Arizona’s Best Swimming Hole: Fossil Creek

Arizona’s Best Swimming Hole: Fossil Creek

Why You Should Make The Journey

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.

Waterfall-At-Fossil-Creek
The waterfall at Fossil Creek, Arizona where you can jump off or slide down it.

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.

Fossil-Creek-Springs
Relaxing in the springs at Fossil Creek

What To Bring

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.

  • Water and more water
  • Snacks
  • Permit
  • Water shoes
  • Hiking boots
  • Waterproof camera
  • Hammock
  • Water toys 
Diving-At-Fossil-Creek
The water is clear where you can dive in some parts.

 Also  remember  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.

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. For the most part the sun helps to warm you up when it’s the summer months.

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Day Permit

Fossil Creek requires permits from April 1st to October 1st, while the rest of the year you do not need one. Permits are $6 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 call the Fossil Creek Hotline, 928-226-4611 to check for road closures before you go to make sure you don’t waste your time.

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. In short, you still have to buy one, which comes available one month ahead of time.

Directions

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.

14 mile dirt drive to Waterfall Trail Head

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.

Hikes

Fossil Creek Trail Map

  • Elevation: 203 ft
  • Location: riparian zone for most
  • Distance: 2.4 miles round-trip
  • Parking: Permit allows you to park at one of the five designated lots
Waterfall Trail

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.

Fossil-Creek-Springs
Fossil Creek Springs offer various places to take a dip in the water.

The Fossil Springs Trailhead is accessible from Strawberry. 

  • Elevation: 1,500 ft
  • Location: Near Strawberry and more strenuous a hike
  • Distance: 8.1 mile round-trip
  • Fact: High clearance vehicle needed
  • Parking: First come along Fossil Creek Road
  • Time: 2-3 hours to hike, depending on skill level and weather conditions

Lastly, is the Flume Trail that will take you to the old Fossil Creek Dam area.

  • Elevation:
  • Location: Camp Verde acess
  • Distance: 10 mile round-trip
  • Fact: There is no creek access for most of the trail and best done early in the day
  • Time: 2 1/2 – 4 hours depending on skill level

Gear We Take

Gopro Hero 5
ProFloat Waterproof GoPro Grip
Dive Portable Lung Scuba
Chaco Water/Hiking Shoes
Sunscreen
Hammock
Hydro Flask Water Bottle
Thule Backpack

Have you visited Fossil Creek? Did you jump off the waterfalls or slide down them? Did you enjoy yourself and would you recommend it to others? Have any other swimming holes or places we should see, let us know in the comments section. Thanks for taking a look at our site and don’t forget to subscribe for future articles and tips. 

The information on this website has come from research and by experiencing it ourselves.  Opening hours, trail closures, prices, etc. are always subject to change. We try to keep up to date on any new information, or tips to help make your adventure more enjoyable. 

Related Reads

Looking for another way to cool off in the Arizona desert, then check out our guide to Salt River Tubing, near Phoenix. 

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Adventuresofwifesquared

My name is Shannon Curtis and I grew up in Southern California with the beach on one side and mountains on the other. My education background includes a B.S. In Biology with emphasis on conservation. I have been fortunate enough to have had the ability to work with rescued marine animals with the Los Angeles Conservation Core as well as participate in the research with CSULA. With my wife, Cam, we travel the world as much as we can and with it try to share the knowledge that we learn. Our love for spur of the moment trips started with 36 hours in Hawaii and have continued since. Along with my travel blogs, we share as many photographs on Instagram and info on YouTube. If you ever see us in the world, come say hi!

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