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★★★★★ Easy / Payson 

This short hike, along the banks of two rivers, ends at a crisp, clear swimming hole. The Water Wheel Hiking Trail hopscotches two rivers on a rustic path. Along the way it passes dramatic waterfalls and deep gorges. The hike ends at a gushing cascade, that pours icy water into a deep natural pool.


TRAILHEAD: Houston Mesa Road, Payson    DIFFICULTY: Easy  •  DISTANCE: 1.6 MILES (3.2 miles RT) •  APPROX. TIME: 1.5 -2 HOURS RT  •  ELEVATION GAIN: 150 FEET (11 STORIES)  •  APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 416-480 RT •  BEST TIME OF YEAR: March-October  •  PETS: YES  •  KID FRIENDLY: Yes please!  • FACILITIES: Yes (but no water) •  FEES: $9 parking fee (or annual National Parks Pass)

Water Wheel Hiking Trail; Payson; Arizona; Easy Hikes; Water Hikes; Mill Wheel; Arizona Summer Hikes The Water Wheel Hiking Trail is obviously named for the ancient wheel that sits a short distance from the trailhead. Since this hike is family friendly, and sports an awesome swimming hole at the end, it’s often crowded in Summer.

Hiker; Water Wheel Hiking Trail; Payson; Arizona; Easy Hikes; Water Hikes; Creek; Boulders; Arizona Summer Hikes; Boulders; TreesThe trail kicks off from an ample parking lot off of Houston Mesa Road. Head upstream from the trailhead along the banks of the East Verde River. The first leg of the hike follows a well-worn, super-easy-to-follow path.

Water Wheel Hiking Trail; Payson; Arizona; Easy Hikes; Water Hikes; Waterfall; Swimming Hole; Creek; Hiker; Cliffs; Arizona Summer HikesAbout a quarter-mile into the hike, a granite hill rises above the river. This short uphill section is the hardest part of the hike, with a modest ascent.

Water Wheel Hiking Trail; Payson; Arizona; Easy Hikes; Water Hikes; Waterfall; Swimming Hole; Cliffs; Arizona Summer HikesAt the top of the hill a dramatic waterfall cascades to the river below. Years of flowing water have carved a deep gorge through the rock.

Water Wheel Hiking Trail; Payson; Arizona; Easy Hikes; Water Hikes; Waterfall; Swimming Hole; Hikers; Cliffs; Arizona Summer Hikes; ConfluenceA few yards further on, the East Verde River meets Ellison Creek. This is a popular resting spot and a fun place to dip your toes in the water. To reach Ellison Falls, cross the East Verde River on the ample boulders and fallen logs.

Water Wheel Hiking Trail; Payson; Arizona; Easy Hikes; Water Hikes; Creek; Boulders; Arizona Summer HikesFrom here on out the trail is less defined. Continue right up the huge granite swaths at the base of Ellison Creek. Then follow the creek banks for one mile.

Water Wheel Hiking Trail; Payson; Arizona; Easy Hikes; Water Hikes; Waterfall; Swimming Hole; Hikers; Cliffs; Arizona Summer Hikes; CreekThe hike ends at Ellison Falls. Here a long cascade rushes down a huge stone embankment. The deep natural pool at the base is crispy cold and perfect for a well deserved dip! Please remember to take your trash out with you to preserve this beautiful place!

Follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles

Total Nerdery

The wheel, at the start of the Water Wheel Hiking Trail, was built in the early 1900’s by miner James Greer. It powered an ore crusher that extracted gold, when it was still found in the area.

Resources

Click here to download a map of the trail.

Directions From the intersection of 87 A and 260 (in Payson), take 260 north for 2 miles to Houston Mesa Road. Turn right / north on Houston Mesa Road and continue to 7.75 miles to the Water Wheel Hiking Trailhead, on the right side of the road.