Trip to Fossil Creek
We finally made it back to Fossil Creek this weekend. This is such a great place to go when it is 115 degrees in Phoenix! Here is a couple of different ways to get there:
Take Highway 87 towards Payson. You’ll pass Payson, Pine, and then you’ll come to Strawberry. OR – you can take I-17 North out of Phoenix towards Flagstaff until you get to Camp Verde. Take the 260 East from Camp Verde until you get to Highway 87, turn Right on Hwy 87 and take that to Strawberry, Arizona. If you take the Camp Verde way, you will not pass through Payson or Pine before coming to Strawberry.
Once you reach Strawberry, Arizona, turn on Fossil Creek Road – you will see the Strawberry Lodge, that is where you turn (left if coming from Payson, right if coming from Camp Verde). Stay on Fossil Creek Road for about 5 miles. The first 2 miles or so is paved, the next 3 miles will be on a maintained (sometimes not very well maintained) dirt road that any car can drive on (we took our Prius, but it was pretty bumpy). After about 5 miles on Fossil Creek Road you’ll see a turnoff that leads to a parking lot on the right side. That’s where you begin if you want to hike down to the headwaters of Fossil Springs. We have not hiked down to the headwaters yet, we have fairly young kids and it is a somewhat strenuous hike (especially coming back up). Our favorite thing to do is to continue driving to the bottom of the canyon and swim in some spectacular swimming holes in Fossil Creek.
If you continue past the Fossil Springs trail head, you will shortly come to a narrow, somewhat windy road that clings to the side of the Mogollon Rim as it winds down to the bottom of the canyon. In most places the road is wide enough for two vehicles to pass, but you need to drive cautiously and slow. I am a bit afraid of heights and since I am the passenger most of the time, the steep drop is right next to me most of the way down – kind of scary – but worth it.
It takes about 25 minutes from the top of the canyon to the bottom of the canyon. I posted some pictures that show the drive down on the narrow dirt road. Be careful driving down, in some places it is only wide enough for one car, so you have to pull over if there is a car coming in the opposite direction. Once you reach flat land again, you continue to drive on the dirt road for about another 10 minutes. You will pass approximately two parking areas. The second parking area has an old “APS” sign in it. If you stop here, there is a wonderful swimming hole that is surrounded by high rock cliffs. This is beautiful, but it is hard to get down to the swimming area if you have young kids with you. When we were there, many people were jumping off of the very high rocks – we were afraid that someone was going to get hurt, but nobody did (40 foot high cliffs, approx).
Fossil Creek Bridge / Swimming Hole
Our favorite place is just down the road a bit from this parking area. If you keep driving, you will come to (and drive over) and old bridge. This is the best swimming hole if you have kiddies. Most people park around the bridge and scramble down the rocks on the far side of the bridge. There is a great swimming hole, a rope swing and some (not very high) rocks to jump off of. It was a bit crowded when we were there last weekend, seems to be getting more popular. I have been coming here since I was a teenager and it was never this crowded before!
The water is a beautiful blue color, seriously, you have to see it to appreciate it. It is very clear – you can almost always see to the bottom of the creek – except some of the deeper pools. An amazing million gallons of water per hour pour out of the springs and the water stays at a constant temperature of 72 degrees - which feels wonderful when it is a HOT Arizona summer day. It is called Fossil Creek/Springs because of the calcium and mineral rich water that has deposited huge formations of travertine all along the valley. This travertine essentially fossilizes everything that falls into the creek.
If you keep on going down the dirt road, after the bridge, you will eventually come to the Verde Falls – beautiful place. Once you reach the Verde Falls, you are also near the Verde Hot Springs. However, the last time I was there, there were quite a few nudists – which was not really my thing. I haven’t taken my kids there, I don’t think they would like soaking in the hot springs with naked strangers – not that there is anything wrong with that, if that is your thing.