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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area, AZ

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Guide 35 Triplogs  15 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Camp Verde > Verde S
4.3 of 5 by 16
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 12 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,371 feet
Elevation Gain 820 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 10 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 16.1
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
15  2017-11-19
Stehr to Childs via Fossil-Verde
7  2017-11-19
Stehr to Childs via Fossil-Verde
14  2016-04-04 MountainMatt
8  2016-03-30 MountainMatt
11  2015-06-22
Fossil Springs Loop
14  2015-06-22
Fossil Springs Loop
42  2015-05-08 Fatesjoke
22  2014-08-30
Twin Buttes to Fossil Creek
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
Author TM1ssKDMac
author avatar Guides 9
Routes 10
Photos 4,110
Trips 38 map ( 348 miles )
Age 57 Male Gender
Location Joseph City, Arizona
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Jun, Jul, Sep → 7 AM
Seasons   Late Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  6:08am - 6:36pm
6 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
The New Fossil Creek!
by TM1ssKDMac

Likely In-Season!
This description covers the lower and less traveled (But no less enchanting!) portion of Fossil Creek, downstream of the Fossil Creek Wilderness Area from the point where the creek enters the Mazatzal Wilderness Area, through to its confluence with the Verde River.

May 1st to Oct 1st, view permit info.

This is a relatively easy hike through a very scenic canyon. Campsites are numerous and swimming holes abound. This makes the creek a great place for a day trip or 3 day weekend, it's up to you. This is a great place to enjoy a little dose of Mother Nature and a nice dip in the wonderful waters of Fossil Creek. I will caution that due to the nature of the canyon you must cross the creek from time to time and you will get wet. Also of note is the fact that for the most part there is no trail. You must do your own route finding as you simply follow the creek on your adventure. Footing is really excellent in the stream due to the heavy deposits of Calcium Chloride deposited on everything that the creek water touches.

There are several spots near the creek where you can park just off of the Childs Power Plant Road just before it starts climbing the hill up to where Stehr Lake used to be. (It was part of the flume system that directed water to the Childs Power Plant and with the decommissioning of the power plant and the removal of the flume, the lake has dried up) Approximate GPS coordinates for the area to park at are: 34.380950, -111.659347. This is right at the edge of the Mazatzal Wilderness boundary.

From the parking areas simply proceed downstream along the creek. You will immediately enter the Mazatzal Wilderness Area. There is a trail for the first several hundred yards but it soon disappears once you get beyond the range of the day trippers and cooler draggers. From the parking area the creek winds through the canyon for right at 6 miles to it's confluence with the Verde River. At this point you have 2 options. You can return upstream along Fossil Creek to your vehicle or this would be a nice shuttle hike if you turn right and head upstream along the Verde for about 3.5 miles to the campgrounds at Childs. The route could also be reversed. GPS location for the confluence of the Verde River and Fossil Creek is: 34.30598, -111.67536. Childs Campground: 34.347588, -111.696980.

Check out the Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2007-11-05 TM1ssKDMac
    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.

    Most recent of 17 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Stehr to Childs via Fossil-Verde
    We set up a shuttle by dropping my truck at Childs before heading out from Stehr Lake with the intent of following Fossil Creek to the Verde and then heading upstream to Childs. We were a bit ahead of prime colors in Fossil, but this is an incredibly scenic stretch of river (some might even say wild and scenic!) and lack of yellows and golds along the crystal clear creek water did not detract one bit.

    We followed a reasonable use path toward the creek before dipping into a drainage and following it down the rest of the way. I had figured it would take 4-5 hours to get to the confluence but we stopped a few times to enjoy the scenery and it became apparent that we would be a bit behind schedule.

    No matter, Matt told us travel along the Verde was somewhat easier than it was along Fossil, so I set out to make it there by dark. The water was a perfect temperature for the countless crossings but as daylight waned I was happy to find some beaten cattle tracks that allowed me to dry out a bit. Since I wasn't chasing late light and photography, I parted ways with the others about a mile from the confluence. With 4 miles of upstream Verde travel I was guessing 2 hours should get me to Childs.

    The immediate upstream turn requires a high bypass as cliffs drop straight to the river. Stunning views over the Verde, golden cottonwoods, and Squaw Butte looking as dominant as ever from this angle, I climbed up and began a traverse 150 feet above the river. The (poop-my-pants) highlight of my day happened here as a mountain lion got up and slowly but gracefully moved out of my path. It had been laying under some desert scrub bush and had it not moved I would not have noticed it, but apparently my presence was a bit too close for comfort, so about 20-feet out it decided to walk away. I froze and watched for a few seconds. It didn't turn to look at me, instead effortlessly and silently making it's way down to the Verde. Though it seemed like minutes, by the time I realized I was not in danger and grabbed my phone to try for a photo, it was out of sight. [-(

    At this point, I decided to forego the planned headphones and music, and opted to turn on my headlamp a few minutes earlier than planned. The route dropped down to the river and I only hoped that the lion had chosen downstream (toward the others!? :scared: ) rather than upstream where I was headed!

    As darkness fell and I sauntered along the shore loudly singing my grammy-winning lyrical masterpiece "I'm a people!", I realized that this would not be the pleasant walk along the river that I had mentally prepared for. There were several sections of flat cattle-trail to follow, but they regularly petered out or cliffed out and required sketchy climbs and bypasses. I found myself repeatedly saying out loud "Make smart decisions Chumley", knowing that at this point saving 10 or 15 minutes wasn't worth a poor decision.

    The darkness made route-finding a challenge, but I was happy to have a 350 lumen headlamp and a backup 550 lumen bike light. I don't know how I ever hiked at night with less.

    Route Scout didn't talk to me nearly as often as I wished, and I considered changing to 1/4 mile splits. Finally however, I reached Childs and my waiting truck.

    I knew it would be a couple of hours before they others would arrive, so I curled up in my sleeping bag and tried to snooze a bit. This area has a direct line of sight to the towers on Squaw Peak above Camp Verde, so there's an occasional cell signal, and I was able to get a phone call from Jon with a report of their location and condition. Knowing the others were together and making their way upstream was comforting and I was grateful to see the headlamps later on as they arrived at the truck exhausted. We all piled in for the rough ride back up to Stehr and headed home from there.

    This one took longer than expected, and is a solid pumpkin-kicker. It would be easier in daylight! :D I would absolutely do it again though. It's remote, wild, and scenic!


    More color in the wider valleys. The Verde is probably a week from prime. The recreation area of the creek about the same. The narrower canyon between the two was mostly green and probably 2+ weeks away.
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Play day at Fossil Creek. Assembled 11 people into 3 cars and with permits in hand we went to Fossil Creek. We found ourselves a nice swimming hole and spent most of our time lounging, swimming, diving, etc. We split up into a few different groups and explored different parts of the creek. Temp peaked around 105 degrees, but the water was nice and cold.
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Fossil Creek hike and play outing. Took my kids out to Fossil for some preseason creek play. No permits needed until April 1. Had the entire area to ourselves for the first 90 minutes. Water was cold, I'm guessing low 60's. In addition to normal spring flow, the creek is also picking up some extra snow/rain runoff. Total flow around 100 cfs. The area surrounding the creek looks pretty beat up. Flash flooding on Feb 28 reached beyond 3000cfs. One of the Waterfall Trail log bridges is wiped out.

    We did some cliff jumping into the chilly water, set up a hammock and relaxed near the large waterfall. A group of about 12 arrived, started jumping and sliding down the falls, providing a little extra entertainment. After awhile we moved on to another part of the creek for more creek play and cliff jumping.
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Fossil Springs Loop
    i've hiked down to fossil creek twice before the dam was decommissioned, once in 2006 and once before 1998
    been wanting to go back, and john hadn't been here at all
    he even took a monday off so we could avoid some of the crowds
    arrived at the trailhead early enough that only three or four cars were in the parking lot
    didn't see anyone on the way down, until near the creek when we ran into a couple of backpackers hiking out
    noticable amount of smoke in the canyon from the horse tank fire north of strawberry
    crossed the creek bed and went past the camping area to the old dam site
    took a dip there, sharing the place with just five younger guys
    nice place for a swim and the water felt great
    i wanted to see the waterfall on the other end, so we hiked down the flume trail for a few miles
    dropped down off trail to the waterfall trail, and backtracked to the waterfall
    went for another swim as we crossed the creek, then went up to the waterfall
    started seeing more and more people, along with a corresponding amount of garbage
    the waterfall was nice, and i'm glad we went there, but way too many people to enjoy it
    went back to another pool for a snack and one last swim
    hiked out forest road 708, which is now closed to vehicle traffic
    essentially followed the loop bruce and joe did last april, but from the top
    such a beautiful area, and i enjoyed seeing more of it
    but the amount of water bottles, toilet paper, food scraps, wrappers and general garbage is disgusting
    it's a shame that some of the visitors treat the wilderness as one big dumpster
    on a monday, john counted about 60 people at the waterfall, with numbers rising to well over 100 as we hiked toward the road
    while the warm temps make swimming fun, i wouldn't do this hike when school is out
    i liked the dam area better, but by the time we got back to my truck, the lot was full and the dam was probably just as crowded
    another time i would explore more of the creek, rather than hiking above it
    a good time in spite of the garbage rant
    good company, too - thanks john
    hit that brewery on the way home, and then dq in payson
    made it back just in time for the women's world cup soccer game
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Twin Buttes to Fossil Creek
    Returned to Twin Buttes over weekend. Just a quick trip down to the Fossil for some rest and relaxation.

    Blanco and I started just before 7:30 on Saturday. Ideally, I would have liked to hit TH a little earlier, but that was about the best we could do for driving up from Phoenix that morning. Made it to Fossil Creek in about four hours on the dot. We certainly felt some of the heat of the day, but for the most part were sparred its wrath and were playing in the creek by 11:30.

    After some fun in the water we both took extended naps. I was still trying to shake a cold so only did some very minor exploring. Initially, I planned on finally picking up where ever Deadman Mesa Trail climbs out of that area and preparing for a loop the next day, but I lost my patience for that section of trail near the Fossil and decided with warm temps I would just out and back it anyways. There was also water the whole way on our return route and Deadman Mesa was unknown, so we went with the safe route on day two.

    Left camp earlier then day before on Sunday, hiked out in just under five hours. I was surprised to see the TH bumping when we arrived, all orv people but they were friendly enough.

    Blanco and I did just fine with the warmer temps, warm but nothing too unbearable. Blanco rocked his pack both ways and was able to cool off in tanks at four miles, and eight miles, just about perfect distances for the ground we were covering and the hotter weather. Over night temps were perfect for sleeping was able to go pretty light for the trip with no rain fly or sleeping bag.
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    This was my second attempt at getting to the Verde Hot springs and I made it :y: !

    Mike & I started at the road closed sign(near the upper trailhead). As we walked down the closed road, we theorized as to why it was closed. Mike though it might be to reduce the traffic to the lower Fossil creek. I figured it was to prevent cars from driving off the road. From the HAZ photo sets, it looked like it was a common occurrence.

    The lower trailheads were full when we went by. About 11am there was a huge caravan of cars driving in. We wondered where they would park.

    This was my first time seeing the lower section of fossil creek. Soon we were descending into the Verde. Mike was tired, so he chilled out at the Verde as I continued on to the hot springs.
    I changed into my Keen saddles before heading down the trail to the hot springs. The crossing was pretty fun. It was longer than I expected. The last 50 feet were in muddy water.
    When I got to the springs there was a family of 12~15 kids and parents playing around. They left shortly later and I had the whole area to myself for about 7 minutes! When I headed back, another family showed me a closer crossing. It knocked off about a 1/4 mile. The closing was narrower, about 3 inched taller and a little faster. I preferred that closer crossing.

    I found Mike, had lunch and then we made the march back to the car. Along the way we filtered some water from Fossil creek and saw a skunk by the lower trailhead :o .

    The weather was all over the board. The morning was chilly. We had sprinkles by the bridge. The temps by the river were hot. The we got closer to the Jeep, it got down right cold. There was a teeth chattering wind for the last 10 minutes.

    It was a fun hike. I might bring my son next time.
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Fossil Springs Loop
    This is one of about five that have been on my list forever....

    Finally talked señor José into visiting the crystal clear cool blue green waters of Fossil Creek.
    The Flume Trail was also on the list and made a convenient loop.

    We were the second car in the Waterfall Trail TH at about 8am. Hiking CCW, we climbed the 5+ mile closed to vehicle portion of Fossil Creek Rd. This get's the majority of the elevation out of the way easily on the road. Some great views of the Fossil Creek area from up on this road.

    At around 10am we made the Fossil Springs TH and about 30 cars. I was not expecting solitude on this hike, just Blue Green Waters. For the amount of cars, the trail was not crowded at all.

    Lush and green at the bottom opened up to more and more water. Just prior to seeing our first spring, Joe walked overtop of a 4' Gopher Snake. Now the famous waters kicked in.

    Underwater GoPro

    We made our way to the old Dam area. It was interesting to find out that before it was decommissioned and ripped out, the Dam was 14' taller. Joe pointed out the Toilet Bowl as we crossed over the creek to the Flume trail.

    Dam Area

    You had to look pretty close to see the remnants of the old Flume. The pathway was visible in spots, as well as some of the footings and hardware. I really enjoyed the views of the creek from the Flume Trail.

    The track I'd drawn up jumped off the Flume and made it's way for the Waterfall on the Waterfall Trail. Warning for those that may follow the posted track, the last drop to the creek is steep and loose, but offers different views of the natives jumping the 40' into the Blue Green pools below.

    Lunch was on the creek next to a 15' diameter whirlpool. There were probably 30 or so people enjoying the waters and taking turns jumping to the waters below

    Waterfall Backflip

    The Waterfall Trail is jungle-like and well traveled

    Back to the truck and parking lot that was one other car, was now full, as well as all the other lots and roadsides.

    This is a special area that everyone has to experience. Weekdays, before school lets out for the summer, Recommended.
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    The idea for this trek came from reading the blog of someone who found some pretty nice cliff-dwellings in area of the northwestern Maztzals called the Gorge, the details were vague and it was not clear whether they were found along the East Verde or in one of the side canyons leading into the Gorge. So I made a big loop in route manager utilizing Saddle Ridge Trail #14, the Gorge the East Verde, and Verde River Trail #11. I showed the loop to a couple of HAZers and was a little disappointed to find out someone had already pretty much did the same loop. I thought for a minute I had designed quite the unique off trail back-pack adventure, but of course somebody had already did it, no worries though I knew it would be a good rugged adventure, and I felt I was kind of overdue for one. Bob P joined me for most of day one.

    The trip into the Gorge went smooth, I actually overshot my own route by a mile and half because I had hiked in so quick with Bob, I did not realize I was so close to where I wanted to turn-off by the time we split and I hiked another two miles before realizing I wanted to turn-off long ago.

    Speaking of splitting, Bob seemed to have had a pretty ambitious route planned for entering the Gorge, so I thought best with dogs and a four day pack to stick to my route and meet him near L.P. Canyon. Bob went on to find a pristine set of petraglpyh, a full elk's head mount, and I got a much steeper and rockier descent into the Gorge. I only went back about six tenths of a mile before saying pumpkin it and taking the quickest route I could find into the sheer sides of the Gorge, rather than the gentle northern slopes of my intended route. In hindsight, I should have stuck with safer first route, as I nearly took Blanco out with a couple boulders that some how managed to find his five hole. I actually almost took Bob out with one as well, I think it was the heavy pack, I was not light on my feet at all..

    Had a great time in the Gorge with Bob. We both really enjoyed the scenery in there, the sheer drops, tinkling water falls, deep pools, and mini oasis. Speaking of sheer drops, I was actually relieved to have Bob with me, I would have obviously had to navigate the drops in the canyon regardless, however, it was nice to have company. Bob actually led the way on most, and I cringed as the dogs confidently followed him along 10 inch wide paths a 100 or so feet above the canyon floor, lined with agave for good measure. However, these walks on the wild side were few and generally negated by a quick little "Yahtzee" trail or two that made travel down the Gorge not as horrible as I had thought it could be. I left Bob at Green Horn Canyon and continued down stream towards the East Verde where I almost immediately encountered one of my biggest fears, another huge water fall, we got through it and one more fine, but we were all very happy to be finally reaching camp along the East Verde. I was beat and the dogs were beat, day one ended up being a 14 mile day, with 8-9 of those miles being off trail, oh and I was wearing a four day pack..

    I kind of changed my plans I intended to spend two nights along the East Verde, but after not finding the ruins, I decided to just push through to the Big Verde and plan something from a base camp there. The East Verde was beautiful, I started the morning off trying to stay dry and taking the steep out of the way bypasses the cattle take for the deeper spots, however, I think the law of diminishing returns quickly kicked in for me, and I decided they were too hard on the dogs, too over-grown half the time and annoying, so I just started plopping the pack on my head and wading through the river. This actually was a decent strategy in parts where it got thick I just took the water. Although, I learned quickly how a waste deep wade can turn into an arm-pit and neck deep wade. But it really was not that bad, reminded me of trout fishing back home. I camped early after hitting the Verde, I stayed in a really nice spot located in a side canyon off the Verde River Trail. The camp site was awesome and it became even more rewarding when the discovery of a piece of pottery led me to climb three levels of hills to find the largest Pueblo style site I have every found blindly. Just a really large compound with large sections of preserved walls and defined rooms, I have not seen anything that large or preserved outside of the Agua Fria monument area, so that helped alleviate the disappointment of not spotting in cliff-dwellings the previous two days.

    The nights were all great, did no rain-fly for last two. The full moon almost literally made it hard to sleep it was so bright. I scaled back day three because Cup seemed a little stiff in the morning. But by scaled back I mean we only hiked the Verde River Trail to Dead man Mesa Trail to Fossil Creek then up to Hell's Hole via Hard Scrabble, then an off-trail cross country route back to the Verde River Trail where we took a nap at camp and went back out again after the temps cooled. Side note Hell's Hole was not that impressive, and I think we need to work on an official route for Dead man Mesa Trail, hike bot seems way off, I followed a well cairn path to Fossil Creek and it was considerably different than hike bot, and I find this is usually not the case?? Likewise, am I the only one who could not follow Dead man Mesa Trail once it hits the Fossil Creek area? I ended up just wading back and forth looking for something that resembled a trail, and think ultimately I just took a series of cattle trails. Hard Scrabble Creek was a bush whack and wet going up to Hell's Hole, so we climbed out there and just rode the contour lines back to the trail while stumbling across ruin sites and ravines that always looked much work at first glance. However, I considered it a success because we never had to drop back into the Fossil or Hard Scrabble Creek drainage's and I was done with creek walking for a while.

    Our second hike of the day consisted of following the Verde River Trail past the confluence with the East Verde and towards High Water Trail, but I am not going to lie, I lost the trail after awhile and turned back, it can be tough to follow in spots. However, the parts where we were on trail were pretty cool, you go through a mesquite and hard wood forest that provides a a great canopy through a grassy stretch full of nice spots to camp and close to the river. But then I lost patience with trying to follow the trail and turned back. We actually went back up the East Verde River a little to find the fishing pole and case that I had found the day before, but also left along the trail. I cached that pole and case and will now only need a reel and line if I want to go fishing down there. I explored a few hills, dogs were showing signs of being beat, and it was warm out, so we headed back to camp.

    I only did some modest exploring on way out, I went out to Ross' Tank to gain an idea of the canyons leading into the Gorge, and marveled at their depths and drop offs. Then I thought I wonder which one Bob climbed out of? Then the thought crossed my mind, maybe he is still climbing out of one.

    Hike out was nice for training Blanco around cows, pretty much indifferent to them now. He was never really bad before, but occasionally he would run up to and startle them, not cool when they have horns. I swear the dogs smelled the car when we hit Twin Buttes Road because they found a second wind. I don't know why I felt I had to scale it back for Cup she finished stronger than ever. In the end the miles were not all that crazy for four days, but they were definitely rugged with about half of the total coming from off trail miles. I was also able to just get some nice chill time around the campsite, finally finishing my book on the English Civil War, so if anyone ever wants to discuss the underlying implications of the Presbyterian and Puritan led Parliament overthrowing the Catholic Monarchy and Charles I feel free to P.M. me. Finally, I did not find the set of ruins I was looking for, but it gives me an excuse to come back.
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Took group of 11 year old scouts to swim at fossil creek. Voted best trip every. Water a bit cold until sun came out. Two other groups there when arrived ~9AM twenty when we left at about ~2PM. Parked at bottom and found two great pools within the first mile (followed creek not trail).
    Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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    Kat's sister and brother in-law had never been to Fossil Creek, so we were forced to take them. It didn't take a whole lot of arm-twisting. Weather was perfect, water was cool, and it wasn't too crowded (at first). When we finished swimming and playing at the waterfall and headed back, it was like swimming upstream - I couldn't believe all the people streaming in! I mean, it was Monday after all. When we got back to the cars, the parking lot was jammed, and probably 40+ cars lined the road. Did I mention this was Monday?? Wow... Still, it was a great time. I could visit Fossil Creek every week and not get tired of it!

    Permit $$
    $6 per car, 148 spaces available.

    Apr 1st thru Oct 1st

    Fossil Creek - Need to Know Info
    Understand info in above & check/get permits below
    Fossil Vehicle Permits

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From Camp Verde: Drive East on US 260 towards Payson. From the bridge over the Verde River in Camp Verde drive east 6.75 miles to the turnoff for Fossil Creek Road. This is a gravel road that will be on your right as you approach it. GPS location for this intersection is: 34.505295, -111.759984.

    Follow Fossil Creek Road for 13.5 miles to it's junction with Childs Power Plant Road at 34.394109, -111.650087. Turn right onto Childs Power Plant Road and drive about 1.25 miles to the Parking areas mentioned above.

    From Strawberry: At the intersection of US 87 and Fossil Creek Road at 34.407691, -111.492524. Drive west on Fossil Creek Road for 12.1 miles to the intersection of Fossil Creek Road and Childs Power Plant Road at 34.394109, -111.650087. Bear left at this junction and continue for 1.25 miles to the parking area noted above.
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