Beat the Heat on a Hike to Horton Creek

By Sara Goodnick

Great Escape from the Arizona Summer Heat.

One of our favorite hiking trails during the months of May – October is the Horton Creek Trail 285. It follows Horton Creek up to the mouth of Horton Spring. The trail is through forest with several places to stop for a picnic or just relax along the creek. There are grassy meadows, wildflowers and places to throw in a fishing line. Leashed dogs are welcome. There is a lot of shade, some open areas, and mixed areas. Photography is difficult during the middle of the day, but still possible. If you can be there earlier or later, or on a cloudy day, that is better. Beware of the afternoon storms that often move in during July and August.

The trailhead begins at 5,360’ elevation and is an 8.5-mile round trip if you go all the way to the top, which we rarely do. The stopping point for most hikers is about 3.5 miles in where Horton Spring comes rushing out of rocks tumbling down the steep side of the uplift for a short distance. It quickly reaches a lower part which is flat and a perfect place to rest and enjoy lunch before turning around and heading back down the trail. If the log is still laying across the creek there, you can dangle your tired feet in the cold water.

Directions from Phoenix:

AZ State Hwy 87 north to Payson

In Payson, take Hwy 260 north

Turn left onto Nf 289 (opposite Kohls Ranch Road)

Drive .8 miles to parking lot on left

Trailhead is a short hike up a hill on the right towards a campground


What to take:

Charged cell phone

Plenty of water and snacks

Trekking poles-not necessary but we love ours

Sturdy hiking boots

Your camera, (and a tripod for the silky flowing water shots)

Mosquito repellent (sometimes needed)

Small first aid kit

Payson is about 17 miles away, so be sure you have what you might need with you just in case.

For the first part of the trail, Horton Creek usually flows underground so you won’t see it. We heard reports of a bear on it a few months ago, but we have never seen evidence of one. Nonetheless, be sure to make a little noise now and then so you don’t surprise one. We put hunter’s bells on our dogs’ collars (available at Bass Pro) to help avoid surprising any wildlife. A popular trail, you probably won’t have it to yourself on weekends, but the beauty and flowing water are worth it.


Sara Goodnick is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes