*Permits are required in the Fossil Creek Wilderness from April 1 through October 1st
Fossil Creek's warm water, beautiful waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and wilderness setting make it a popular recreation area that attracts over 60,000 visitors each year. Most visitors come to the Fossil Creek Wilderness to swim, sunbathe, fish, hike, watch wildlife, or visit the historic Child's-Irving hydro-electric plant. It's also a great place to take photographs. The lush riparian area of Fossil Creek offers miles of stunning water features, and secluded crystal clear swimming holes, and serves as beautiful oasis in the surrounding desert.
Fossil Creek seasonal headwaters are on top of the Mogollon Rim north of Strawberry, Arizona, but the year round sections of Fossil Creek originates from Fossil Springs, a series of springs at the bottom of 1600 foot deep Fossil Creek Canyon and flows at about 20,000 gallons a minute. Eighty percent of Fossil Creeks flow comes from Fossil Springs where the water emerges from the ground at a constant temperature of 72 degrees. The water is rich in calcium which has created huge deposits of limestone called travertine. The Fossil Creek waters are the fourth largest producer of travertine in the world. That rock-like substance fossilizes whatever falls into the streambed creating the abundance of fossils for which Fossil Creek is named. In 2009 Congress designated Fossil Creek as a National Wild and Scenic River.
Fossil Creek Hiking
Accessing Fossil Creek is always going to involve some hiking and there are 4 main trailheads in the Fossil Creek Wilderness Area.
Waterfall Trailhead at Fossil Creek
Waterfall Trail to the Fossil Creek Waterfall is the most widely known and popular recreational area at Fossil Creek. The trail is a 1 mile hike along Fossil Creek to the gorgeous waterfall featured in many of the photographs of Fossil Creek. This trail attracts many visitors who enjoy Fossil Creek's crystal clear warm water, and beautiful landscape.
Due to a cliff collapse that damaged Fossil Creek Road, Waterfall trailhead cannot be accessed by vehicle from Strawberry, Arizona. Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) is closed indefinitely from Bob Bear Trailhead to the Waterfall Trailhead. The Waterfall Trailhead can now only be accessed by vehicle from the Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) turnoff between mile marker 228 and 229 along highway 260. It is a 14 mile drive down a rugged dirt road to reach the Waterfall Trailhead at Fossil Creek.
Bob Bear Trailhead (Formerly Fossil Springs Trailhead)
The name of the Fossil Springs Trail has been changed to Bob Bear Trail. This trailhead is most easily accessed from Strawberry, AZ by heading west 5 miles on Fossil Springs Road (FR 708), and a parking permit can be obtained from the Bob Bear Trailhead permit website. Permits are required from April 1 - October 1. The Bob Bear Trail is open for both hiking and horseback riding.
This is an 8 mile round trip hike that is steep and strenuous. Summertime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees here and there is very little shade on no water making it one of the most difficult hiking trails in the Tonto National Forest. The strenuous trail descends 1600 feet into Fossil Springs Canyon and requires 4 miles of ascent out of Fossil Springs Canyon on the way back up. Please do not attempt to hike this trail without adequate food, water, footwear, and physical fitness. Every year underprepared people have to be rescued along this remote trail.
This trail goes towards Fossil Springs and ends at the historic Fossil Creek Dam. It does not access the Fossil Creek waterfall which people commonly associate with Fossil Creek. it also does not provide direct access to Fossil Creek's water.
Flume Trail #154 to Fossil Creek Dam
The Flume Trailhead is located on Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) at the old Irving power plant parking lot. The trail is a 5-mile one way hike that follows the line of the removed-flume that used to carried the water to the power plants for generating electricity. The Flume trail ends at the Fossil Creek Dam. To access the trail hikers must ford Fossil Creek near the trailhead. The water here is only about knee deep. This is a 10 mile round trip hike and there is no water access until you reach the Fossil Creek Dam. Make sure to bring plenty of water and good shoes.
The Flume trail is for hiking and horseback riding only. The trail cannot be accessed from Strawberry as Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) is closed at the Bob Bear Trailhead (Formerly Fossil Springs Trailhead). The trail must be accessed from Camp Verde off of Fossil Creek Road (FR 708).
Mail Trial # 84
The Mail Trail is a strenuous 10 mile trail that is for advanced hikers with developed map reading and route finding skills. Map Trail #84 was first utilized by Yavapai and Apaches in the region who later guided pony soldiers from Fort Reno to Fort Verde via the trail in as early as 1869. This long and strenuous trail drops 1600 feet into Fossil Creek Canyon. It meets up with the Bob Bear Trail above Fossil Springs. Fossil Creek above Fossil Springs only runs seasonally and is often dry.
To access the Mail Trail from I-17 near Camp Verde, drive east on highway 260 for 21.5 miles to FR 9247B. Turn right on FR 9247B and the Mail Trail #84 Trailhead parking is on the left, the Mail Trail Trailhead itself is on the right.
Fossil Creek Fishing
Fishing is allowed in Fossil Creek from October through April in designated areas with special regulations. The designated fishing are is between the waterfall located approximately 1 mile above the Flume Trailhead parking lot along FS 708, and immediately below Sally May Wash at the downstream most power line crossing. All fishing is catch-and-release only for roundtail chub, and they must be taken with lure and fly only with a single barbless hook.
Fossil Creek Wildlife, Fish, and Flora
Fossil Creek and its lush riparian zone support about 200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Along with common animals such as beavers and otters, there are many rare an special status creatures living on or around the creek that are listed as either endangered, threatened, or sensitive by federal and state agencies.
A tremendous effort has been made to support native fish in Fossil Creek including the headwater chub, roundtail chub, speckled dace, longfin dace, Sonora sucker, and desert sucker. The Arizona Game and Fish department has removed all invasive species from the waters of Fossil Creek, and in 2007 and 2010 along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added native spikedace, loach minnows, Gila topminnows, and razorback suckers as well as more longfin dace.
In 1987, a 26-acre section of the Fossil Creek Wilderness above the dam was set aside as the Fossil Springs Botanical Area. Fossil Creek's lush riparian zones provide high-quality habitat for a wide variety of plant species native to the area. Plant inventories taken have identified 166 plant species in the 26 acre Fossil Springs Botanical Area and 314 species of flowering plants and ferns in the larger Fossil Creek area.
Fossil Creek Camping
Camping is prohibited in the Fossil Creek permit area from April 1st through October 1st. The Fossil Creek Wilderness area is day use only from 8 am to 8 pm during these dates. The last entry is 4 pm.
During the fall and winter season from October 1st through March 31st camping is permitted subject to restrictions:
- Camping is prohibited within a quarter mile either side of Fossil Creek from the Old Fossil Creek Dam, downstream to Fossil Creek Bridge.
- Camping is allowed downstream of Fossil Creek Bridge if your camp is at least 100 feet from the edge of the creek. Backpack camping is also
allowed upstream of the Old Fossil Creek Dam.
- Campfires are prohibited within a quarter mile of Fossil Creek from the head of Fossil Creek, down stream 12 miles to Ike Saddle near milepost 4 on
Forest Road 502. Propane stoves allowed.
- The construction of new campsites or the improvement of existing campsites is prohibited.
Fossil Creek Permits & Season Information
Permits are required to park a vehicle in the Fossil Creek permit area April 1 through October 1, and they must be purchased in advance. From April 1 through October 1st, a maximum of 1 permit per person per calendar month may be purchased (one permit = one day). Fossil Creek Wilderness permits are made available on the first day of the month, one month ahead of time. For example, permits for the month of May are available beginning April 1st. The Fossil Creek parking permit allows for parking 1 vehicle only at one of eight designated parking lots. The maximum allowed vehicle length is 22 feet.
No permits are required between October 1st and March 31st.
Directions to Fossil Creek
To reach the Fossil Creek Waterfall Trail from Camp Verde/I-17: Take exit 287 from I - 17 and head 10 miles east on Highway 260 toward Payson until you reach Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) between mile marker 228 and 229. Then turn right on Fossil Creek Road and travel 14 miles down the rugged dirt road to the Fossil Creek Waterfall trailhead.
DUE TO A CLIFF COLLAPSE ONTO FOSSIL CREEK ROAD, THE FOSSIL CREEK WATERFALL TRAIL IS NO LONGER ACCESSABLE BY VEHICLE FROM STRAWBERRY HEADING WEST ON FOSSIL CREEK ROAD. FOSSIL CREEK ROAD IS CLOSED BETWEEN BOB BEAR TRAILHEAD (FORMERLY KNOWN AS FOSSIL SPRINGS TRAILHEAD) AND THE FOSSIL CREEK WATERFALL TRAILHEAD.
Instead those looking to reach the Fossil Creek Waterfall Trailhead from Phoenix, Payson, Pine, or Strawberry must travel north on Highway 87 to highway 260, and then left on Highway 260 for 24 miles to the Fossil Creek Road Turnoff between mile markers 228 & 229 and follow the rugged 14 miles dirt road to the Fossil Creek Waterfall Trailhead.