Out and about: Horton Creek is worth a visit

Above, Dennis Williams sits at almost the top of 30-foot tall Horton Springs. Columbine flowers are to the right while the spring flows below. Tom Sawyer would enjoy balancing on this log at Horton Creek as the water flows below. <i>Stan Bindell/NHO</i>

Above, Dennis Williams sits at almost the top of 30-foot tall Horton Springs. Columbine flowers are to the right while the spring flows below. Tom Sawyer would enjoy balancing on this log at Horton Creek as the water flows below. <i>Stan Bindell/NHO</i>

HORTON CREEK, PAYSON, Ariz. - There is a reason why Horton Creek made Arizona Highways top ten best hikes for this summer. There is a reason why Horton Creek makes its way into most Arizona hiking books. There is a reason why this hiker finds his way there at least once a year:

Sheer beauty. A type of paradise filled with a dozen types of flowers and cascading streams. The tree cover to help folks cool off is another major enticement.

The flowers are out in abundance now. Four types of yellow flowers were obvious due to their brightness: Columbine, yellow bells, monkey flower and daisies. Lupines, wild roses and other flowers are also easy to spot. The weather was a bit cooler on this May 25 trek, as this was the calm before the heat.

Hopi Junior High math wizard teacher Dennis Williams didn't count the waterfalls along this trip, but he did notice that they were there in large numbers.

"This is the superhighway," Williams said referring to the ease of the trail. Most of the Horton Creek Trail is a good one due to the old jeep trail that it was built on, but one part of it is going over small rocks, so hiking boots would be advised.

The best part of Horton Creek Trail comes at the four-mile turnaround point. It's like a Hitchcock movie that is beautiful along the way, but leaves the best for last.

The gem at the end of the trail is Horton Springs, where the water comes out onto a 30-foot hill filled with green moss that in turn flows into the creek.

The good part about hitting the trail late in the day is that there is more shade along the trail so it's not as hot. The drawback is there is not as much light for shooting flowers.

The other drawback is day hikers want to get out by sundown or turns in the trail could be missed - not to mention the possibilities of going off one of the cliffs. Camping overnight in this area is a good option for those who have time to spare.

Horton Creek is an eight-mile hike and rated as moderate. Those wanting more can use the Horton Creek Trail to connect into either the Highland Trail or the Derrick Trail.

Horton Creek is a better hike earlier in the summer before the heat hits, but the later you go the more butterflies you will see.

Horton Creek's cascading water did not disappoint. Less than a half mile into the hike, the creek appears and there are several short side trails that lead down to the creek where hikers can relax on large rocks all day to watch the birds, dragonflies and butterflies.

Hikers can park at the Tonto Creek Campground, walk across the road and bridge, find the trailhead across from the campground host's home and then cross down to the trail. There is a restroom in the parking area.

Some hikers turn around after seeing the streambed because it appears dry, but less than a half mile into the trek the water appears.

Those wanting to talk during the hike may have to speak loudly in places because of the mild roar of the cascading waters. Oaks, cottonwoods and sycamores offer plenty of shade on most of the trail.

Just before getting to the spring, hikers go up the old jeep road seeing the Mogollon Rim straight up ahead of them. This is an awesome sight but keep your eye on the trail because this is the area of the trail most likely to spot rattlesnakes.

The trail leads right up to what appears to be the end of the creek, but don't stop here or you'll miss the gem known as Horton Springs. Go 100 yards east and find the spring in the form of a mossy green waterfall. It's fun climbing to the top, but be careful on the slippery moss.

The only mile markers are at the beginning and end of the trail. The hike goes up about 1,380 feet in elevation starting at 5,480 feet so bring lots of water. The elevation climb is slow so it's not noticeable during most of the trail. The steepest part comes about three miles in.

Famous author Zane Grey had a lodge three miles east of here and used the terrain in some of his novels.

For more information, telephone (928) 474-7900 or log onto www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto.

Getting there - Horton Creek Trail: Closest community Payson.

Directions from Payson: Go 17 miles east on Arizona 260. Turn left on Tonto Creek Road and go about 1.5 miles north and turn left into the Tonto Creek Campground parking lot.

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