Fossil Creek is one of Arizona's natural wonders. Federally designated as a "Wild and Scenic" River, this spring-fed creek flows at an impressive rate of over 20,000 gallons per minute. The water is heavily laden with calcium and other minerals, giving the it an unbelievable turquoise color, and also creating travertine pools and formations along its banks. The springs are technically "hot springs" where the water that feeds the creek emerges at a constant 70 degrees year-round. Depending on the season however, the water may be cooler or warmer by the time it reaches the waterfall at the terminus of this trail.
Overview: This is an easy hike, and even people unaccustomed to hiking in the desert should be able to manage this trail if properly prepared. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. There are many areas where the trail crosses jagged travertine rock deposits. Hiking this trail in open-toed sandals or flip-flops is not recommended except for those experienced in doing so. If you plan on wading or swimming, bring suitable water shoes. The wet rocks along the creek and around the waterfall can be very slippery, even with appropriate footwear. Despite being creekside, it can be over 100 degrees in the summer. Bring ample drinking water to stay hydrated. There is no trash service. Plan to carry out anything that you bring in with you.
Trailhead Access: The Waterfall Trail begins along Fossil Creek Road (also known as Forest Road 708), about 1.5 miles east of the bridge crossing. THERE IS NO PARKING AT THE TRAILHEAD!! There are available parking areas down the hill from the trailhead, but they fill up fast on weekends , so the earlier you arrive, the less distance you will have to "hike" on the road just to get to the start of the trail. The nearest parking area (max 20 cars) is 1/4 mile from the trailhead. The trailhead is well marked and begins at the end of fencing along the road. Please respect the fencing. It is in place to protect the fragile environment from overuse. See the "Directions" box below for details on how to get to Fossil Springs from nearby highways. The roads are frequently closed or restricted, so make sure to check with the National Forest before you leave to make sure you will be able to access the area.
Hike: The trail immediately drops off the road and down to the valley bottom. You can hear the creek flowing, but it will be a few minutes of hiking before you see any water. There are easy access points to the creek all along the trail, but to get to the waterfall quickest, stay on the trail and head upstream. The hike is often shaded by large Sycamore and Cottonwood trees, but ample sun shines through as well. There are some smaller falls you will pass along the way, but you'll know when you get to the main event. The trail dead-ends at a rocky "cliff" which the waterfall flows over.
Waterfall Area: On a popular weekend, you will probably encounter loud people swimming, jumping, and having a good time. Parental warning: It would not be uncommon to encounter music, alcohol, or recreational drug use amongst some of the visitors. Swimming too close to the waterfall can be dangerous due to the strong current. Caution should be paid especially for those who are not strong swimmers. There are other less-impressive swimming holes and smaller cascades further downstream that may be more suitable for children or families.
Caution: This is a very remote area. Cellphone service is sketchy or non-existant. Emergency services, if needed, can take hours to arrive. Travertine rocks are jagged and sharp. The creek flows quickly with a strong current. The road access is rugged and can feature a lot of traffic including possible alcohol-impaired drivers. Despite the oasis that the creek provides, this is still the desert. There are snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other common desert critters. It is why this area is designated "Wild and Scenic". If you arrive prepared and enjoy the trail and creek with caution, you might find it to be one of the most beautiful and amazing places you've ever been!
Rules to Know! There is NO CAMPING along the Waterfall Trail. Ever. There are NO FIRES allowed. Ever! There are a couple of portable toilets at the trailhead, but no facilities near the waterfall. Solid waste is not permitted within 100 feet from the creek, and even so must be buried at least 6" deep! You are in a canyon, and getting 100-feet away is difficult. Be prepared. Bring a shovel. Toilet paper must be carried out with you! Bring a ziplock bag for this purpose! There is no trash service. Carry any beverage containers, food wrappers, etc. back out with you. NO GLASS! Accidents happen. Broken glass lasts for years and is nearly impossible to pick up. Leave it home! Nobody wants to hike or swim surrounded by toilet paper, trash, and glass. Please do your part!!
Forest Tonto Pass is a forest wide permit for recreational sites and campgrounds. Typically not for trailheads.
To hike From Camp Verde: Travel east on AZ-260 for about 7 miles to signed turn for Fossil Springs Road (FR708). Proceed 16 miles on rough dirt road to any available parking area. This road is rough, but passable in a passenger car in dry weather with a skilled driver. High-clearance vehicle would be preferred for quality of ride.
From Payson: Travel north on AZ-87/260 toward Winslow for about 17.5 miles to the small town of Strawberry. Turn left on Fossil Springs Road (FR708) and proceed 9.5 miles on rough dirt road down into Fossil Creek drainage and first available parking area. Continue further downstream for additional parking options.
NOTE: Fossil Springs Road is subject to closure due to capacity controls, overuse, and maintenance. Coming from Camp Verde, the road is often closed by 10am on popular summer weekends. Please check with the Forest Service for current conditions and road status. (Fossil Springs Telephone Hotline: 928-226-4611 or http://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/coconino/alerts-notices
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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