Best Swimming Hole Phoenix 2010 - The Water Wheel, in Tonto National Forest
We had a terrible scare last year when The Water Wheel fire broke out north of Payson. The fire ate up nearly 800 acres of precious pine and forced the evacuation of two subdivisions. It did not, however, destroy the beautiful swimming hole that gave the disaster its name. The trees along Houston Mesa Road are scorched black, but the deep, cool pool of the East Verde River where Valley swimmers escape the blazing Phoenix heat with a long plunge off the steep walls leading to one of Rim Country's most pleasing waterfalls is still mostly intact. The parking area near where the blaze started has been closed (hopefully just temporarily, but possibly not) and was guarded by a cop when we stopped by earlier this summer, but you can still get there by walking in and along the East Verde from the lot downstream. It's well worth the jaunt. As anyone who's been there will tell you, the Water Wheel swimming hole is one of the state's true gems. It's not over-the-top gorgeous like similar spots near Sedona or at Havasupai, but it's wonderful in its own understated way, close and calming, which is just how we like our swimming holes.