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Third Time’s The Charm- My Family Conquers The Horton Creek Trail


Erica and Denny Eppard of Arizona haven’t wasted any time in getting the whole family into the outdoor lifestyle. Erica sent us this story and we love it! It isn’t just about hiking. It’s a great little story about using the outdoors to teach team work, confidence and what you can do when you stick together!

Here’s Erica…

Right after Thanksgiving last year, the kids came across some pictures Denny had of a hike he’d done with his father to a place called Horton Springs – about a 90 minute drive from where we live in Arizona.

The pictures really showed the beauty of this trail and the kids immediately asked if they could go. Lily is six and Isaac is five, but hiking is already a big part of their lives!

Denny grew up hiking with his dad and has nothing but wonderful memories of being outdoors fishing, camping, hiking…all kinds of things. We want our kids to have that same type of childhood.

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In a generation where electronics are all the rage and how too often families just don’t engage with each other anymore, we feel being connected to the outdoors has never been more important.

And lucky for us the kids just love it! They get truly excited every time we plan an outdoor excursion somewhere, which for us is actually every Thursday evening.

As a family enjoying the outdoors together, we are ALL IN!

Anyway, we knew the 8mile round trip would be tough on them because they’d never done a hike this long or gained as much elevation. But they really wanted to do it!

In December we set out.  However, after about ¾ mile the complaints of sore legs and feet hurting began, so we turned around. The trail beat us that day but who cares, because we were together and outdoors is where we belong.

In February we were ready to try again. This time the kids were ready and there weren’t complaints about sore legs. But there were patches of snow and ice everywhere and we were worried about slipping and falling into the creek we had to cross in order to do the whole trail. Dad (Denny) made the executive decision to turn back because it just didn’t look safe enough for us.

So we left and instead did a shorter trail so at least the kids weren’t too bummed out.

Denny and I kind of thought that would be the end of the Horton Creek trail quest until the summer time but fast forward to a week later. We were planning our weekend on Thursday and the kids brought up Horton Creek.

They really wanted to go back and do it, repeatedly telling us “if we do it as a family, we can make it”, “we gotta get to the end of that trail”, “we can all help each other, we got this”.

Denny and I looked at each other and knew we had to make it happen for them.

The next night we packed up. Isaac was in charge of making sure we brought our essentials: water, first aid kit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit snacks and bananas.


The following morning we arrived in Payson just as the sun was coming up. The kids strapped on their packs and had their trekking poles with them as well. Right now, the poles are used as a toy and a distraction more than anything, but the kids like them and we like that they are getting used to using them. Proper function and purpose will get better as they get older.

We made our way down the first hill to Horton Creek and were met with the same conditions as the week before:  snow, ice and fast-moving water. We knew the only way to complete the trail was to cross the creek and we could see another hiker – an adult with no kids –  was having some trouble with it too. He wasn’t taking any chances and we knew we were going to have to figure out a way to do this safely if we were going to do it at all.

The kids looked at us as with pure disappointment in their eyes, thinking we were going to turn around again.

Not this day.

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With a few jumps on some rocks Denny made it to the other side and found a log. He picked it up and moved it towards the creek, lowering it to create a safe bridge.

Not only were the kids and I excited about this, but the hiker we met was very thankful as well!

So we held hands, and with Dad in front and squeals of excitement we crossed as a family and made it to the other side!

Now I know this wasn’t quite like conquering Mount Everest. But for us as a family it was a wonderful experience to finally beat that creek. Third times the charm!

At this point we knew it was just the distance that was our next battle.

The rest of the hike was perfect.  We stopped along the creek to take pictures, talk about what animals we saw, what sounds we heard and even sang some songs.

At mile three, the trail starts to ascend up the mountain and for a five and six year old, this got pretty tough. Each break was limited to thirty seconds where we counted out loud and made sure everyone drank water.

We met several other hikers and all of them were amazed to see such young kids on this trail. We got lots of encouragement and high fives!  And this motivated the kids more than ever.

We picked up the pace and the kids sprinted ahead when they saw the sign indicating we had arrived. We were all silent for the first minute or so, just soaking in all the beauty and listening to the water flowing.

We found a nice spot on the edge of the mountain and had lunch. After about an hour, it was time to turn around and head back out.

The kids must have been on some excitement high because they just did not get tired. At mile six we started to jog through the woods, listening to the leaves crunch below our shoes with sounds of our kid’s laughter echoing in the background. It was magical.

Arriving back at the creek that had almost defeated us, I had never seen such huge smiles on their faces. They knew they had completed the trail and they were so very proud of themselves.


We got back to the car and they were full of cheers: ‘We crushed it’ ‘We are BEASTS’ ‘We killed it’ ‘As long as we have the four of us, we can do anything’.

Denny and I could not agree more.

Although we didn’t achieve our goal the first time or the second, this trail really showed them that as long as you have family and put your mind to it, you can do anything. As a parent, I don’t think there is a greater lessen I could have taught them.


Also for hikers and adventurers everywhere with kids, whether they are just starting out or seasoned adventurers, I think it’s important to call out that every trip will not go as planned.


Sometimes you have to turn around, sometimes you have to take the safer trail and that’s okay. Every hike since has been easy for them compared to ‘that one time we were beasts and did 8 miles’.

20160220_153907-01         Time for a ten mile!

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