Water – it’s precious anywhere, but in Arizona, it takes on a value that I think only desert dwellers can understand. Think 115-degree summertime temps and near-zero-percent humidity, and you get the picture.
So, when there’s a spot where sparkling, blue-green water is gushing through a rugged desert canyon, it gets people’s attention.
That is the case with the waterfalls along Fossil Creek. Once, the creek was a little-known, word-of-mouth kind of destination. I had heard about it years ago, and it’s been on my must-list forever. But for a variety of reasons, I had never made it to the remote location in the middle of the Coconino National Forest.
In the meantime, though, Instagram and Facebook happened to Fossil Creek, and all of a sudden, the spot was a statewide sensation. Because, really, this place is super photogenic.
I finally made it to Fossil Creek over the weekend, and I have to say that it lived up to the hype. Sure, there were flocks of bikini- and board-short-clad college students waiting to leap from the top of the waterfall.
For the most part, though, it’s a laid-back scene, and there are plenty of spots to wander off by yourself.
And did I mention the water?
I’m accustomed to the run-off water that flows through Arizona creeks during the rainy season. This isn’t that. The Coconino National Forest describes Fossil Creek this way: “One of two ‘Wild and Scenic’ rivers in Arizona, (it) seems to appear out of nowhere, gushing 20,000 gallons a minute out of a series of springs at the bottom of a 1,600 foot deep canyon. Over the years these calcium laden waters have laid down huge deposits of a type of limestone called travertine. That rock-like substance encases whatever happens to fall into the streambed, forming the fossils for which the area is named.”
So yes, the water is special.
Because of Fossil Creek’s growing popularity, the Forest Service imposed a permit requirement, starting April 1. Since we visited in March, we didn’t have to worry about that. But info is available on the Coconino National Forest’s website.
A couple of other caveats on Fossil Creek. First of all – as I mentioned – it gets crowded. When we visited on March 19, the parking lots were packed by the time we headed out. I would recommend going early if you want to get a space. We arrived by about 10:30 a.m. and left at 1:30 p.m.
And second – probably most important – is that Fossil Creek is very remote. After driving through Camp Verde on the paved Highway 260 for about 10 miles, we headed off onto a dirt road. The Forest Service directions: From State Route 260, between road mile 228 and 229, Forest Road 708 (Fossil Creek Road) will intersect SR260 to the south, signed as Fossil Creek/Verde River. Travel 14 miles down this rough dirt road (high-clearance vehicles recommended) to the intersection with Forest Road 502.
And when they say it’s a rough dirt road, they mean it. I didn’t have a high-clearance vehicle, and I made it OK, but it definitely would have helped. There are many places where sharp rocks protrude from the road, and I had to drive very slowly. And IT’S 14 MILES!
Also, about the trail: It’s a fairly easy one-mile hike from the main parking lot to the falls. Still, parts of the trail are fairly rough and rocky.
Overall, though, the obstacles are so worth it. In my mind, Fossil Creek is as close to paradise as you’ll get in Arizona.