Arizona is chock-full of fantastic places that look like paradise. Havasu Falls, Lockett Meadow, and Oak Creek Canyon are just a few excellent examples of places in our state that exude beauty and charm without even trying. However, there is one spot that does seem to stand out for its accessibility, flowing water, and lush landscape, as well as reminding us why respecting nature is key: Fossil Creek.
Flowing from Fossil Springs, the creek winds through a small section of central Arizona in between Strawberry and the Verde River. This creates a beautiful, yet rare, riparian area with cool turquoise waters that flow fourteen miles through a lush landscape. Travertine pools and other formations have fossilized over time, leading to the name Fossil Creek. You’ll also find a diverse amount of wildlife lurking around the creek, including beavers, the Chiricahua leopard frog, and a couple dozen migrating birds.
The Dilzhé’é (Western Apache) have called this area home for centuries, living near and along the creek banks. When American settlers arrived, they made use of the area for watering the their livestock and later for a 1916 hydroelectric plant, the first of its kind in Arizona. Within a few years, the plant was producing a majority of the electricity Phoenix needed at the time.
As time went on, Fossil Creek also became a popular recreation area for hiking, fishing, and swimming as tales and pictures of the beautiful creek and waterfall were shared.
As beautiful as this area is, however, we almost lost it. For years, as word got out about this little piece of paradise, crowds of people came and went, leaving behind trash and creating issues with traffic and safety. For awhile, most Arizonans working in conservation thought the best bet would be to close the area to visitors as the area was restored. Instead in 2009 it was turned into a National Wild and Scenic River (one of two in Arizona), making it a protected wilderness area.
Access to Fossil Creek, its trails, and swimming hole have been restricted and, it seems, that’s already making a huge improvement on the area. A permit system limits the number of people who can access the creek, which has thinned the crowds, severely reduced the amount of trash, and even made visitors more aware of how to respectfully interact with nature.
A permit through the Forest Service is required to park a vehicle in one of the nine designated lots surrounding Fossil Creek. It costs $6 and is mandatory for the busy season (April 1 to October 1). It will need to be
prior to arrival, so make sure you’re prepared!
To purchase a permit and to obtain directions, check out the
permit website located at recreation.gov
If this inspired you to look for some other fantastic waterfront trails along creeks and rivers, be sure to check out our article which
features 8 different trails around Arizona.