If you have about four hours to hike and are leading a group of moderate hikers, they'll love seeing the Horton Creek Trail.
Begin at the Upper Tonto Creek Campground near the 260 turnoff to the Tonto Fish Hatchery. The trail is easy and flat as it crosses a meadow.
After about one-half mile, the trail starts climbing upward through ponderosa pine trees. Shortly, you'll hear the the sound of water rushing from Horton Creek on your right. You'll hear the water before you see it. Eventually, well below you, on your right, you'll see the flowing creek, which is very clear, with small cascades from rock formations.
Stop and sit on the ledge above the creek or walk a few feet down to it and have a snack or catch your breath. You'll want your camera, as there are opportunities for photos all around you.
Get back on the trail and take it up a fairly steep climb that's rocky (so wear hiking boots) for about one mile to the top of the trail. You may be tempted to stray off the trail as it's a bit confusing in a couple of spots, but just stay on the obvious trail, which for the most part resembles an old forest service road, and you'll be fine.
At one point you can play circus performer and walk across three huge trees that have fallen across the creek.
The trail winds through the trees, and at the top you'll see the creek bursting out of the ground in the middle of a rocky and moss-covered hillside. This is a beautiful spot for you to sit and read or take pictures.
Campers can pitch their tents along this spot to spend a night or two listening to the waterfall.
Don't count on your cell phone. Cell phone service out here is iffy at best.
Remember, it's a steep, rocky hike back down, so give yourself plenty of time. No one wants a twisted ankle getting out.
AT A GLANCE
Distance: About 4 miles one way
Elevation: 5,300 to 6,420 feet
Marked trailhead: Yes
Season to use: Year-round
Trail condition: Good
Access roads: Good
What you'll see: Tall ponderosa pines, flowing creek, interesting rock formations, meadows, and a waterfall at the top of trail.
Fall colors: Some
Directions from Payson: Take Highway 260 east from Payson toward Kohl's Ranch and Christopher Creek. Turn left on Forest Road 289, which also has signage to the Tonto Fish Hatchery. Take that road about one mile and cross the small bridge and park in the Horton Creek lot. Walk back across the bridge toward the pay campsites to the trailhead marker which clearly notes Horton Creek Trail.