You don't have to go too far outside Payson to find a running creek. Head north on Highway 87 to the East Verde River. It's about four miles north of Payson. Turn off the highway, to your left toward East Verde Estates, and immediately on your right is a dirt road that heads to the river.
There's a place to park your car. Get out and walk to the river bank.
During the rainy seasons (January, July and August mainly) you'll see a fast-moving, wide river. The rest of the year, you'll find a nice creek, that's easy to cross by foot in many places.
Wear your water sandals or hiking boots to crisscross the river, sit down and rest or bring a picnic lunch. This is a popular Payson hangout, so on weekends you'll run into a lot of people.
To avoid the crowd, you can follow the river by foot to the north and cross the creek. The creek runs parallel to Highway 87. You'll find pools of water and big rocks the kids can climb on and play around.
This is a great river to find crawfish. So, if you're into that sort of thing -- it is fun.
Bring a little plastic bag of leftover sandwich meat or a piece of chicken and a piece of string or fishing line. Tie a piece of meat onto the end of string, or fishing line, and toss it into the creek near a calm spot.
Within a few minutes, you'll have a dozen crawfish chomping at your line. Pull out the crawfish and see if you can catch the granddaddy of the river, or at least his offspring.
Some people collect their catch and take them home to steam them and eat. If you're like me and think there's not enough meat on those bodies to bother with, at least entertain the family with your crawdad catch and throw them back in the river when you're done.
If you'd like to find a bigger swimming hole, here's what you do. Get back in your car and take the East Verde Estates road to the right over the little bridge.
Immediately on your left is a small parking area and rest room. Walk toward the creek, and you'll see a few sandy beach spots along the creek. These are popular watering holes, and at times the water can get over your head. There are plenty of flat rocks you can sit on and have a snack, or spread out the beach towels.
If you're searching for water, but not as many people, you might try the East Verde upstream.
Get back in your car and head back toward Payson (to the right out of the East Verde Estates Road). When you get to a sign on your left that says Flowing Springs, turn left. This is a dirt road that is bumpy and one-lane in spots. It will wind around a bit and end up at a camping spot at the bottom of a canyon.
It's a gorgeous view for the passenger, but tell the driver to keep his/her eyes on the road going down as it's a long way down, with no guard rail. Once at the camping location, you can pitch a tent or have your RV there for up to 14 days. You can fish, (small rainbow trout), hike and rest along the river.
While there, follow the river farther upstream, where you'll find more camping spots and swimming holes to play in. A few miles up the river is private property, so you'll have to turn around there.
AT A GLANCE
What: East Verde River
Where: About 3 to 4 miles north of Payson on Highway 87
What you'll see: East Verde River (depending upon time of year, it will be a raging river or a mild flowing creek).
RV hookups: no