Horton Creek The first post to launch and inspire The Proper Function. Meet L.J. Horton and the man behind the trail

The Proper Function

The Rancher

The creek and spring is named after cattle rancher L.J. Horton who settled near the creek in the 1880’s. While we still don’t know much about L.J. Horton, he did write memoirs while residing in the Arizona Pioneer Home about the Pleasant Valley War which can be found at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona. Horton Creek Trail, originally an old wagon road, gave cattlemen like Horton access to the rim country and its many resources. Unfortunately, shortly after settling near the creek he lost his heard to thieves and never ranched again. The rim lakes (Canyon, Bear, Knoll) drain into the the natural spring which literally gushes from the side of the rim like an an enormous faucet.


The Guide

Once you cross the creek bridge you will look for parking on the left in the Horton Picnic site. After parking, you will hike back down the road and cross the bridge. Turn left on the dirt road and this will lead you to a sign for trail #285. The trail drops quickly into Horton Creek. The trail with then evolve into a larger path along the west side of the creek and at .25 mi you will come to an old fence and turnstile.

At .75 mi the trail forks. The left fork is the official trail and you’re more likely to encounter other hikers on this route. The right fork takes you along the creak where you will come across several small campsites. The right fork is certainly more scenic as it traverses right along the creek allowing you to see all the waterfalls and foliage. Both forks will rejoin about 1 mi from the trailhead. If you like to fly fish, there are several pools where you can catch trout. I typically recommend hopper/dropper combination with a #12 Pheasant Tail, Stonefly, Gold Ribbed Hare’s or a Dry #12 Tan Caddis or Yellow Stimulator.


The trail with course the creek for another 2 mi with some rocky parts on the old wagon trail, but the grade is easy. The trail ends at Highline Trail #31. To reach Horton Springs you will continue on Highline Trail for about 300 feet and to your right you will see this unusual spring gushing from the side of the rim. The spring runs year around. You can return the way you hiked or make a loop by continuing along the Highline Trail and taking Derrick Trail #33 back to the trailhead.


Setup Camp

Horton Creek Campground is developed with 6 picnic units, grills and vault toilets. No drinking water available but plenty of water for filtration. If you’re seeking a more primitive experience, then I’d recommend that you seek out one of several camp sites along the creek. There is a very primitive and delightful campsite available near the Highline Trail near Horton Springs. Given that this is roughly 8 mi up the trail it provides you with more solitude along with a better wilderness experience. If you plan to backpack this route and camping during the fall, you can see incredible foilage changes during the first week of October. The rut is also ongoing during this time so you can plan on bringing your cow call to hear the elk bugle.


Function Details

Take Highway 87 to Payson and go right on Highway 260 (Show Low) and continue for approximately 17 mi. Near milepost 268, you will see a sign for the Tonto Fish Hatchery (Forest Road 289) which you will make a left turn and travel for 1 mi. As you cross the bridge you will see the parking on the left side. From the parking area, hike back down the road across the bridge and head up the first dirt road on your left. Follow the dirt road until you reach the trailhead.



This Proper Function
(Approximate Data)
Party Cloudy
2,315ftElevation 13.7hrsDistance From You
State, RegionArizona,Northeast
Coordinates34.340977°, -111.095018°
DirectionsView on Google Maps


Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.