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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

Spring, Water, Moss, Rocks, Payson, Arizona. Horton Spring, Horton Creek TrailHikers, Shade, Trees, Payon, Arizona, Horton Creek TrailStarting 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.

Landscape, Waterfall, Payson, Arizona, Horton Creek, Horton Creek TrailAs 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.

Water, Moss, Pipe, Payson, Arizona, Horton Spring, Horton Creek TrailAfter 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).

Yellow, Columbine, Flowers, Payson, Arizona, Horton Spring, Horton Creek TrailTotal Nerdery 

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.


Click here to download a trail map

Directions From the intersection of 89A 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.

8 Responses to Horton Creek Hiking Trail

  1. Diana Mazzullo

    A friend and myself are planning on hiking the Horton Creek trail Wednesday, 6/30/18. Since a lot of the parks are closed down, will we still be able to do this hike.

    • azutopia

      Hi Diana, Here is a link to the mogollon forest area closed, as of May 23rd. From the map it appears that Horton Creek is included in the closures. However, I would recommend contacting the Ranger District at (928) 477-2255 to be sure. So far, I have not seen any information on when the restrictions will be lifted. Good luck!

  2. R. Thomas

    The Horton Creek trail is closed even to day hikers, and given the nature of human stupidity (by which I mean the USDA Forest Service) there is no telling when it will re-open. I wouldn’t count on hiking it this Summer, if I were you.

    • azutopia

      Thank you R. Thomas. Once the extreme fire hazards have passed, the Forest Service will re-open these areas. But, you’re right. It may not be until later in the year. Let’s all hope for some good monsoons this year!

        • azutopia

          Hi Michelle, The Horton Spring Trail is open again, now that the Monsoons have relieved the high risk of fires.

  3. Lynnell Fulkerson

    In the 1960s we camped in the Tonto Creek campground which started near Kohl’s Ranch and ended near the confluence with Horton Creek. There used to be a sink hole into which all or most of the water from Horton disappeared. In the late summers, Horton was almost always dry from the confluence up to this sink hole. I was a child then and have not been back to the area since 1978 when I hiked the Creek as a newlywed. I don’t remember how far upstream from the confluence it was. No posts mention this sink hole. Does anyone still remember it? Is it still there?

    • azutopia

      I am not aware of it Lynnell. But I’ll keep my eyes open next time I visit.


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