Tucked between Payson, Arizona and the base of the Mogollon Rim, this watering hole is a picturesque destination full of gorgeous natural landscapes. The Water Wheel Falls area features flowing waterfalls, shimmering pools, and cool water along the East Verde River. The Ellison Creek Swimming hole is at the base of a long cascading waterfall that rushes down a huge stone embankment and is complete with a carved log staircase.
The Water Wheel Waterfalls and Hiking Trail are named for the depression era mining wheel that sits a short distance from the trailhead. The wheel was built in the 1930’s by a miner named James Greer. It powered an ore crusher that extracted gold, when it was still found in the area.
To reach Water Wheel Falls from Payson take highway 87 to Houston Mesa Road. Then follow Houston Mesa for 7.5 miles to the Water Wheel Falls Parking Lot. The falls are a short hike upstream on the Verde River. To continue to the Ellison Creek Swimming Hole you will follow the Verde River upstream to the junction with Ellison Creek. From there you will follow Ellison Creek upstream for about a mile to the remote swimming hole.
Water Wheel Falls is an extremely popular recreational area on the weekends. If you want a more private oasis, then head up during the weekdays. Be sure to familiarize yourself with flash flood dangers and check the weather during Arizona’s monsoon season which is roughly July through September. Flash floods occur due to heavy rain storms on on top of the Mogollon Rim during he monsoon season creating runoff in the area.