Have you heard of Arizona’s Fossil creek? Living here myself I’d heard of it, and even visited it years ago, but still at the time, hadn’t realized there’s more to this place then I imagined.
Once I started getting out and really hiking around I slowly discovered more and more of this beautiful place. I knew there was a waterfall here to see and heard it was about a 2 mile hike in. Sounded like fun to me. I had wanted to go after October because I heard you needed a permit from April 1st through October 1st. I wanted to go during off season and hope it wasn’t as crowded. However time got away from me and I had to go during permit season, and here’s where it got confusing to me;
There were a bunch of different parking lot/trailheads. I was worried about finding the one I had my permit for. You can only park where you reserved. That’s what you need the permit for. The parking lots are as follows; homestead, fossil Creek bridge, Tonto bench, Irvine (flume trailhead), waterfall trailhead, sally may, purple mountains, and mazatzal parking lots. These are accessed through a 14 mile long rough dirt road that is narrow, steep, and rocky. High clearance vehicles are recommended. The other trailhead, the one my permit was for and going to talk about here is the park and hike. Its location is through the town of Strawberry off forest road 708.
The trailheads off the long dirt road are about a two mile hike into the waterfall. I got the park and hike permit with ease..all dates were available, and figured maybe it was just because people didn’t want the longer hike. At over 4 miles one way I wasn’t bothered by the distance. So I brought my dog, and was off on my merry little way.
First off, I would advise against bringing dogs. There is no water on the trail until about 3.5 miles down. Which I brought plenty for her but also coming back up my dog needed frequent rests and struggled. There are signs everywhere saying 200 people a year are rescued from down there, and as I came back up and reached the parking lot, sure enough the ambulance was pulling in already. Bringing a dog was just extra worry.
I had assumed I was hiking to the main waterfall. I actually only thought there was one. The one I was hiking to was a man made one and not the famous photographed one everyone wants to see. I wasn’t aware of this until the Ranger explained it to me. I was kind of dissapointed until I realized I can come back and see another one!! And even this one, was well worth the hike.
About 3.5 miles in you reach some water. Some scattered ponds is how I’d describe it. As well as some decent shade. It was all down hill so it did cross my mind coming back up was not going to be enjoyable. But the beauty below was stunning.
Once you got past the pond areas, you came into streams and it looked like its own little oasis.
I finally reached the waterfall and a sign that said flume trail. I was still very impressed with the waterfall. It was refreshing to sit and enjoy the soothing sound and take my pictures. I ate some lunch and dunked my dog to cool her down before we started our trek back up.
The round trip for me was almost 9 full miles and there was plenty more walking around down there I could have done so I’d say that’s a minimum mileage.
Coming back up is no joke! You will be tired and exhausted from hiking down, swimming, or spending the day down there! So here are some things to take into consideration;
- It is a minimum of approximately 9 miles round trip. Take plenty of water and/or filtered straws or water bottles as well for down there.
- Tons of sunscreen and even a hat to cover up. Coming back up after midday there wasn’t as much shade.
- The hike is no easy stroll. It is 1481′ Elevation gain, and exhausting. Especially if you’ve been swimming as well. Take your time and rest as needed. You dont want to be one of the statistics rescued.
- Remember the park and hike trail is through the town of Strawberry and not with the other trailheads. Its the 9 mile hike not the 2 mile hike, and goes to the smaller man made fall.
- Weather can close the roads down. Especially in monsoon season so again-always check weather and there’s even a number to call to check conditions and closures. Its 928-226-4611.
- You can make reservations of you go during permit dates at recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777. All permits are for day use only, no overnight camping.
As always, just be smart about your hike, and know your limits. Arizona’s heat and monsoons can pack a heck of a punch leaving you with a very unpleasant or even fatal experience that by a little bit of extra planning and caution can be totally avoided.
Hopefully within the next few weeks I’ll have the other two mile trek covered to the main waterfall with more pictures and experiences to share. Stay safe!