Water Wheel Falls





Water Wheel Falls, also known as Ellison Creek Cascades, offers a picturesque hiking experience in the Tonto National Forest near Payson, Arizona. The hike to the falls is relatively short, covering about 1.6 to 1.7 miles with an elevation gain of around 232 feet. It typically takes about 2-3 hours to complete.

The trail starts out flat in a densely shaded forest along the river. An interesting feature along the trail is a historic water wheel, after which the area is named, though it’s now in disrepair and not located by the water. There’s also a memorial for flash flood victims, reminding hikers of the area’s susceptibility to sudden flooding, especially during monsoon season.

The trail then becomes rocky and uneven as it follows and crosses the river, offering views of small and large cascades. There are sections where hikers will need to rock hop across the river.

Upon reaching Water Wheel Falls, you’ll find a聽 summer swimming hole at the base of a towering granite cliff with water cascading down the rock face. The busy pool at the base of the falls is a popular spot for families and friends to enjoy picnics and swimming. There’s even a natural water slide downstream from the falls, adding to the fun of the hike.

The trail can be challenging in spots due to its rocky and sometimes slippery surfaces. It’s important to wear shoes with good traction and exercise caution, especially when navigating steep drop-offs or rocky hills. The area is also known for having broken glass, so hikers are advised to be cautious and always carry their trash out.

Overall, Water Wheel Falls is a family-friendly destination offering a blend of hiking, swimming, and natural beauty, perfect for a summer day out in Arizona.

Accessing Water Wheel Falls is possible through two main routes, each offering a distinct hiking experience.

Water Wheel Falls Trailhead Route

  • Location: Off Houston Mesa Road.
  • Parking Fee: $7 (cash only) for trail maintenance.
  • Trail Details: 1.6-mile hike, involves walking through the creek and over boulders.
  • Be ready to get wet, especially when the water is high.
  • Highlight: The trail leads to the farthest swimming hole, perfect for experiencing the full beauty of the cascades.

Ellison Creek Cascade Trail Route

  • Parking: Available at multiple spots along Forest Road 199.
  • Trail Details: A simpler 1.5-mile round trip. It ends at the Water Wheel Falls’ last point, and you can walk downstream to see more cascades.
  • Advantage: Offers a less strenuous journey with equally rewarding views of waterfalls and swimming holes.

General Tips:

Footwear: Waterproof or water shoes recommended to keep comfortable on wet terrain.
Swimming: Bring swimsuits, especially for kids, to enjoy the swimming pools at the trail’s end – a great way to cool off.


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  • 9183 Houston Mesa Rd, Payson

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