Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

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:

FR 708Fossil Creek Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt road Dirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Length (Mi)About 20
Elevation Change (Ft)16251625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil CreekFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsFossil Springs-Irving Trailhead
Waterfall Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Bob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs-Irving Trailhead

FR 708 continues its ascent of the walls of Fossil Canyon from the Waterfall Trailhead. The views down into the canyon are superb, and splotches of color from gamble oaks, Arizona sycamores, and more add to the spectacle. Spectacular vistas emerge as the road climbs to the canyon rim.

Fossil Canyon foliage
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon foliage
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, panorama
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

I reach the top around sunset and collect my stuff. The sunset itself is spectacular, one of the best ones yet for certain, and one of the best in a while on the trail. Some people are packing up from the day, and I manage to secure a ride back to Strawberry with a recent transplant to Arizona out exploring for the day. I stopped by a good Italian place and then stop across the street at a bar that was recommended to me for having simple things like toothbrushes available. One of the waitresses there, on hearing my story, offers me a ride back to the AZT, so I’m now crashed for the night back atop Whiterock Mesa. I’ll add the details on dinner stop to my Pine entry. Tomorrow, heading toward the Mazatzals.

Sunset, Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Sunset, Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Sunset, 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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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 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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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

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.

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

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. 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. Fossil Springs, the source of the creek, release 30 million gallons of water per day, incredibly prolific for its location in Arizona.

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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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine Ridge to FR 194 (Passage 26, Whiterock Mesa)

I finally get off around 11:30 & run into Matt and a female friend near East Tank. I’m glad for the company and we walk together for a while. The road condition is terrible – lots of loose basalt – and the going is slow. I finally reach the split to Strawberry and encounter them again, and their friend who picked them up flags me down and brings me a beer. Some more trail magic! I think my biggest challenges are becoming the pack weight and the solitude. I head for a short side trip to Fossil Creek.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Pine to Pine Ridge (Passage 25, Whiterock Mesa)

The trail first rolls through the pines and passes Pine Creek (dry) and Bradshaw Tank on its way to the top of Hardscrabble Mesa, which provides an excellent overlook of Oak Spring Canyon, the highlight of the passage, before dropping to the bottom. Like on the Highline, foliage still lingers in the warmer Canyon. I also spot some cool geology in what appears to be dikes in some of the rocks.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 41, Part II – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

Having filled up on water and eaten lunch, the trail ascends from Webber Creek and the Geronimo Trailhead toward Milk Ranch Point, jutting out from the Mogollon Rim. This is a much more consistently wooded & shaded stretch that appears to have been spared by the Dude Fire of 1990 and February Fire (2006). It also seems to be wetter here – there are still touches of green in the ferns as the trail ascends. Gamble oaks, maple and ponderosa dominate the trail through this stretch, and the light filtering through the canopy and the leaves is magical.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 40-41 – Highline Trail (Passage 27, Highline)

The trail continues to roll across the eroded foothills of the Mogollon Rim, the impressive and distinctive southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau, where the elevation jumps around 4000 ft in elevation. The Highline continues to define itself as a diverse landscape where the species of the desert below and the pine forests above mingle.

The Mazatzal Mountains – the next major hurdle once I make it to Pine – loom in the distance as well, and ironwood line the more open stretches of path across the Highline, where the Dude Fire burned the forest in 1990.

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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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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs 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:

Fossil Springs TrailFossil Springs Wilderness Loop
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt (75% singletrack, 25% road)
Type of hikeOut & backLoop
Length (mi)4.6 mi one-wayAbout 20 miles
Elevation Change (ft)14261625
SeasonAll yearAll year
Potential Water SourcesFossil Springs
Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs
Fossil Creek
TrailheadsBob Bear Trailhead, unless combined with Flume TrailBob Bear Trailhead
Fossil Springs – Irving Trailhead
Permits required?Yes, seasonallyYes, seasonally

The trail descends from the Fossil Springs trailhead to the bottom of Fossil Canyon, a 1600 ft deep canyon carved over time into the Mogollon Rim. Upon reaching the canyon floor, it passes a junction with the Mail Trail, which ascends the Mogollon Rim (honestly, this would be a sweet potential alternate route for the AZT) and then traces the Canyon to reach the former site of the Fossil Springs Diversion Dam.

Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Descending into Fossil Canyon, view back up to Mogollon Rim
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Descending into Fossil Canyon, view back up to Mogollon Rim
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Pools in Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
View to Mogollon Rim from bottom of Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Diverse vegetation in Fossil Canyon, including yucca
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Canyon, upcanyon view back toward Mogollon Rim
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall alive and well in the diverse riparian zone within Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall alive and well in the diverse riparian zone within Fossil Canyon
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

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, built in a much more accessible spot; 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. The dam was built in 1916, entirely by hand at 25 ft tall and 5 ft thick; it makes for a great waterfall today with the top 11 ft removed to allow the creek to flow freely again. On the opposite bank from the trail, but accessible by a spur trail, is a natural feature called the Toilet Bowl, a rounded out area of the rocks separated by a rock wall from the main channel of the creek, but with an underground connection between the two – so in a sense, anything that ends up in the “bowl” winds up being “flushed” into the main channel. Swimming in the Bowl is not recommended. Foundations related to the flume or dam structures are nearby as well, and travertine formations abound, encasing fossils within – hence the name of the area.

Waterfall at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam, panorama
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Remains of structure associated with the Fossil Springs Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Fossil Creek Dam waterfall
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek, downstream view from site of former Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

Meanwhile, the trail takes its name from Fossil Springs itself. Releasing 20,000 gallons/minute – or 30 million gallons daily – into the Canyon at 70°F, they are prolific and can be witnessed close to the main trail.

Fossil Springs
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fossil Creek Dam mistbow
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at remains of Fossil Springs Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall & rainbow at remains of Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
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Crystal clear water at Fossil Springs, source of Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Fall in riparian zone along Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest
Waterfall at Fossil Creek Diversion Dam
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Coconino National Forest

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Highline Trail, Part II (Passage 27, Highline)

The Arizona Trail continues west toward Pine, curving around parts of the Mogollon Rim that reach out, and segments that sit farther back, rolling across the eroded foothills beneath the parapets that’s tower overhead. The diverse plants continue to amaze. How often do you find blue spruce growing next to agave cactus!

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Clear Creek to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing. I was told that there may be water in one direction near the crossing but didn’t need it and therefore didn’t check. Climbing out the other side, the northern aspect of the slope is apparent – while ponderosas covered the southern slope opposite, the northern one featured Douglas fir and blue spruce. Obviously the different sides show different microclimates depending on the sun aspect, the temperature and moisture levels on each side given the orientation and angle of the slope. The trail rises back to the ponderosa forests on the Mogollon Plateau and traverses them, the site of my first human sighting in 3 days, then reaches General Springs Canyon. Dipping into General Springs Canyon, silence and quiet take hold. I passed a nice campsite near the end of GSC, but the pools nearby were still frozen at the end of the day, suggesting it would get colder in the canyon overnight (and that solar exposure during the day was limited) than on the Rim, so I continued forward to the rim itself. Lights can be seen in the distance, but I’m not sure which town. Likely Pine or Strawberry. Tomorrow begins the descent off the rim at long last.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 38 – Blue Ridge Ranger Station to Mogollon Rim (Passage 28, Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail – Mormon Lake to Shuff Tank (Day 34; Passages 29 & 28, Mormon Lake & Happy Jack)

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

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Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Anderson Mesa & 29, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

Welcome back to Aspen’s Tracks, thruhiking the Arizona Trail from Utah to Mexico. After doing a full resupply yesterday to get me through to Pine, where my next box has been shipped, and replacing some gear, including a new pair of boots and new sleeping pad, today started with breakfast with Oscar at Tourist Home, … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 29 – Flagstaff to Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 & 33, Flagstaff & Walnut Canyon)

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Prologue: The Arizona Trail

I finally bit the bullet on a thruhike. Since I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in March, I have been considering thruhiking the Arizona Trail across the state.

For those who don’t know, the Arizona Trail is an 800 mile long hiking trail across Arizona. It starts at the Utah state line, skirts Buckskin Mountain, climbs onto and crosses the Kaibab Plateau, crosses the Grand Canyon and Coconino Plateau. It skirts the mighty San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and the town itself, and then runs to the southeast past Mormon Lake to the Mogollon Rim, the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Dropping off and running beside the rim to the town of Pine, it passes within miles of the Fossil Creek Wilderness area before crossing several mesas and the East Verde River. It climbs into the rugged Mazatzal Mountains and traverses them to Roosevelt, then crosses the Superstitions and desert canyons to eventually reach the Sky Islands near Tucson. Climbing across Mount Lemmon and Santa Catalinas, it drops to Redington Pass before rising again through the Rincon Mountains in Saguaro National Park. It again enters desert but soon climbs again into the Santa Rita Mountains, passing directly below 9400 ft Mt Wrightson. Crossing the Canelo Hills, it makes a final climb into the Huachuca Mountains and ultimately drops to its southern terminus at the US/Mexico border at Coronado National Memorial.

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“The Arizona Trail”
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The hallmark of the Arizona Trail is diversity. Many long distance trails simply follow mountain ranges and focus on views. The AZT, by contrast, focuses on crossing each of the state’s ecosystems, from deserts to ponderosa forests, Sky Islands to riparian areas.

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Of course, this means that the challenges vary greatly along the trail; depending on the area and recent conditions, terrain, elevation, water availability and access to resupplies may all be challenges.

Aspens along the Arizona Trail, Kaibab National Forest



On September 21st, I set off to conquer this trail, adding 45 miles at the start through Vermilion Cliffs National Monument to access the northern trailhead.

I have chosen it for three reasons: I wanted one that was unique, that relatively few people successfully achieve. The diversity appealed to me, as it is a novel approach to a trail. And I wanted one that would give me the confidence that no matter what I follow it with, I could do it. And, I’m already in Arizona after wrapping up my season at Grand Canyon. I also hope to raise funds for the Arizona Trail Association and National Park Foundation.

So, I’m coming for you, Arizona. Let’s see just what we are both truly made of.

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

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