Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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.

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

Waterfall TrailFossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Length (Mi)1.3About 20
Elevation Change (Ft)2491625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil CreekFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsFossil Springs-Irving Trailhead
Waterfall Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs-Irving Trailhead

From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

Fossil Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Riparian foliage along Fossil Creek, hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall Trail along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Arizona Sycamores along Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

Reaching the waterfall, a large mineral deposit appears to the side. There’s another family here having fun as I pause to relax a bit. I also passed several groups on my way in going both in and out. I can imagine this can get substantially busier during peak season, so be sure to be prepared and have your permits done before coming. Heading back to FR 708, the route turns uphill and begins to follow the long climb on the closed road to the rim of Fossil Canyon. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some of those shots, including a spectacular sunset that put the final touches on an amazing day before returning to Strawberry, Arizona for dinner.

Travertine deposits along Fossil Creek – the formations that trap the namesake fossils of the creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall, Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Rapids, Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall, Fossil Creek, backpacking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Rapids on Fossil Creek, seen hiking through the wilderness
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

Departing Polk Spring, the trail continues to provide magnificent views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains and the neighboring Red Hills as it descends to the East Verde River. The trail will pass through both mountain ranges – first the Red Hills, then the Mazatzals. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Strawberry in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – FR 194 to Pine Spring (Passage 45, Whiterock Mesa)

I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River.
I hike through a gate and enter the Mazatzal Wilderness. Following cairns, the surface alternates between the basalt and more dirt – like walking through a wash. As the trail skirts the rim briefly, a magnificent view of the Mazatzal Mountains and Red Hills opens up to the hiker, then the trail experiences yet another spectacular sunset as it and the backpacker fall off the Mesa to Polk Spring near the East Verde River.

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

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