Fossil Creek Waterfall Trail | Arizona | 03/10/19

Fossil Creek Waterfall Trail | Tonto National Forest

Camp Verde, AZ | 03/10/19 | 5.26 miles | 437′ gain

On our 2018 visit to Arizona, our friends Nicolette and Ryan had reserved a permit for us to hike on a cool trail to Fossil Springs, which went to a waterfall and an area for fossil collecting. Unfortunately, nearby wildfires resulted in the National Forest being shut down completely, and so we were unable to go. This year, we were visiting outside the busy season, so a permit wasn’t required, and we decided to try one more time. We double checked before we left to make sure the area was open before driving nearly 2 hours to get to the trailhead. Everything seemed to be in order.

We arrived at the Fossil Springs Trailhead at the far east side of the Fossil Creek Recreation Area only to find a locked gate and a sign stating that the trailhead was closed due to inclement weather. We all looked around at the blue skies and bright sun and couldn’t help but get frustrated. We drove a few miles back down the road until we had phone service and spent a few minutes searching for another hike in the area. Since we had assumed the trailhead was open, we didn’t plan on needing a backup hike.

Nicolette was able to find a similar, although shorter, hike on the other side of the park. Unfortunately we’d have to drive all the way around the area to the other entrance, but at least we found a hike! This hike would go to Fossil Creek Waterfall, an entirely different waterfall than what we’d originally planned, but we’d still get to see one!

It took about an hour to get to the west entrance, and then nearly another hour driving 12-15 miles up a dirt 4×4 road to get to the Fossil Creek Bridge Trailhead. There are a number of trailheads on this side of the park, and we picked one far enough down that we could get a 4-5 mile hike in. If we were to park at the uppermost Waterfall Trailhead, we only would have walked 2-2.5 miles!

Since we parked at a lower trailhead, the beginning of the trail for us was to follow the dirt road for a mile to the Waterfall Trailhead.
Road walk views.

After we reached the Waterfall Trailhead, signs pointed us in the direction of the Waterfall Trail. Shortly after this, we saw a sign that said the Waterfall Trail is closed due to flood damage. You’ve got to be kidding me! We’ve come all this way and just NOW there’s a sign? Give me a break! We just ignored it (like everyone else that day) and continued on, planning to turn around if the trail became dangerous. (Spoiler alert: it was not, but I could definitely see how it may be challenging or dangerous for someone who is new to hiking.)

We turned off the road and onto an actual hiking trail which we followed for about a mile to the first falls. Then we played what I like to call the “is THIS the waterfall?” game. The trail was very damaged from extreme flooding from a few years back, and was difficult to see in spots, so we were often unsure if we were supposed to continue on, or if we were at the end. We stopped for lunch at the first waterfall but then decided to continue exploring, where we found the next trail segment and continued on to more and more waterfalls.

The first waterfall.
The second waterfall. They’re only getting prettier!
Nicolette and Ryan at the third waterfall.
Me and Kyle at the third waterfall.
All along the trail, fossils and other strange rock formations occur in the boulders and cliff faces. Any idea about what this may be?
Finally, the fourth waterfall, the one we were actually looking for!
Some college kids had gone swimming (brr!) and told us they were going to jump off this ledge into the water. We waited a while to watch them, but they must have changed their minds since no one ever jumped! LOL!
Playing with my camera.
Such a beautiful spot to end our hike.


8 thoughts on “Fossil Creek Waterfall Trail | Arizona | 03/10/19

  1. Pingback: Phoenix Trip 2019 – Colorado Chelsea

  2. So pleased to find out about your blog and your “likes” at ours and the Huachuca Mountains story. I haven’t been to that spot in many many years. It was always a stop on the way to Verde Hot Springs. The last time, was when they had the road closed to make adjustments and develop the permit system. We experienced much the same frustration, “Are you kidding me!?!” Well, we found a fun alternative. It is always best to have one in a back pocket, especially fair weather free range hikers.
    I’ll keep watching your site for great hikes and places to put on the bucket list.


  3. I grew up going to this waterfall! The road from strawberry was closed several years back due to it not being wide enough for vehicles to travel in both directions safely and a huge increase in visitors. We used to ride our dirt bikes down from strawberry! Did you get a chance to jump off the cliffs at the falls or climb up behind the falls? Did you get to the toilet bowl? What an awesome place! you will have to go back and explore more of the area, there is so much to see, also the hot springs are a fun time and cool area to explore, you can camp out near the hit springs trail head. I’m glad you got to visit this beautiful place!


      1. The other side is not expected to be open as far as I know, my family has a home in pine and they get regular updates on everything going on in the area. But you can hike down from the fossil springs trail on the strawberry side! It will get you to the toilet bowl! I hope you can go back again soon!

        Liked by 1 person

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