Horton Creek Hiking Trail
★★★☆☆ Easy / Payson Area:
Like Mother Nature’s “water cooler”, Horton Spring gushes cold, crystal-clear water and chilly air year-round. The easy Horton Creek Hiking Trail follows the banks of beautiful, spring-fed Horton Creek (to its fresh water source). It is a touch of bliss – especially in the midst of Arizona’s hot Summers.
TRAILHEAD: Upper Tonto Creek Campground, Payson, AZ • DIFFICULTY: Easy (MODERATE for last mile) • DISTANCE: 3.5 MILEs (7 miles rt) • APPROX. TIME: 3.5-4.5 HOURS • ELEVATION GAIN: 1,060 FEET (76 STORIES) • APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 900-1,050 • BEST TIME OF YEAR: MArch – NOV. • PETS: absolutely • KID FRIENDLY: YES • FACILITIES: yes (at campground) • FEES: NONE
Starting near the base of the Mogollon Rim, at the Upper Tonto Creek campground, the Horton Creek Hiking Trail ascends gently northwards towards the rim, under the shade of ancient trees. The relaxing babble of water flowing over rocks, and bouncing down small waterfalls accompanies the hike from the start.
As the trail advances, Horton Creek pops in and out of view alongside the path. There are plentiful spots to sit and relax in the shade if desired, or to get your feet wet and splash around in one of the many mini-falls dotting the creek.
After a couple of miles, the trail steepens slightly, as it winds towards the top. Here tall pines take over the scenery, and the path arcs away from the creek for a short distance. Horton Creek Hiking Trail ends at the Highline Trail. Turn right turn on the Highline, and walk few yards to reach Horton Spring. From seemingly out of nowhere, and above a cascade of moss covered rocks, buckets of icy water gush from this underground spring. A little bit further along, a second, equally lovely spring can be found – housing lush flowers (throughout the Spring and Summer) and a pipe gurgling with fresh spring water.
This hike can be done as an out-and-back. Or can be done as a slightly longer, eight-mile loop, by continuing for two miles right / east on the steeper Highline Trail then turning right / south for 2.5 miles on the moderate Derrick Trail (which also ends at the Upper Tonto Creek Campground).
Zane Grey, renowned American Western author, hiked and hunted along Horton Creek in the early 1900s. I wonder if he bagged the great great great grandparents of the many deer we saw along the trail.
Directions From the intersection of 87A and 260 (in Payson), take 260 east for 16 miles to Forest Road 289 (at signs for Kohl’s Ranch). Turn left / north towards the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery. Continue one mile to the Horton Creek and Derrick trailhead parking lot on the left / west side. To trailhead for the Horton Creek Hiking trail is located across the road, in the campground. The entrance is a few yards in on the left.
- Central Arizona, Creek, Dayhike, Family Friendly, Mogollon Rim, Payson, Pet Friendly, Spring, Waterfall
- June 20, 2015