northeast of Phoenix between Camp Verde and Show Low along Highway 87 near the East Verde River and Tonto Creek.

Payson is situated within the Tonto National Forest.

Visitors are urged to visit the official visitor center, located on the west side of Highway 260 and Main Street. Payson is located in Arizona's Rim Country. Payson, nestled in the rolling mountains south of the Mogollon Rim, was first known as Green Valley, but, because of its size and shape, was sometimes called Long Valley or Big Valley. When the town was platted in 1882, it was called Union Park, population 40. In 1884, the town's name was changed to Payson in honor of Congressman Louis Edward Payson of Chicago, who helped the settlement obtain a post office.

Today, tourism is the primary industry of the area, although ranching, mining and smelting remain important elements of the area's economic base.

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