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Backpacking Fossil Springs

Fossil Springs Wilderness Area is so beautiful it's crazy! It is one of the must see areas if you live in, or visit Arizona. Fossil Springs is a series of natural springs that flow up through the bottom of a 1,600 foot deep canyon. It produces 20,000 gallons of water a minute that make up Fossil Springs Creek. From inside the earth, calcium deposits float up with the spring water and create huge deposits of travertine, a type of limestone that also helps create the beautiful area of the famously known Havasupai. The travertine helps create the contrast of the reddish/brown deposits against the clear blue, green water that many of us love. This area shares the same beauty of Havasupai which I found wildly fascinating! The travertine forms the fossil-like formations for which this magical place is named for, Fossil Springs. How cool! This area is also a huge ecological riparian area! There are so many amazing plants and wildlife to be found here.

Many people don't realize that Arizona has many hidden gems like Fossil Springs. More than half the people I talk to about it doesn't even know that it exists! It is still, however, a heavily visited area, and there are many careless people that go and leave their trash there. It's been cleaned up many times and now you have to obtain permits to go during the Spring and Summer seasons (April 1 - October 1), which is actually a great thing! There are many, many great outdoor gems here in the state. I will write about a bunch here in this blog, so keep checking back for more!

When we first went, we were confused on how to get to the waterfalls and which waterfalls were which. I will try and sum up how to navigate this area the best I can and upload a map to make it easier to understand.

The Old Fossil Creek Dam Waterfall

1. You need permits between April 1 - October 1 to park and hike in the Fossil Springs Wilderness Area. Cars cannot be kept overnight in the parking areas.

Permits are available one month in advance on the first of each month for the following month. You can get up to 6 permits per permit season. To obtain permits and get more information call the Red Rock Ranger District Station at (928) 203-2900 or go to The Winter months you do not need a permit and can camp just outside the wilderness area.

2. There are two different ways to access the Fossil Springs Wilderness Area.

There used to be one through road, Fossil Springs Road (FR 708), that took you to the entire wilderness area, but was closed down due to dangerous road conditions indefinitely.

Now, you can access it from either Camp Verde off of the 260 and than get on Forest Road 708 from the western direction. It is a 14 mile drive on an unpaved road. Once you get there, there are many parking lots. The Irving Parking Lot is right by the entrance to the Flume Trail and you can hike to the dam via this trail, which is a 5 mile hike to the Old Fossil Creek Dam Waterfall. This is also the waterfall where you will find the famous Toilet Bowl. All in all, the Flume Trail is a 10 mile RT.

The other lower waterfall can also be accessed from the Camp Verde side from any of the parking lots along the FR 708, but the trailhead is closest to the last parking lot (The Waterfall Trailhead Parking Lot). It is the smaller, lower waterfall on a 1 mile trail, or a 2 mile RT. (Read more about the waterfalls below the maps.)

The other way to access the Springs are from Strawberry, Arizona, which is a much shorter drive to the trail head on mostly a paved road. This is the easterly open Forest Road 708. Strawberry runs along the edge of the Mogollon Rim, so the hike leads you down as you loose some elevation. It is a down a 4 mile decent called Fossil Springs Trail #18, so a 8 mile RT. Keep in mind this trail does have a 1,500 foot elevation gain going back up. (My friends and I actually found it easier and much more beautiful than the Flume Trail. They were both pretty hikes though). This hike leads to the Old Dam Waterfall. If you want to see the other lower waterfall you need to hike 9 miles from this side. Make sure to have enough food, water, and energy to hike out because it is uphill the whole way and especially hot in the Arizona Summer months.

Each permit area has a parking lot(s) and its own trail. Check out the map below. I color coded it to make it easier. Keep in mind there is much to be seen in this amazing area and the waterfalls are just a part of it, so don't forget to to explore more than just the waterfalls!



3. There are two main waterfalls that people like to see.

The Old Dam Waterfall (the famous toilet bowl is located at the bottom of this waterfall) and the smaller, lower waterfall. There are two ways to get to the dam waterfall, via the Flume Trail (5 mile hike) or Fossil Springs Trail #18 (4 mile hike). There is one trail to get to the lower waterfall that is on the Camp Verde side of the FR 708. It is a 1 mile hike.



Some people will do the full hike from Fossil Springs #18 and continue onto Flume Trail which is about 9 miles altogether, and than another mile to the lower waterfall via the Waterfall Trail. Some people do the full 20 mile hike (RT), or they have someone shuttle them up from the Camp Verde side and drive them back to Strawberry.

Some notes about some cool features of the waterfalls:

- The Old Dam Waterfall has the Toilet Bowl at the bottom of it. Some people jump into it and are sucked out the other side. It is really deep to get out from under it (maybe 10-15 feet). You can climb up the other side of the rock to look in, but just make sure you can get out if you jump in. Many people get stuck in it, grow tired, and then they have to be rescued. Just a word of caution, but while I was there, people were maneuvering it fairly simply.

- There is a small travertine cave under the dam. Its really fun to swim to. We also brought our snorkeling gear and saw tons of fish!

- There is another cave a bit lower from the dam worth checking out that is really crystal clear blue!

5. There are no fires and no camping allowed within the Fossil Springs Wilderness area. (This area is between the Fossil Creek Bridge and the Old Fossil Creek Dam Waterfall)

However, that doesn't mean you can't camp just on the other side of the wilderness border and have a contained camp fire. This is for safety reasons.

6. On the other side of the dam, going along the Fossil Springs Trail #18, you can access the main spring that everyone loves to visit seeping out from a magical looking tree. There are signs that will lead you there. It is beautiful! We filtered all our water to be safe, but I saw many people drinking out of it and they were fine... I think.

7. There are so many different areas to explore in the Fossil Springs Wilderness and along the Fossil Springs Creek that runs through it. Don't forget to check out other areas besides the waterfalls!


We hiked 5 miles to the dam (north side of Fossil Springs Wilderness) and then 5 miles back to the parking lot. The next day we hiked to the more easily assesible waterfall and then down to the bridge (eastern side of Fossil Springs Wilderness and also worth checking out.) I would say in total we probably hiked roughly 13 miles...maybe a bit more. We snorkled, explored caves, watched Brandon cliff jump... , swam, basked in the sun, and just had a grand ole time! We also were lucky enough to hike during a full moon! After hiking so long at night after a long day, I regret not using the full moon to my advantage and taking night photos because I was out like that once we put the tent up. I will have to go back and focus on the falls with my tripod at night and in the daytime capturing the beauty of this area! We also drank the water from the spring (after filtering it) and it was fresh and tasty! Such a beautiful oasis!!!! Let me know if the advice on this blog post helped and if I left anything out, please share in the comments! :)

If you want a comprehensive list of backpacking gear I usually bring depending on the trip, go check out my Havasupai Blog here.

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