When it’s over 100 degrees in the Phoenix or Flagstaff area what do you do to cool off? You get in your car and drive to the Fossil Creek Wilderness Area. This swimming hole is our go to when temperatures start to rise and its time to cool off.
What we love so much about Fossil Creek is that is has a little bit of everything to offer for an amazing day. It can offer you a chance to float around in one of the many swimming holes, go jumping or sliding off of a waterfall, explore the creeks hidden rock overhangs, lay around in a hammock by the river, or hike the three different trails.
As you explore the creek, take the time to look out for some of the wildlife that lives in this riparian area. Close to the shores you can sometimes find the Arizona Toad or along your hike a Gila monster. While you are enjoying the water, take out some goggles and try to see some of the areas native fish. A few of them are the Headwater Chub, Roundtail Chub, Longfin Dace, and the Sonoran Sucker.
You can pick which trail head you wish to go to when getting your permit. The two areas to enter are either from Strawberry or Camp Verde. After buying your permit in advanced it’s time to get ready to go.
Don’t forget to bring extra water, snacks, water shoes, hiking boots, waterproof camera, water toys, hammocks, and your printed out permit. A few pointers to remember is to move over for people who can drive the 14 mile road faster than you, flip-flops are not adequate hiking shoes and there is no lifeguard on duty.
Be careful. People have been hurt and some have died! It's a difficult area to be rescued from if you get hurt.
The first time I saw the clear water of Fossil Creek, I was absolutely ecstatic. That could have been attributed to the fact that it was over 110 out, we had been walking from lot 5 and we just wanted to cool off. It was amazing jumping in the water and it only took a few seconds for me to realize that it was indeed cold.
For some, it is perfect, while others might find the water a bit chilly. That is why I am one of the few that actually bring a small wetsuit with me, but in my defense, I do like to use our Dive Portable Lungs Scuba Kit. Since I’m in the water for longer, I need a little more help with staying warm. The sun helps to warm you up right away when it’s the summer months.
Fossil Creek requires permits from April 1st to October 1st, while the rest of the year you do not need one. Permits are $10 each and there is a maximum of one permit per person every month. You can get your permits to print out at the Government Recreation Website and you can check for road closures before you go to make sure you don’t waste your time. Earlier this summer it was closed down due to the fires being close by. You are allowed to enter at 8 am, with no entry pass the gate after 4 pm and the area closes at 8 pm.
We have noticed countless times that not everyone who bought a permit for your specific day shows up. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean you can get a permit on the spot. You still have to buy one, which comes available one month ahead of time.
To access the Fossil Creek Waterfall Trailhead, you will take interstate 17 that connects Phoenix to Flagstaff. From Phoenix, you will exit 287 off of interstate 17 and turn towards State Route 260. From here, the road is paved for about 24 miles. On the right side you will come across Forest Road 708, which will have a Fossil Creek Sign in front.
Next is to travel 14 miles down a bumpy dirt road as you drop down 1,600 feet in elevation. A 4 wheel drive vehicle is preferred, but you can do it with a normal car as long as it is not lowered and you drive the road slow around 5-10 mph.
Make sure to stop at the stop sign for the forest rangers to check your permit. From here you will drive 1/2 to 2 miles to your parking permit location. Best spots are lots 1-Waterfall Trailhead, 2-Irving Flume Trailhead, 3-Tonto Bench, and 4-Fossil Creek Bridge. All four of these parking permit spots have creek access very close. Lot 2 is where you will access the Flume Trailhead.
Remember: Pack out what you pack in and take lots of water.
Getting to the Fossil Springs Trailhead from Interstate 17, you will exit 287 towards Payson. This will take you on a 34 mile paved road to State Route 87. Go South on 87 for about 8 miles till you come to Fossil Creek Road (Forest Road 708). From here you follow the road down to the Fossil Springs Trailhead where you will park and hike down to the springs.
The Waterfall Trailhead can be reached by getting permits for one of the five spots near Camp Verde. From the trailhead, it has an elevation of 203 feet mostly in a riparian zone and is about 2.4 miles round-trip.
This hike can be done with the family as well as your fury dogs as long as they are leashed. Be careful of the heat. Bathrooms are located at each parking spot. The hike will take about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on where you start. At the end of the trail is the 25 foot waterfall where you can jump off or slide down into the refreshing water.
The Fossil Springs Trailhead is accessible from Strawberry. This is a more strenuous one that is almost 1,500 feet in elevation with a 8.1 mile round-trip from your parking spot. One way will take you about 2 to 3 hours to hike, depending on your skill level and the weather conditions.
Lastly, is the Flume Trail that will take you to the old Fossil Creek Dam area. There is no creek access for almost all of the trail and is 10 miles round-trip. This hike is best done early. The busiest times are weekends and the summer.