Fossil Creek Waterfall Trail: A favorite with Arizona hikers

Tucked deep in a canyon roughly 15 miles from the nearest paved road, the cool, clear water of Fossil Creek gushes down falls, over rocks and through natural pools on it’s way to the Verde River. In recent years it has become a favorite destination with Arizona hikers.

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If you followed the creek upstream to its source, you would arrive at Fossil Springs – a collection of openings in the earth from which more than 30 million gallons of mineral-rich water flow each day.

Fossil Creek winds some 17 miles down a mind-blowing labyrinth of travertine structures before pouring into the Verde River. (Related: What is travertine?)

From 1908 to 2008, creek water was diverted from its natural course to generate power at a hydroelectric dam. In recent years, Fossil Creek has evolved into a popular destination for hikers – especially in the warmest months of the year.

Countless YouTube videos show people jumping off waterfalls, exploring underwater caves, and plunging into a unique swirling pool known as “toilet bowl”.

Although protected by legislation as a National Wild and Scenic River since 2009, signs of overuse are visible in the way of parking issues and waste that people leave behind. To help preserve Fossil Creek’s beauty, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a strict permit system in 2017. So far, the new controls seem to be thinning crowds and softening the impact of use.

Take a virtual hike along Fossil Creek in this video:

Parking lot at Fossil Creek
One of nine parking lots at Fossil Creek that require a permit.

How to get a permit for Fossil Creek

Starting in 2017, the U.S. Forest Service requires a permit to enter the section of Arizona’s Fossil Creek that has been designated as a Wild and Scenic River. That’s the section most people want to visit.

Details about Fossil Creek permits:

  • Required April 1 through October 1 only
  • Cost is $10 (subject to change)
  • Provides access to one parking spot in a specific lot (there are 9 lots)
  • Available online only at recreation.gov
  • Permits go on sale on the first of each month for the following month
  • Only one permit may be reserved per person per calendar month

The entrance gate is only open between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Once inside the gate, you can depart as late as 8 p.m.

A permit is not required to visit Fossil Creek between October 2 and March 31.

For more details, visit recreation.gov.

Ready to go? Tap the map ↓

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