Hiking Water Wheel Falls near Payson with Kids. Water Wheel Falls near Payson, AZ has been on our list for awhile. It did not disappoint! This 1.6 mile out and back trail follows a creek, to an amazing swimming hole with a gorgeous waterfall.
The trail is easy to moderate, and we would rate it difficult (but not impossible) for littles. Our toddler hiked the entire way to the falls, but had to have help multiple times with the water crossings and rock scrambling. Older kids will love the boulder hopping! We also highly recommend using AllTrails for this hike, as the trail is not always defined; it’s easy to be confused on where to go.
At the falls, there are several pools of water to enjoy (we caught little fish and crawdads!), and you can climb to the top for an epic view. Note that the rocks can be slippery. Pack a lunch, swim in the chilly water, and stay a few hours to enjoy nature.
If hiking isn’t your thing, there are several easily reached swimming areas in the early part of the trail, and some creek play areas just down from the parking lot! Overall, this is a fantastic water spot for all ages and hiking abilities – put it on your list to visit soon!
Hiking Water Wheel Falls near Payson with Kids
Why is it called Water Wheel Falls? Look for the old wooden water wheel at the beginning of the hike (on the left). It was built in the early 1900’s, by a miner to power an ore crusher that extracted gold.
Parking at this trailhead is $10/car, exact cash only (but no fee Nov 1-March 31). There are vault toilets as well. Google Maps will bring up the correct location. Travel on Houston Mesa Road (FR 199) for 7 ½ miles, parking lot will be on the right. This spot fills up very fast on the weekends, and Friday-Sunday during the summer. Also, there is no cell service at the trailhead or on the trail. Plan ahead!
Top things to bring: plenty of water and food, water shoes, life vests for non-swimmers, sunscreen, and smiles!
Of note, this is a flash flood area. So please use caution when hiking as the creek can rise drastically with rain. Check the weather reports before hiking, and avoid if there is rain on the radar.