Fossil SPrings Trail NEAR Strawberry
COCONINO NATIONAL FOREST, ARIZONA
- Type: hike/cliff jumping
- Total Length: 8.75 miles out-and-back
- Time: 3.5-5 hours
- Season: early Spring - late Fall
- Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
- Popularity: moderate
- Fee: none
- Fun Factor: 8 of 10
- Challenge: 5 of 10
- Beauty: 8 of 10
- Credibility: 3 visits since 2014.
- Water: at the spring/creek
- Place to hammock? Yes!
- Camping: permitted (north of the dam - which this trail/waterfall is)
- Dogs: Okay*
NOTE: Fossil Creek will require permits starting in May this year. Then April every year after.
Which waterfall you should visit?
There are two waterfalls along Fossil Creek. This page is for the eastern fall 4 miles upstream of the western fall; the adult version of the two (i.e. longer hike and less safe jumping).
- This waterfall can be reached by driving down a 1 mile dirt road to hike 4+ miles down (then up) a rocky trail with little to no shade. However, there are some some unique geographical bonuses that make it my favorite of the two (including the famous "toilet bowl").
- The western waterfall can be reached by driving down a 16 mile dirt road to hike an easy 1-mile trail with plenty of shade. It is the easier and safer of the two waterfalls.
Of the many amazing features here, the "toilet bowl" is easily my favorite. Despite the name, it's good clean fun for the whole group! Water spills over the cliff, traveling in two directions: one over a normal waterfall and the other down into a large whirlpool with an underwater tunnel that connects to the main waterfall's pool.
The currents inside the whirlpool are quite strong, so be prepared. The water is extremely clear, but a pair of goggles will make everything prettier - especially when the bubbles first clear and you find yourself face-to-face with scores of fish hanging inside the pool! You can pull yourself out via the rope, or swim back out.
The main waterfall is a blast to jump from, but don't underestimate the distance to be cleared. In addition to the waterfalls, you'll find two flooded "caves". The first is underneath the main waterfall. Follow the wall opposite the whirlpool until you see the small opening. It's not a big one, but it's still cool. The second is a little downstream next to the bigass boulder. It's much larger and fairly deep.
With all that said, this place is amazing!
The trail starts and ends here. It descends from the rim of a canyon with killer views all the way down. The descent is not overly steep, but it is fairly consistent and with very little shade before reaching the valley floor. Once you reach the creek bed, just stay on the northwest side side and follow it. The trail levels out a bit under some shade for the last mile. Eventually, you'll hear running water; that's the spring. Then, you'll hear the sound of rushing water as it spills over a cliff!
Note: Flume trail is an alternative route to the this waterfall. It begins just west of the Waterfall Trailhead. However, parking is already an issue on the western parking lots and I don't mind a good hike, so I've always taken the this trail to reach the eastern fall.
*I've always brought my dog, but there is very little shade and it's a long hike, so water often and keep an eye on their pads.
Getting to Trailhead:
It can be a bit tricky on your first visit. Fossil Creek Road is closed between the eastern and western waterfalls so you have to come from Strawberry if you're going to the eastern fall, and from Camp Verde if you're going to the western one.
Search "Fossil Springs Trail Head" and it will take you right to the parking lot. The trailhead is on the north end of the lot by the restrooms.
From Strawberry, turn west off AZ-87 onto Fossil Creek Road. Continue west until the pavement turns into dirt. A little more than a mile later, make the first right to reach the parking lot. This hike is longer so it's usually less busy, but I've been there when we had to wait for spaces, so play it safe and go early.
Happy adventures! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!