Water Wheel Falls Hike: Exploring Arizona’s Natural Paradise in the Tonto National Forest

One of the most underrated hikes in Arizona is the stunning Water Wheel Falls hiking trail near Payson.

Nestled within the majestic beauty of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, the Water Wheel Falls Hike is a gem that offers a truly enchanting outdoor experience.

water wheel falls hike guide

This picturesque trail, with multiple cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear pools, and lush greenery, transports hikers into a natural paradise.

In this article, I will delve into the wonders of the Water Wheel Falls Hike and guide you through this unforgettable adventure.

Water Wheel Falls Hike begins at the Water Wheel Day Use Area, located just a short drive from Payson, Arizona.

water wheel falls hike guide

The trail follows the East Verde River, winding through a captivating landscape adorned with towering cliffs, vibrant foliage, and the melodic sound of rushing water.

The route is relatively easy for all levels of hiker with some rocky sections and creek crossings, adding to the thrill of the hike. The hike can be a little challenging in spots pending water levels so be sure to wear proper shoes to avoid slipping or hurting yourself on the loose rocks.

water wheel falls hike guide

It is close to Payson as well which makes it a perfect spot to visit if you end up spending the weekend in the area.

The hike is something to check out if in the area and definitely worth combining it with other hikes in the area.

water wheel falls hiking trail

Would suggest also doing Bob Bear Trail, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, West Clear Creek or Horton Springs as well if you are in Payson for a couple days.


Water Wheel Falls Hike



Elevation Gain:

150 Ft


3 Miles Round Trip - Out & Back - 1.5-2 hours

Truly a perfect short hike with a great payoff swimming hole at the end!

You start from the parking lot where there is a $9 parking fee. It sometimes can be full so try to get there earlier or not go during peak times.

The first part of the trek is on a well used path with the creek to the right of you and within a quarter mile in you will go up a small hill and is the only real “difficult” part of the hill.

Once past that you are in the clear and it is just following the stream up to the top.

water wheel falls hiking trail

You can make things more of an adventure and more difficult by walking up through all of the stream to the top as well.

If you have dogs they will love this part too. Within 30-45 minutes you will reach the falls with plenty of little swimming holes to hang out around.

water wheel falls hike guide

You can even jump off the log ladder into a deeper portion of the pools.


  • Perfect hike to escape the heat
  • Great for families
  • Dogs okay on a leash


  • Can be busy
  • Isn’t too long or much of a exercise hike for people looking for something challenging
  • There is a fee to park of $9


  • Try to avoid the weekends if you don’t want it too busy
  • Avoid spring runoff season to try and be there for blue water
  • Be aware of the weather as flash floods are possible here


Hola! I’m Fraser & this site is a guide to help you reach your goals, travel the world and create amazing food in between. Get inspiration for travel, recipes & to follow your dreams.

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