top of page


Fishing, picnicking and water activities - that is what it is all about at this widely popular Arizona summer "wet and wild" hang out.  

Families with young kids to teenagers and oh yes the college crowd knows where this place is as well - can all be found on summer weekends basking in the sun and jumping in the large greenish-blue pools of water.  The only time the water is not clear is after a large rain storm, which is very common during the summer monsoons.

The hike along the East Verde River to Ellison Creek will take you past another Arizona favorite swimming hole - Water Wheel.  

Here you can fish, play in the water, bird watch, pic nick, and get a hike in all at the same time.  

Make sure you are aware of building black clouds during monsoon season as summer storms are known to send massive torrents of water down these canyons in the form of flash floods.  This is a pack it in packe it out area.

Access Points

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

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

NOTE:  These are the same directions as Water Wheel.  Ellison Creek is a little further up the trail, but both Water Wheel and Ellison Creek are both part of the East Verde River.


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

History of Ellison Creek

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

Jesse W. Ellison was a rancher and also a colonel of the Civil War. Ellison was known to herd cattle in the area giving the creek it's name. Interesting to mention Ellison's daughter Duette married George W.P. Hunt. Hunt was Arizona's first governor and is entombed at Papago Park along with the Ellison's.

East Verde River - Ellison Creek 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!

Ellison Creek Fish Species

Photo Credit:  Cameron Davis

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

Ellison Creek 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 - Ellison Creek 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.

bottom of page