by Joseph A. Sprince – Photography by Gerald B. Allen
Changes at Fossil Creek Area – 2016
Starting this May, a reservation will be required for all vehicles entering the Fossil Creek Wild & Scenic River area during the high season (May 1 through October 1, 2016). Book Now
Fossil Creek Map and Regulations
Fossil Creek Permit Area Regulations – Spring & Summer (April 1 – October 1)
- A reservation is required in advance to park a vehicle within the Fossil Creek Permit Area from April 1 to October 1.
- Reservations guarantee a parking space within a specific parking lot. You may only park in the parking lot you reserve. Your reservation may be validated on site.
- Parking pass must be posted on vehicle dashboard.
- DAY USE ONLY 8 am – 8 pm. Last entry is 4 pm. No Camping in the Fossil Creek Permit Area.
- All persons listed on permit must be accomodated with a legal seatbelt on.
- Large vehicles are prohibited, including buses and vans exceeding 22 feet in length.
- Glass food and beverage containers are prohibited within 1/4 mile of Fossil Creek.
- Campfires are prohibited within the Fossil Creek permit area and at Stehr Lakebed. Propane stoves are allowed
A portion of Forest Road 708 is closed from Upper Fossil Springs Trailhead to Waterfall Trailhead until further notice. Forest officials have decided to extend this closure order in order to find solutions to the ongoing rock slides on FR 708, requiring temporary closures for repair, and to better manage the gridlock traffic conditions at Fossil Creek due to the exponential increase in recreational use over the past several years. If you would like to hike the Fossil Springs Trail, take the road from Strawberry. If you wish to access the creek and waterfall, you can access the area from Hwy 260 just east of Camp Verde.
Useful links for more information
- Fossil Creek Reservation System Information – Coconino National Forest
- Fossil Creek – Coconino National Forest
- The Waterfall Trail on Fossil Creek.
- The Flume Trail on Fossil Creek.
- Guide for Fossil Springs Trail (#18).
- Coconino National Forest’s Fossil Springs Wilderness site.
- Fossil Creek Area Regulations (Spring/Summer) Apr 1 – Oct 1 (PDF file) as shown in map above.
- Fossil Creek Area Regulations (Fall/Winter) Oct 2 – Mar 31 (PDF file)
- Parkland’s Dilemma: Play or Preserve? – Arizona Republic article about Fossil Creek (Archive – May, 2010).
Fossil Creek and Fossil Springs
Fossil Creek and Fossil Springs
are were little-known wonders of the “rim country” of central Arizona. As this scenic canyon approaches the base of the Mogollon Rim, it suddenly transforms from a rather typical high desert canyon to an amazing water wonderland. This feature story is our one day discovery adventure with “a little bit of everything”.
Our ongoing routine to find new and interesting places to present in the travelogue recently brought us to the Verde Valley in central Arizona. Fossil Springs is listed as a “unique place” in the Arizona atlas, and “Arizona Highways’ The Back Roads” had an interesting story about old-time power plants, hot springs, and swimming holes in the Fossil Creek area.
(Photo right) Lower Fossil Creek is a scenic though typical high desert canyon. The environment is pinyon pine and juniper plus the ubiquitous cactus. The small perennial stream provides a lush green riparian area in the canyon bottom (lower left). The Mogollon Rim is in the background.
Our day trip to Fossil Creek brought us a bounty of interesting sights and experiences:
- An exciting drive on a really scenic dirt road.
- A hike through a very scenic desert canyon.
- Historic artifacts which are still in use.
- A very close encounter with a rattlesnake.
- A spectacular water wonderland after hours of hiking through the desert.
The trailhead is adjacent to the antique Irving power plant on Fossil Creek. The plant, along with its sister plant, Childs, a few miles down the road, provided electricity to Phoenix in the 1920’s and 30’s when the city’s population was all of 30,000. In 1916, work commenced on a dam below Fossil Springs and a flume (right) to bring the water four miles downstream to the plant.
(Left, nearing Fossil Springs the lush riparian growth follows the water straight up the canyon wall to its sources.)
As the canyon bottom is too clogged with brush to hike, the trail actually follows the Flume Road, built to service the dam and flume. The scenic dirt road is several hundred feet above the canyon bottom (a tough scramble from the parking lot). The road maintains a fairly even elevation around 4500 feet, but has numerous ups and downs. With warm temperatures and little shade it becomes rather tedious. Halfway to the springs, a tiny stream crosses the road with spectacular riparian growth including sycamores and maples. A perfect rest stop.
As we approach the springs area, the canyon bottom rises up to the level of the road, the canyon walls close in, and the environment suddenly changes. The road is now deep in woods, interwoven above the road to form a tunnel effect. We soon reach a clearing, and here is the dam and the pump house. Just as suddenly, I hear the loud buzz (sort of like a dragonfly) of the rattlesnake’s rattle. He is coiling about 18 inches from my feet! The snake retreats as soon as I stop advancing. Sadly, I fumbled the camera and couldn’t get a complete picture. For another snake photo and more info, refer to “The Hidden Treasures of Fossil Creek and Fossil Springs Canyon (Part 2)”.
We pass the pumphouse, and now we’re in the jungle. Lush riparian plants and water everywhere. The effect is staggering after hours in the desert. We stop for lunch at a lovely pool deep in shade. About two feet deep with a clean rocky bottom, the pool is fed by a spring and a gentle section of upstream rapids. Our boots are off in about two minutes, and we’re in the water. We eat our lunch on an overhanging bank, feet soaking in the water.
Soon we push on, and enter the Fossil Creek Wilderness Area. The trail narrows to about one foot wide and goes through huge briar (berries, lower right photo) patches and other watery growth deep in shade. The roar of springs and falls and rapids is now almost constant. The photo, above left, is a huge spring emitting three tremendous streams of water. Check out the enlargement. Flowers abound everywhere. Beautiful yellow columbine is especially predominant (photo below).
Further down the trail, we come to a clearing which is clearly a camping favorite. The open level area makes for ideal tenting. The creek is a little more open and accessible here. That includes THE Swimming Hole. Someone has even attached a rope to an overhanging tree so you can swing into the pool. For photos of THE Hole and other watery scenes, refer to “The Hidden Treasures of Fossil Creek and Fossil Springs Canyon (Part 2)”.
As the shadows lengthen, we sadly leave this wonderful place and head back to the Flume Road and the trailhead. At least there are now more shady areas along the road. By eight o’clock we are back in Phoenix, and it all seems like a dream.
The best part of the outdoor life is to be surprised by new and wonderful things. The national parks and other famous places of the west offer great beauty but discovering a hidden treasure has its own special charm.
Location: Take Interstate 17 north from Phoenix or south from Flagstaff. Exit State Route 260 heading east to Camp Verde. 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 washboarded but it’s passable by standard vehicles if you take it slow.