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Name: Fossil Creek Waterfall Trail Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on nine votes)
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Novice)
Time: 1 - 3 hours Region: NE Arizona
Length: 2.4 miles (out and back) to the waterfall, but can be shorter or longer Elevation gain/loss/change: +81 / -230 ft / + 149 ft
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 3900 ft
Best time to go: fall, spring, winter, summer Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Low Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating: Low Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: Get there early in summer months, FS closes road when parking area gets full Last updated: September, 2011
Short Description: A short hike along one of the most beautiful creeks in Arizona
Geocaches: Tons of cool geocaches around. Here's just a few. Hieroglyph and Waterfall on Fossil Creek; Whiskey in the Jar-o
References / Contact Information: Coconino National Forest
Points of interest: Waterfalls, clear pools, swimming holes, beautiful scenery, Fossil Creek dam
Special Considerations: Permits required for spring/summer months (see info below). Popular trail, can be crowded during the summer months. Forest Service closes the road when parking area gets full. Get there early.
How to get there: NOTE: The Forest Service has closed the road from Strawberry to Fossil Creek until further notice. The west entrance to Fossil Creek is still open from Camp Verde via FH 9 (Hwy 260) and FR 708. The following is the way we went in (which is now closed): The trailhead (Waypoint 005) is about 9.5 miles west on Fossil Creek Road from Strawberry. From Phoenix, drive north on Hwy 87, past Payson, the Tonto Natural Bridge and Pine until you reach the small town of Strawberry. Take a left at Fossil Creek Road (large brown sign). Caution: portions of this road can be very bumpy, narrow and has shear cliffs that may make some people nervous. Park at Waypoint 005, walk about 1/4 mile back up the road to the Waterfall trailhead on the left. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

December 2016 Update: The Fossil Creek area now requires a parking permit during the spring/summer months (April 1 - October 1). Fall/winter months don't require a permit for now. Click here to find out further information and how to obtain permits. Also, the Forest Service is reviewing the use of this area and considering everything from restricting motorized access to opening it up for additional access. Public review and comments are scheduled through January, 2017. Click here for more information.

You can call call the Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic Information Hotline at 928-226-4611 for more information.

This is one of the most beautiful places I've been to in Arizona. Discovering Fossil Creek was like finding a surprise in your box of cereal—an emerald surprise. Emerald green and aqua blue water cascading over multiple falls and deep, clear pools of water are beautiful anywhere in the world, but in Arizona, known for its dry desert, this gem is especially sweet.

There are a number of ways to access Fossil Creek. This trail (the Waterfall of Flume trail) takes you along Fossil Creek and past a series of small waterfalls and crystal clear pools. There is the more difficult Fossil Springs Trail (closer to Strawberry) which leads to Fossil Springs and the old dam (I hope to be able to do this hike sometime in the future). This hike is a great way to enjoy the creek without having to be in great shape.

General Information and History

From the Coconino National Forest website on the Fossil Creek Wilderness Area: This 11,550 acre Wilderness boasts what has been described as the most diverse riparian area in Arizona. Over thirty species of trees and shrubs and over a hundred species of birds have been observed in this unique habitat. The stream seems to appear out of nowhere, gushing 20,000 gallons a minute out of a series of springs at the bottom of a 1,600 foot deep canyon. Over the years these calcium laden waters have laid down huge deposits of a material called travertine. That rock-like substance encases whatever happens to fall into the streambed - forming the fossils for which the area is named.

Fossil Creek began (and almost ended) its recent history back in the early 1900's when its usefulness, not its beauty, was king. Close to towns and mining activity, the water's power was too big to withstand. In 1909, much of the creek's flow was diverted to the Childs power plant to produce electricity. Then in 1916, the Irving plant opened and about 95% of the flow to the creek was cutoff.

In 1999, the Arizona Public Service decided to voluntarily shut down both plants instead of recommisioning them. This was an almost unprecedented move that has rejuvenated Fossil Creek into what we all love today.

Since 2006 the flow has returned to its original volume and many of the native fish species reintroduced by the Forest Service. A portion of the area has been made into the Fossil Creek Wilderness Area.

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The Trail

NOTE: The Forest Service has closed the road from Strawberry to Fossil Creek until further notice. The west entrance to Fossil Creek is still open from Camp Verde via FH 9 (Hwy 260) and FR 708.

This route is currently closed: [From Strawberry (Waypoint 001), it’s about a 10 mile westward drive to reach Fossil Creek. The first few miles are paved and pass some nice ranches and cabins making me wish I had property there. Then the road turns to dirt (Waypoint 002). Don’t be deceived by the tame nature of the first portion of the dirt road—it quickly turns rough and the narrow shelf road can be daunting to those afraid of heights (Waypoint 003). The road is passable by most passenger cars (though you will bump and scrape).]

For this adventure, we drove to the Waterfall (Flume) Trail that begins at the creek itself, not the Fossil Springs Trail which is much more difficult. After about 20 minutes of bumping along, you will arrive at the parking area on the right (Waypoint 005). Walk back up the road about 1/4 of a mile to the Waterfall Trail (Waypoint 004). Currently there is a restoration area fence about 100 yards long at the start of the trailhead.

Head down from the road onto the trail. The first portion of the trail is easy hiking, though it takes a little while to get to the creek (you can hear it bubbling frustratingly close by). When you come upon it, prepare to make some of the touristy sounds like, “oooh” and “aahhh” that you told yourself you’re too cool to make. I would have been satisfied at stopping at the first pool and small waterfall and spending the day floating in the cool water, but we pushed along by promises of better things ahead.

The trail winds its way along the creek and under a canopy of trees. The rock formations of travertine along the route ensure you remember why this is called Fossil Creek and the bridges cut from logs made the hike even more interesting. We passed a few more pools, large flat areas and waterfalls until we reached the largest waterfall yet (about a mile hike to Waypoint 006).

This is where we stopped to enjoy the water. The water was cold, but refreshing and watching the people jump off the cliff into the deep pool was fun.

You don't have to stop there if you don't want to. Continue on as long as you like. The Fossil Creek dam and springs are about 2.5 miles upstream. Return the way you came.

Due to the popularity of Fossil Creek, the Forest Service is monitoring the road and parking area carefully. There’s limited parking at the trailhead and they are closing the road when the parking area gets full. Hint: get there early in the summer months, not only to beat the heat, but to ensure you’ve got a place to park. If you do decide to visit this special place, please, please, please, be considerate. Pack out all your trash and leave only good memories. We want our children to be able to enjoy this area too. .

Have fun and be safe!

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