Directions: From Fountain Hills, head east on AZ-87N for 62 miles. Continue driving through Payson until you come to Houston Mesa Rd. Turn right and continue for 8 miles until you reach the Wagon Wheel Falls parking lot.
About the hike: This is an easy 1.6-mile trail with a 150-foot elevation gain to the Wagon Wheel Falls. You can continue for an additional mile to reach Ellison Creek Cascades.
I have one word for this hike, incredible. This hike is a little gem hidden away in Payson. I started my walk at 7:00 am with just two other cars in the parking lot. I started early, hoping to avoid the crowds. I was rewarded for my effort. Passing just a handful of hikers as I trekked up to Ellison Creek Cascades.
You will need to pay a $10.00 fee for parking. Look for the envelopes next to this sign.
The creek ran along the hike's entire pathway, providing me with a musical melody as I went along.
The trailhead starts left of the parking lot if you are facing the creek. At the beginning of my hike, I enjoyed the shade the mesquite, shaggy bark, and pinon pine trees provided.
Two hundred feet up the path is an antique water wheel. Long ago abandoned, it stands as a reminder of yesteryear. What's fascinating is how far it is from the creek. It makes you wonder what this area was like when the water wheel was running.
It is located directly across from the picnic area. Just look behind you if you're facing the picnic tables. I'm offering this tip because I spent one and half hours after my hike going up and down the creek looking for the wheel. I made the mistake of assuming it would be in the water.
I explored the picnic area, where running water caught my attention. I went down towards the shore, capturing my first glimpse of the water flowing over clusters of rocks in the creek bed.
The further I went, the trail grew rockier and rockier as I navigated along the bluff.
I peaked around the corner and was amazed how tranquil this area of the creek looked. For a moment as I stood admiring the view, I pictured myself as a child riding a water ride through the jungle at Six-Flags over Texas.
I scrambled through the boulders wondering when would I get my first glimpse of the falls. I could only hear the rushing water but could not see the falls yet.
Then it happened. The waterfalls came into full view.
I sat enjoying the falls and the surrounding area. There were three yucca's along the mountain ridge in full bloom adding a splash of yellow to the horizon.
I wandered over to inspect the flowers. The clusters were so beautiful I just had to get a closeup picture of their brilliance.
A family came by and started navigating across the creek, so I followed them. At the time, I didn't realize I was at Water Wheel Falls; but later learned they were on their way to Ellison Creek Cascade.
Navigating across the creek proved a little tricky with my camera and phone, but I successfully crossed without getting wet.
Across the creek, the scenery grew more and more impressive. The water flowed gently over the flat rock plateaus.
I was blown away by the clarity of the water. I could see the river rocks at the bottom of this little lagoon, clear as day.
I continued walking along the trail, skipping over water puddles until I found this spot. I had to stop and take a break to enjoy the beautiful view for a few minutes.
The path lead me back into the forest canopy just as the sun was starting to heat things up.
I continued my journey for another half mile when the trail opened up into another outcropping of rocks.
Ellison Creek Cascades came into view as I finished navigating through the rocks.
I commented to a couple of other hikers that it was not too busy. He laughed and said it was early yet. Just wait. It gets jam-packed. That was my clue to get going on my way back before the trail got too busy.