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Horton Creek is a day use area only. Fishing hiking and swimming are the main draw to Horton Creek.


Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery is located just 3 miles north. There is a self guided tour of the facility.


There are 6 picnic use areas with grills. Fishing is available in both Horton Creek and Tonto Creek for rainbow trout.


The trailhead for Horton Creek Trail 285 is located in the Tonto Creek Campground.

During the fall this area is a great backdrop for photography due to its splendid color and crystal clear water. 

There are several smaller waterfalls and large pools for water that are perfect for families to relax, pic nick and enjoy.

Access Points

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

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.

History of Horton Creek

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

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.

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Hiking Near Horton Creek

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

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.

Horton Creek Fish Species

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

German Browns are the native fish species to Horton Creek.

Hells Gate Wilderness Fishing Strategy

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Small stream tactics are in order for this creek. Stealthy approach and making the first cast into each pool count. General attractor dries with small nymph or midge droppers will get it done on most days.  The best place to fish this creek is hidden pools at higher elevations where the water is cooler and the trout are larger. The access to these areas requires hiking so someone physically fit is recommended to find the daring spots. Flies and salmon eggs are recommended fishing baits.

Boating Options

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Horton creek doesn't offer many boating options due to its flow size.

Horton Creek Camping Options

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

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.

Horton Creek Swimming Holes

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

There are several great places along the creek where you can swim.  Simply follow the creek trail and venture off of it  to find a suitable place to swim.  Perfect for families with small kids.  Bear in mind you will have to hike to these areas.  Come prepared with the proper shoes, water and clothing for your adventure.

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