Note: Fossil Creek and portions of Tonto National Forest are closed “until rescinded or August 31, 2018”.
Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River Recreation Area is nestled between the towns of Strawberry and Camp Verde in Central Arizona. This riparian oasis features plenty of opportunities for swimming in the 70 degree water or just hanging a hammock and enjoying the sunshine. The heavy calcium content of Fossil Creek gives the water a vibrant cerulean sheen and contributes to the jagged rock formations adjacent to the creek.
Fossil Creek Falls is a 25 foot waterfall accessed by a pleasant and easy hike along the creek. The most difficult part of this journey is the 16 mile dirt road that starts near the town of Camp Verde. Permits are required April 1st – October 1st and can be obtained at recreation.gov. Permits guarantee you a spot at one of eight parking lots along Fossil Creek. Your total hike length will depend on which lot you park in.
- Distance: 2-5 miles out and back, depending on where you park
- Hike Time: 1-2 hours
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 200 feet
- Fee: $10
- Dogs: Yes
- Difficulty: Easy
Although Fossil Creek Road (otherwise known as Forest Road 708) used to run all the way from Camp Verde to Strawberry, frequent rock slides forced the closure of the eastern half of the road closest to Strawberry in 2012. This portion is no longer maintained by the Forest Service and is impassable by vehicle.
Taking the road on foot is possible but strongly discouraged by the Forest Service. Fossil Creek’s Upper Spring can be accessed from the Strawberry area via a strenuous eight mile round trip hike. Both of these adventures are accessed by the Fossil Springs Trailhead lot, which also requires a permit.
The easiest way to gain access to Fossil Creek is to follow Forest Road 708 from Camp Verde. The 16 mile drive takes about an hour due to severe washboarding. High clearance vehicles and 4WD are recommended, but sedans have been known to successfully make the journey. Tire blow outs are a strong possibility if you take the road quickly.
The gate to the permit area is manned by a Forest Service ranger who will check your permit. You must have a paper copy to place on your dash. The gate is open to entry from 8 AM to 4 PM, and you must exit by 8 PM.
Parking at any lot except for Waterfall requires you to walk northeast along the road until you reach the trailhead. From the trailhead, it is one mile to the falls along Fossil Creek. The trail is well marked, level, and partly shaded, with some walking over granite and sand.
Cliff jumping is possible from a ledge to the right of the falls. The afternoon is a popular time for young people with loud music, coolers of beer, and folding chairs. If this is your scene, right on. If not, you may want to plan your visit for the morning.
From Camp Verde, take Highway 260 south for 1 mile until you see signs for Forest Road 708 (near mile marker 228). Follow the road for 16 miles until you reach the access gate and the parking area designated by your permit. The trailhead is at the northeast end of the Waterfall Trailhead lot.
- Water: Carry 1-2 liters of water.
- Best Time to Travel: April through October.
- Safety: Watch for rattlesnakes. Water currents can be strong, closely monitor young children. Cliff jumping requires some difficult scrambling over a precipitous outcropping, proceed cautiously.
- 05/29/18 – Added note about area closure