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The Perfect Swiming Hole, mixed with a little Gila County History.

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Photo by DJ Craig - Article by Jayne Peace Pyle

The Thomas Greer family came to AZ from TX in 1897 and settled along the East Verde River, near where Beaver Valley is today. It is referred to as the first crossing of the East Verde. Tom Greer and his boys built a cabin - more like a dugout - where the family lived. His wife, Martha, had her cook stove sitting outside the dugout, so the place was sometimes referred to as Cook Stove Flat, but it belonged to the Greer family.

In order to water their crops, Tom Greer and his boys built a big wooden water wheel that took water from the East Verde and sent it down a small irrigation ditch. The Water Wheel was there for years, but it is now gone. So is the dugout. The Greers never patented the land, so the Forest Service made them bury the cabin/dugout in the 1950s. Now there is a campground on Cook Stove Flat. At the confluence of the East Verde River and Ellison Creek north of Payson, rampaging natural water features drench the heart of Zane Grey country.  Steeped in frontier history, the craggy canyons that steer the waterways onto a collision course of flowing channels and unbridled spouts have provided homesteads for pioneers and fodder for Western novels. This is where John Wayne would take a bath.

These days it’s more party vibe than cattle drive along the 1.5-mile stretch of Houston Mesa Road, where a string of day-use sites collectively known as “Water Wheel” attracts hordes of heat-weary city folks. Four dirt lots – First Crossing, Water Wheel, Second Crossing and Third Crossing – all offer park-and-swim access to the water, but a little wading and hiking will get you to the really good stuff.  

Just follow the flow and within a quarter-mile, you’ll find a chain of 20-to-40-foot-high cascades, slick rock fountains and relaxing whirlpools. The main attraction is the arching torrent and plunge pool at Ellison Creek Falls, where brisk water slips over polished cliffs before charging south toward the Verde River.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: During monsoon season we suggest you leave this area. Rapid rain fall can cause massive flooding in this area and due to the high canyon walls it can be difficult to hear the rampaging water let alone escape it. If you see clouds billowing up at the top of the stream we suggest you grab your stuff and head out. Safety is our main concern for you and our first responders.

  • We also ask that if you "PACK IT IN - PLEASE PACK IT OUT".

  • Remember you will want to wear a good pair of shoes. Flip Flops don't work here.

  • Remember to take lots of water, as the hike in can be strenuous for some.

For more information on Water Wheel, Ellison Creek and other great Gila County Swimming Holes click here:

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