Ellison Creek is a wonderful swimming hole tucked back between Payson and the Mogollon Rim. It is the crown jewel of the Water Wheel area. It takes a short drive, a mile hike down a dirt road or if you want to take the scenic route, An incredible hike through a prehistoric looking landscape of slate and dense foliage, a jump over the creek and several ponds that you have to navigate over and around to reach this inviting, cold clear swimming hole that is most definitely worth the trip.
At first jump, the water is so cold it takes your breath away for a few seconds. Really, it is that cold at first. Why is it that the kids just never seem to mind the cold and just go for it. They don't get cold until they get out and the breeze makes the goose bumps erupt over every exposed body part. Apply towel, problem solved.
This is a very popular swimming hole on the weekends. If you want a more private oasis then head up during the weekdays. Make damn sure you have Tevas or some other slip proof water shoes as any of the rock that gets wet is very slippery.
This is one of my favorite places and I try to hit this spot at least once every summer. It is a scenic paradise to say the least. Butterflies flitter among the trees and the cool water.
There is a lot to explore in the area and if you park just past second crossing. Literally a few feet past the creek on the left and cross the road (the top of the green line on the map) you can head up a trail that will lead down to a nice pool where you can do a bit of cliff jumping. The trail is pretty steep as you head down to the creek. There is a nice small waterfall that you can swim up to.
Houston Mesa Campground is the nearest campground and is just west of the SR 87 and Houston Mesa Road
From Payson, head north about 1 mile from the intersection of the SR260 and SR87 (the corner with the McDonalds on it). and turn right on Houston Mesa Road. Stay on Houston Mesa road for 8.2 miles just after you cross the creek for the second time, head up the road a couple hundred yards to the next turnoff to the right and head back near the closed gate and park (The top most (P) on the map). Hike up the dirt road up and to the left until you reach a low point in the road approximately 0.5 miles. Head down the path to the river that you will hear off to your right. Once at the river, go upstream a few hundred yards until you see the pool. Zoom into the map and take a good look at the way in to help not get lost along the way. (Yellow Line)
Alternate Route: (a bit more difficult- Blue Line on map)
Start at the large parking area at Water Wheel. Hike upstream (follow the dark blue line on the map) and boulder hop up to the confluence of Ellison Creek and the East Verde River. Ellison Creek will be coming from the right (south-east). Follow the creek upstream (Green Line) until you reach the pool. Altogether it will take about 30 minutes to reach the pool.
Additional Alternate Route: (even a bit more difficult)
Park at Second Crossing parking area immediately after you cross the creek on the left and cross the road. There will be a trail leading down to the East Verde River. Follow the trail and scramble down the rocks to the river (Green Line on the Map) and follow the river downstream to the confluence of the East Verde River and Ellison Creek. There you will need to jump across the river (no easy feat for small kids) and follow Ellison Creek to the waterfall. Zoom into the map to get your bearings before you head in to help you not get lost.
Ellison Creek waterfall and Swimming Hole is the far right waterfall icon in the map above. See directions for the different color trails on the map.
After traveling 7 or so miles along Houston Mesa Road, you will pass second crossing. Keep heading up the road past this point about 200 yards to the next road on the right. turn and park near the gate.
The Hike In
Hiking along the road, you can look down to the East verde River and Water Wheel.
The Hike In
Walk down this dirt road about 1/2 of a mile to the lowest point in the road. Once you hear the creek on your right, head down to the creek.
Once down to the creek, you will need to cross some small pools, they are very slippery so be careful.
More pools on the way in
You will pass several pools on the way in.
This is how the falls will look on your way in.
There are a bunch of butterflies on the way in.
The Swimming Hole
Getting ready for the cold water of Ellison Creek.
Doing some exploring on the log.
Cooling of Time
After some exploring, the water calls. Just jump in!
Cooling off under the waterfall.
Above the Falls
Looking down from above the falls.
Ellison Creek Swimming Hole
The entire area from above.
Get the rocks wet to make a slide.
The Swimming Hole