.......... .. .. ........... "Once In A While You Get Shown The Light In The Strangest Of Places If You Look At It Right" :Robert Hunter

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fossil Creek, Arizona

When things start to heat up in Central Arizona there is a special place I like to visit to cool off. It is an amazing place just east of Camp Verde called Fossil Creek. Fossil Creek is a spring fed stream that runs southwest from its source for about fifteen miles and empties into the Verde River.
Fossil Creek is fed by a spring that produces close to a million gallons of crystal clear water an hour. This water comes out of the ground at a perfect 72 degrees and is full of minerals that give the creek an amazing aqua blue color. The surrounding area is a high desert environment in an entrenched canyon with mesquite, pinion pine and Juniper, along with some cactus and yucca. The canyon bottom is about 4300 feet in elevation while the canyon rim is above 6000 feet. While the canyon environment is typical of the high desert the environment along the creek is unique and special due to all the water. Along the creek is one of the most diverse riparian areas in Arizona, with over thirty species of trees and shrubs and over a hundred species of birds that have been observed in this unique habitat.
Visiting Fossil Creek is easy because a road runs parallel to it for a few miles and crosses it on a bridge in one location. The great swimming holes and easy access can make some of the spots very crowded. The places right below the bridge while nice are often very crowded.
Farther up the road from the bridge is a trail access that leads to a beautiful waterfall. The trail is only about a mile or so long and winds along the creek and on the way you pass several small falls and pools that are quite spectacular.
The falls at the end of this trail while often crowded are amazing and well worth the short mile hike. The falls are about 20 feet high with a deep pool of crystal clear water.
Many people come here to dive off the rocks and the falls into the deep water below. And it can be very crowded and busy on the week ends.
 If you want more solitude there are several other spots you can stop between the bridge and the falls trails that all have great swimming opportunities that offer more peace and quiet. 
If you want even more solitude there is a three mile long trail that leads to the spring at the source of the creek. This trail starts farther up the road toward strawberry and drops 1300 feet down to the spring. This will tend to have a little less traffic than the easy to reach spots that are close to the car. Hiking up stream past the falls or downstream from the springs will offer you more solitude as well, where you might find that perfect place to have all to yourself.
The Creek was not always this nice. For a long time much of the water flow was diverted by a dam and traveled by flume to a power plant. The work on the dam and power plant started in 1916 and in the 1920 and 30s this helped supply power to Phoenix. The power plant was decommissioned in 1999 and now the full flow of the creek has been restored, and the results are amazing. 
To get to this desert oasis called Fossil Creek you take Interstate 17 north from Phoenix or south from Flagstaff. You exit on State Route 260 heading east and pass through Camp Verde. You then turn right on Forest Road 708 (sign says Fossil Creek) less than 10 miles from I-17. The forest road is very winding and also very bumpy but it's passable by standard vehicles if you take it slow. It is about 15 miles of dirt road to the Fossil Creek Bridge. You used to be able to come down this same road from Strawberry but there was a landslide and the forest service will not fix it. But that road can get you to a trailhead to hike down into the canyon to get to Fossil Springs (the source of all this water). At Strawberry from Highway 87 you take Fossil Creek Road (Forest Road 708) for about 5 miles to get the Fossil Springs trail head. The first 2 miles or so is paved; the next 3 miles will be on a rough but maintained dirt road that any car can drive on. After about 5 miles on Fossil Creek Road you'll see a turnoff that leads to a parking lot on the right side.  Haven't had enough? Or need more informations? Here is another post for this fantastic Paradise in the desert!

Always check with the Forest Service before trying this.  They frequently close this area and sometimes restrict access to a certain number of people per day. 


  1. AZ
    I really look forward to and enjoy your "travel logs" Thank you! for your blog. Your writing, photography and music are appreciated.

  2. Hey, AzJ - recently discovered your blog - love it all, especially outdoor stuff & photography. Have spent a little time back-country in AZ, back when little bro was in Sierra Vista, and in the Sierras flyfishing for Goldens - all beautiful. Keep up the great work! Your friend in Pennsylvania.

  3. Hey AzJ,

    I live in Prescott Valley, and this article really captures my interest. Never been to Fossil Creek, but would like to go with my wife and 3 kids, ages 6, 5, and 23 months. Question for you, would access to Fossil Creek (in your opinion of course) be w/in walking distance for 3 young kids. I probably would carry my littlest guy in a back pack carrier, but wanted to know if young children would find the hike to this watering hole too arduous. Any feedback would be appreciated. Feel free to e-mail me directly at: dmgaleana@hotmail.com

    Thank-you, and of course thanks for the great music on this site.


  4. David there are plenty of spots along the creek that are EZ access. The big falls is a mile walk but many really nice spots are just 30 yards from the car. I have gone to spots just upstream from the bridge that were nice and carried an ice chest and brought my then 6 year old.

  5. Your blog accurately captures this gem. I wish I had read prior to taking my first trip.

    I took seven kids, ages 10-16, down the Fossil Springs Trailhead yesterday. We did not travel much past the old dam in our three-hour visit. I am glad we didn't so we could conserve our energy for the hike back to the top.

    Only one in our group brought goggles so they took turns throughout the visit viewing the assortment of fish.

    If begged to go again, in the short term, we will probably take the more travelled path. A couple of the younger ones struggled, taking about 2 1/2 hours to hike out. We had plenty of water but temperatures were warm and the initial ascent took its toll.

    Today, the kids are talking more of the water and beauty than the exhaustion of the hike.

  6. FYI: The Fossil Creek Road in Strawberry is closed from a rock slide. You can still get there from Camp Verde, but not Strawberry!

  7. Does anyone know if the road in strawberry is now open to fossil creek ??????

  8. Sorry I'm so late in responding. From what I heard they have no intention of opening that road. They are happy with just one access road so they can control access with less cost or effort.

  9. ...the music is great ! ... but oh Wow ! , how lucky you are to live where the land is spectacular, I'm envious of all the scenes you post man !