Fossil Springs Wilderness – Flume Trail

For those who may have missed it yesterday, Fossil Springs Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. The Wilderness has 11,550 acres with 30 species of trees and shrubs and over 100 species of birds. Fossil Creek itself is one of two Wild & Scenic Rivers in Arizona as well, designated by Congress in 2009 after the Fossil Springs Dam was decommissioned by Arizona in 2005. The next few entries will follow the loop from the eastern Fossil Springs Trailhead through Fossil Canyon along the Flume Trail to the Fossil Creek Bridge, then returning to the start along Fossil Creek Road (FR 708) with a spur on the Waterfall Trail. I did the full loop in a day but one could easy split it into two and I’d recommend that for less experienced hikers or those who are just out for a weekend to give yourself a bit more time to soak it in. Today’s entry will cover the eastern segment of the loop, running along the Fossil Springs Trail from the Bob Bear (Fossil Springs) Trailhead 3 miles west of Strawberry to Fossil Creek Dam.

Two important things to recognize about the full loop: permits are required to park at the trailheads from April 1-October 30, and FR 708 (Fossil Creek Road) is closed from just below the Waterfall Trailhead to Just west of the Bob Bear Trailhead, so plan your starting point and route to get there in advance with that in mind and be aware it’s not easy to get from one side to the other by car. You can, however, walk or bike the closed stretch of road. It is a long, sustained climb up the canyon wall, as we’ll see tomorrow – so consider that if doing the full loop as well. Some might prefer to go down the road first and up the shorter but steeper trail at the end. Or if you started at the bottom (Fossil Creek Bridge) you could go up the road or trail first, depending on your preferred method of ascent. Just remember, again – once you go to one of the two trailheads, that’s where you’ll be starting. Note, too, that Google says Fossil Creek Road between the Irving & Fossil Creek (Bob Bear) trailheads is closed April-October, but in fact it is closed indefinitely due to hazardous driving conditions on the road.

General things to know about this hike before we launch in:

Flume TrailFossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrackDirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Type of hikeOut-and-backLoop
Length (mi)4.6 one-way About 20 miles
Elevation Change (ft)8231625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsFossil Springs – Irving TrailheadBob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs – Irving Trailhead
Permits required?Yes, seasonallyYes, seasonally

From the Fossil Springs diversion dam remnants, the Flume Trail begins and heads down Fossil Canyon. The Diversion Dam, as the name suggests, diverted water from Fossil Creek into flumes that carried it four miles down Canyon to the Irving Powerhouse; these flumes were calibrated to drop 1 ft of elevation for every 1000 ft in distance in order to develop the requisite hydraulic gradient for power generation.

Fossil Springs diversion dam waterfall, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Springs diversion dam interpretive sign, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Flume interpretive sign, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

The trail follows the route of this old flume that used to carry water from the diversion dam down to the hydroelectric plants located further downstream in areas that were more accessible and easier to build in than the area around the dam itself. The trail rises high above the valley floor as its elevation drops at a much more gradual rate compared to the floor of the canyon, providing fantastic views without impacting the fragile riparian zone within the Canyon.

Fossil Creek riparian zone from Flume Trail above, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, downcanyon view, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek riparian zone from Flume Trail above, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Flume Trail, view backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

The trail ultimately steadily descends to the canyon floor in a wider section and passes by the remains of the old powerplant that was located here. (If you are heading in the opposite direction, that will be your major climb on the trail.) A concrete ford of the creek itself crosses over to the parking lot – this appears to be a popular spot for cooling off; a family was splashing around. You’ll probably have to take your shoes off for this crossing. Once across, I took the chance to soak my feet in the water a while here and found a nice cascade just downstream as well. From here, the trail rises to the parking lot. Tomorrow we will cover the final leg, including the Waterfall Trail and the return on the closed stretch of Fossil Creek Road (FR 708).

Crystal clear Fossil Creek under fall foliage at crossing between parking area & old Irving powerplant site, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Cascades just downstream of old crossing between parking area and Irving powerplant site, viewed backpacking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Cascades just downstream of old crossing between parking area and Irving powerplant site, viewed hiking through the wilderness area
Fossil Creek Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

Does Fossil Creek help brighten your day in these times? If so, let me know in the comments below! See you tomorrow for more tracks!

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Fossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Length (mi)About 20 miles
Elevation Change (ft)1625
SeasonAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsBob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs – Irving Trailhead
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