register help
This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Ellison Creek Cascades, AZ

229 46 1
Guide 46 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Payson N
3.7 of 5 by 23
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 1.75 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,150 feet
Elevation Gain 95 feet
Accumulated Gain 323 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 3.37
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Perennial Creek
Backpack Possible & Connecting
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
4  2017-04-14 kelraen
25  2016-09-30 cabel
15  2016-08-14 cw50must
4  2016-07-17 arizona_water
6  2016-04-11 MountainMatt
7  2015-04-06 The_N
9  2014-09-21 AZ_Step
6  2014-07-02 azfamilyhike
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 213
Routes 824
Photos 10,825
Trips 4,259 map ( 21,438 miles )
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   May, Jun, Jul, Sep → 11 AM
Seasons   Spring to Summer
Sun  6:12am - 6:24pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Payson's hidden oasis
by joebartels

Likely In-Season!
2012 Notice: Access has changed from text below, this hike now starts at Second Water Crossing.

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.

This is one of Arizona's favorite swimming holes. Personally it's my favorite. There is no official trail, but rest assured this area gets used. From Cold Springs Camp Grounds continue walking past the gate on FR420. Pine covered rolling hills make the views going down the old jeep track. Sure would be nice to live here.

At a quarter mile the road levels for a short distance and then begins to climb. Keep an eye over your right shoulder. You should be able to hear the cascading water of Ellison Falls. You need to find one of the several trails of use down to the swimming hole. If you come to a fence with a huge private property sign you missed the scramble down to the creek. Back track about a hundred or more yards and go on down. Be careful as it's steep.

Holding par with other Payson recreation sites the area is trashed. The lure is obvious. Ellison Creek cascades down from the private property above. This is my favorite swimming hole in the state. It's close to the valley and easy to access. The water is usually crystal clear barring a recent rain. Even in a dry year like this has been it's reliable. Be forewarned it's packed with beer guzzling party goers on hot weekends. Go during the week and it's a lost oasis awaiting your arrival.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2000-06-02 joebartels
  • guide related image
    guide related
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent of 14 deeper Triplog Reviews
Ellison Creek Cascades
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Last year after a camping trip we stopped at the Water Wheel day use area and decided to check things out. We hiked down to the confluence and even up Ellison creek a ways, but never found the famous Log.
Soon after we got back, I looked it up and realized how close we were that we decided some day to go back.
Last weekend we went back and we made it to the Log. :) We did it a little differently this time, we followed the directions on here starting at second crossing. On the way out to the falls, we hiked along the east verde and then along ellison creek. Lot's of water crossings here, both my girlfriend and I fell in at one point, so most of the hiking was done soaking wet. I was lucky that both my phone and Go Pro survived. I need something more grippy on the wet rocks than my "mandals" :) It was a fun day.
At the falls we hung out for quite a while. there was a good amount of people there, but not too much. I know someone who went the day before and said it was over crowded, we do most of our stuff on Sundays instead of Saturdays and I think that helps with the crowds.
On the way out, climbed up to the road and brought road/trail back to second crossing as noted here as the official route.

Something I noticed, we got there somewhat early and there was 2 cars in the second crossing parking lot. I expected it to be full when we left around noon, but there was still maybe only 5 cars there and some of those were fisherman there under the bridge. On the drive out the water wheel area was packed, cars were parked in the street on both sides, it was really crowded. I guess my point is that it seems like most people don't know about the second crossing area and it would be the preferred location to start/stop at.
Also, the parking fee is now $8, I think I read on here it had said $6, #inflation.

Video : ... jXMw
Ellison Creek Cascades
rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
Returning to the valley from the Rim Country on Sunday morning, we made a quick stop to see Ellison Creek. I picked this one on a whim, only seeing that it was close to Payson. I have never been here before, but I was not expecting much after hearing how popular this site can be. We were on a tight schedule and hiked to the cascade and back in under 40 minutes. Went for a little swim by the falls that are closest to the bridge. Busy, but worth it. And it was cool to see so many families out enjoying these wonderful water resources we have in AZ.
Also, just now actually looking at the topo and damn, how did I not see the confluence of Ellison and the East Verde?? Next time...
Ellison Creek Cascades
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
After hitting the Horton Derrick loop we drove over to Waterwheel to find a relatively packed trailhead. We luckily found a parking spot and then hiked next to the creek. There were lots of people but we didn’t mind. We continued on and made our way to the main swimming area with the cut log. We wanted to swim but there were way too many people so we sat back and enjoyed a beverage. From there we hit the dirt road that leads to the upper trailhead. We had to walk back roughly a mile on the road and this was a pain I don’t recommend. Once back at the jeep we packed up and returned to Phx. I’d like to hit this area again during the week when it’s not crowded.
Ellison Creek Cascades
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
We just wanted to take Dre for a fun day so he could swim. There is a ton of construction going on at second crossing so you would need to park at third and walk back down to the trail head by the Verde or before second at the paved parking lot and hike in to the start of the water wheel hike.

We arrived at water wheel falls and there was know one there, that did not take long to change. We were invaded by a bunch of family's who had the same idea as us. Dre was happy because of all the kids that he plated with. After he had his fun we headed back and walked the East Verde and did a little exploring.

Had a blast found a nice little spot by the river with no one in sight :)
Ellison Creek Cascades
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
We wanted to get out of Phoenix to escape the heat and hopefully get in a swim. This hike fit the bill. Though we usually dislike crowded hikes, we knew from the Hike Description what we were in for. Got a little rain but not much. Enjoyed scenery, and the water. I even jumped off the log once and that was fun, the kids were definitely into it. Everybody seemed to get along without too much insanity. All in all, I think we might have to revisit this area again, especially since we missed the Wagon Wheel this time around, I should actually read the hike description for that next time so we don't miss it.
Ellison Creek Cascades
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
So Ken and I have been messaging back and forth about Canyoneering and Water Hikes...Turns out he's a big Water Hike/Swimming Fan, so the plans were on!!! :D

He's never been to Ellison and since I had unfinished Photography business there, it was a perfect choice!

We didn't leave quite at the Crack of Dawn, (ok, Ken might have :sweat: ) but I know I wanted to beat the Crowds that would be up there later, so we left pretty early...I haven't known Ken 30 minutes yet and I have the guts to ask him if it's ok if I pull over on the Highway, if the Eagles are there...He said he was fine with that and he instantly passed the Patience with Pam and her Camera test! :sl: The 3 minute stop, and 10 shots of Eagles, with traffic whizzing by, was soooo worth it!!! :y:

A little bit later, on the Beeline, we pass a HAZ Ride complete with Decal...Purdy Yellow Truck, but didn't get a look at the driver??? Anyone???

Get to the Ellison TH and get started with the Hike, Wading and Photos...I really love this area...Great Falls and Water!!! Last time I was here, late last Summer, my Camera (now my backup Camera), went into the drink!!! Deciding not to tempt fate, I brought that Camera with, on the Hike, instead of the new one... :scared: But, from the halfway point on, the views were new, from behind the Lens, as I couldn't take any more pictures last time...There was more Water than the last time and it was waaaayyyy colder!!! No Swimming here today, even as much as we both wanted to.... :)

We did the same Loop as I did last Summer...Going from the TH to the Cascades, then following Ellison back to the East Verde. Then down the East Verde to the Water Wheel...At the Water Wheel, we took a break and Ken started seeing Birds everywhere, including Swallows going into holes in a dead limb...Now I'm cursing about not having my better Camera, but took a few shots anyway...

We head back and just follow the East Verde around to just East of the TH and climb up to the Trail and back to the Escape...I think we may have seen a total of 3 people on the Hike... :y:

I decide to "test" Ken again, and ask if we can stop at the Water Wheel on the way out and I'm going to try to get some shots with the good Camera...He agrees and wins more Brownie Points... :lol: I think I almost had to wake him up when I was ready to get going again... :sl:

We got done with this Hike so early, which I suspected that we might, so headed on out to my backup plan... :D

I will indeed return to this area, as there is still unfinished business, but need to wait for the Water to warm up just a tad.... :sweat:

Really bad video from old Camera of Ken doing a balancing demo on the Log...Don't put it on Full Screen or the quality will be way worse. Ken stops about halfway, and bounces, you can't see it in the video, but that Log is actually bowing... :o That's when I start laughing...
Ellison Creek Cascades
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
Got to meet up with Pam finally and she took me on up to this area so we could have a nice relaxing day that involved some water. On the way out of town she mentioned that several people have told her that a bald eagle sits in a tree near the Verde River off the BeeLine and she wanted to keep an eye out for it. Hoping to see it but thinking with my luck we wouldn't we were both amazed to see two eagles sitting up in the tree. I guess that means this is going to be a good day.
We got to the start of the hike in the early morning and were the first ones in the parking lot, I was amazed to see a good size fall minutes into the hike and couldn't wait to get in the water. We got down and into the creek and made our way over to the cascade. Why is this water so cold? I had some fun on the giant log while Pam was hoping I would fall in the water taking video. What a great spot, too bad people do not know how to take their trash out with them and leave a clutter of it everywhere.
With this hike being short we made our way on over to the water wheel and did some birding while taking a break in that area. We headed on back and I was thinking with the sun out it was time to get into the water, but I just got into it up to my knees and was freezing so knew I wasn't getting all the way in here. Other people started to show up so we decided we had seen enough and decided to head on over to a part of Christopher Creek and see what that was like. I left the picture taking duty to Pam since she is the expert, hope she gets to post some of them, I know they will be amazing. I also couldn't get over that huge waterfall, too bad the water was too cold to swim in so we could swim near it in the narrow channel there.
Ellison Creek Cascades
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Pumpkin dropped the Camera! Pumpkin!!!!!!!

Not really how I wanted this Trip to go....Took some friends up to Ellison Creek Cascades. Had trouble finding the TH, probably because it's been "changed". Finally found it and followed the Trail to the Cascade area. Lots of people today, but it was the only day my friends could go, so we went....

What a beautiful area!!!! My first time here as well and I loved it. Went swimming at the Cascades, my friends (from New Hampshire) thought the Water was too cold.... :-({|=

Planned this Hike to basically take the "Official" Trail to the Cascades and then follow the Creek to the junction of the East Verde River. From there, we would hang a left and follow the River to Wagon Wheel. The East Verde River at the junction with Ellison Creek is very cool.

I took a few pictures here and then stuffed the Camera in it's case. I didn't get it all the way in the Case and neglected to zip it shut. Stepped down onto a Rock and jolted the Camera right out of the Case, where it proceeded to bounce off a Rock and land in a shallow puddle...Pumpkin!!! Retrieved it, opened everything up, removed the batteries and memory card and let it all dry in the Sun for about 1/2 hour. Pretty much knew I was pumpkined though when I saw all of the condensation on the inside of the Lens....5 seconds of dumb is all it takes I guess.... :roll: ](*,)

Sooooo, best part of the East Verde River will have to stay in my mind for awhile. I will return someday though, because that area cannot go without being Photographed. Beautiful Falls, Caves and Deep, Deep Swimming Holes!!!

I laid under the Waterfall that I had just Photographed and washed away the extreme disappointment and then we all went on to Boulder Hop and follow a Human Game Trail to Wagon Wheel. Came back the same way, after I managed to step wrong on a Rock and bend the ankle over about 90 degrees, which caused me to go down for a minute or two. Got up and managed to walk it off and once we got to the Junction of the River and the Creek again, instead of grabbing the "Official Trail" back to the Parking Lot, we Boulder Hopped up the East Verde River almost all the way. We crossed the River just shy of the Falls, and then I scared the pumpkin out of my friends by going almost straight up to catch the last 300 feet of Trail back to the Car....

My friends really loved the Hike. Definitely far from my best showing, ending in severe disappointment and regret, but I loved the area and will be back. Went home, put the Camera on Rice and the Ankle on Ice...GEEZ!!! The PBM is going strong tonight!!! Pumpkin!!!

:-({|= :cry: :pray:
Ellison Creek Cascades
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Stop 2 for the day.

On the way back down from the Rim, we stopped at the Ellison Cascades area. My first time here. We spent some time exploring on the rocks following the East Verde as it cut between the rocks. We started from Second Crossing to the Water Wheel area. What a pretty area! There were people out, but not too crowed because of the threat of rain. Next time I'd like to follow Ellison Creek up towards it's source.
Ellison Creek Cascades
rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
After TNBSP, Kelly and I headed to the Waterwheel parking area - which has been paved since the last time I was here, before the fire.
We hiked and scrambled our way along the left bank all the way past the big falls, then crossed the river near the East Verde/Ellison Creek confluence and proceeded mostly straight up the creekbed to Ellison Falls.
At the falls, Kelly womaned-up and took the cold plunge ... I did not, prefering instead to swim in a warmer pool back downstream. While sitting around the swim hole, I got to watch a Black Phoebe catching insects and returning to her nest on the cliff wall to feed her babies.
Heading back downstream, we went up the East Verde canyon a bit and discussed doing that route another day. Finally we returned to my favorite pool and took a quick final swim.
Making our way back down to the parking area was much quicker, without all the stopping to look and take photos. Just before the lot, Kelly spotted the waterwheel, which was cool to see. I was also amazed by the amount of ungulate excrement in the area!
The whole area seems far from forgotten to me - in fact I saw more people there than I ever have before ... but they were small groups of 2-4 people, and spread out over at least a mile of creek, so it didn't feel crowded. And thankfully the amount of trash seemed very small for such a popular area.

Permit $$
Special Use

$8.00, pay in drop boxes.

Map Drive
FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

To hike
From the 260 / 87 intersection in Payson go north on 87 a couple miles to the Houston Mesa turnoff on the right. Follow 8.2 miles to FR420 which is just after 'Second Crossing'. Turn right onto FR420 (at the message board) and follow short 0.2 mile to unmarked Cold Spring Camp Grounds. The trail is the continuation of FR420 past the camp grounds at the gate.

2012-09-24 Outdoor Lover writes: FR 420 is now permanently barricaded at Houston Mesa Road, with a "No Parking" sign at the Barricade. To access FR420, you now park at the "2nd Crossing" Day Use area on the Left. Cross the Road to a small Trail going up the Hill, just North of the Crossing. This Trail will continue to go up and intersect with FR420, where you will take a Right to proceed down to Ellison Creek Cascades.
help comment issue

end of page marker