Fossil Creek Waterfall Trail | Fossil Creek Bridge Trailhead
Tonto National Forest | Camp Verde, AZ
03/10/19 | 5.26 miles | 437′ gain | Class 1
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!
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.