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The East Verde River is a tributary of the Verde River in the U.S. state of Arizona. Beginning on the Mogollon Rim near Washington Park, it flows generally southwest through Gila County and the Tonto National Forest northeast of Phoenix. Near the middle of its course, it passes to within about 5 miles (8 km) of Payson, which is southeast of the river. The East Verde River flows through parts of the Mazatzal Wilderness west of Payson.

This area is a favorite for valley visitors and rim country residents alike.  Water Wheel and Ellison creek are both parts of the East Verde River.  The red rock canyons and rugged landscape makes hiking and exploring in this area a true adventure.

The East Verde River can sometimes be very dangerous due to its high canyon walls during monsoon season.  It is highly recommended that you study the weather report before you go to this area and while you are there you should be aware of your surroundings.  If you see black clouds building close by it is time to get out of there.  

Access Points

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

From Payson head north on Highways 87.  Turn right on Houston Mesa Road and following the directions below.


Water Fun Access:

First Crossing: Travel on Houston Mesa Road (FR 199) for 7 miles.

Water Wheel: Travel on Houston Mesa Road (FR 199) for 7 ½ miles.

Second Crossing: Travel on Houston Mesa Road (FR 199) for 8 miles.

Third Crossing: Travel on Houston Mesa Road (FR 199) for 8 ½ miles.

  • Fees charged by Concessionaire April 1 through October 31, annually. Concessionaire will accept cash or checks only, no credit or debit. $9 per day.

  • Site managed by the Forest Service November 1 through March 31, annually – No fee

Pic Nick Site (great for families with small children):

From Payson take highway 87 to Set in the shade of tall pine trees, East Verde Picnic is perfect for any day trip that you have planned. You can see a variety of wildlife along with the beautiful scenery that Payson has to offer.

This site is 4 miles north of Payson. Take Hwy 87 for 4 miles north of Payson to the East Verde River. Turn left (west) on East Verde Park Estates Road/Forest Road 622 and drive 1/4 a mile to the picnic site.

History of the East Verde River

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

The Salt River Project (SRP) supplements the natural flows on the East Verde River with water pumped from the CC Cragin Reservoir (Blue Ridge) on East Clear Creek in Coconino County. The water travels 17 miles (27 km) by pipeline to the East Verde River at Washington Park, from whence it flows toward the Verde River and the SRP reservoir behind Horseshoe Dam. 


A significant fraction of the Blue Ridge water release of 11,000 acre feet (14,000,000 m3) a year is allocated to communities along or near the East Verde River. The U.S. Congress has set aside 3,000 acre feet (3,700,000 m3) a year for Payson and 500 acre feet (620,000 m3) for other northern Gila County communities.

East Verde River - Water Wheel Hike

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

If you a have a love for waterfalls and unique rock walls then this place is for you! Scenic views and gushing water gives this place excitement with every step!

A short and easy out and back hike for adventurers of all ages with scenic waterfalls along the entire trip!  Starting at the Water Wheel day use area you will simply follow the well traveled path that meanders alongside the creek. You will reach the first significant waterfall within minutes which is also a great swimming hole and cliff jumping area! But wait, there is more! Proceed upstream to yet another decent sized waterfall which some call "Bridal Veil Falls" once you see it you will realize the name is pretty self explanatory.

The main attraction is still ahead, just keep following the distinct trail upstream Ellison Creek making the easy bypass around Bridal Veil Falls and venture onward for about 1/4 of a mile and you will soon be greeted by the famous Ellison Creek Waterfall and Swimming Hole"

Its hard to explain just how beautiful the area really is until you see it in person! Cool mountain creek water gently cascades about 80-90ft from the top of the gradual waterfall into a deep pool surrounded by large cliff walls. Spectacular would be considered a understatement for this Mogollon Rim Country treasure. There is a giant tree log stuck in the pool from a flash flood long ago that gives the area its iconic look, it has been carefully carved to imitate a natural staircase, it is a gorgeous sight but just watch your step if you plan on climbing on it because it is very slick!

East Verde River Fish Species

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

East Verde River Fish Species:  Rainbow Trout; Brown Trout; Smallmouth Bass; Sunfish

East Verde River Fishing Strategy

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Small stream tactics are in order for this creek. Stealthy approach and making the first cast into each pool count. General attractor dries with small nymph or midge droppers will get it done on most days.  The best place to fish this creek is hidden pools at higher elevations where the water is cooler and the trout are larger. The access to these areas requires hiking so someone physically fit is recommended to find the daring spots. Flies and salmon eggs are recommended fishing baits.

East Verde River Boating Options

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

For boating options on the East Verde River - Click here.
Here is a good article about Kayaking the East Verde River -  Click Here (it is not for the faint of heart).

East Verde River - Water Wheel Camping Options

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Stay and play as long as you like and just simply return the way you came but just remember that this place is a day use area only now and camping is NOT ALLOWED!  There are lots of camping options in the near by Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest - Click here for more information

East Verde River Swimming Holes

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

For more information about Water Wheel and Ellison Creek Swimming Holes - Click Here.

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