We ran this trail about a month ago when school had not yet consumed the majority of my life. I look at back to this day and it was as if I was in a state of naive bliss - not yet knowing what would slam me against the wall academically. I knew something large was about to swing at me, but sometimes life can feel so much sweeter when you look at it retrospectively. I've been in grad school before so I wasn't blind to the experience, but academia always takes adjusting, especially at the graduate level.
I'm very lucky to say we have still made the time to leave most weekends, mostly to Flagstaff, so we can escape the busy streets of Phoenix and run in the desert mountains of the Kaibab National Forest.
Fossil creek is a gem. It has been widely discovered so there is heavy traffic on the weekends, especially in the summer months when the entire state is overheated and deprived of water. We decided to drive here on a weekday with a couple of my peers, which was a great way to kick off the semester. We didn't get an early start, but given it was a Wednesday we were lucky to arrive at a relatively empty parking lot around 9am. We accessed the trail from the Strawberry side, which is a bit longer than the Camp Verde side. The trail is 4 miles one way and was very run-able for our standards. The trail descends about 1000 ft on the way down, so keep in mind that the way out may be tough in the afternoon heat after swimming in the creek and laying out.
The Arizona summer sun was in full force but luckily this trail offers some shade. The first mile is relatively smooth and then the trail becomes riddled with rocks as you can see above, which makes for some fun skipping around if you're descending quickly. The trail opens up into a canyon before following a single track along the upper creek - and then - BAM - There's a big gushing waterfall in the middle of the desert.
The picture in the above left shows the open canyon around mile 3. The trail is a little tricky to follow, but if you veer right you will eventually find the single track that takes you directly to the waterfall. We got a little lost on the way there and ended up on the other side, but the upper creek is easy to cross as you can see in the above right picture.
You would never think there was a crystal clear waterfall at the end of this hike because there is no sign of water until you reach the upper creek. The landscape was stunning when we reached the falls, to say the least, and we spent a good chunk of the afternoon swimming, cliff jumping and rocking climbing the sidewalls.
This trail is less than 2 hours from Phoenix, so there is no excuse not to make a weekend out of this place! There is plenty of camping in neighboring areas, as well as on the trail itself.
Fossil Creek Trail: Strawberry, AZ
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: ~1000 ft
I am an outdoor travel junkie with my doctorate in occupational therapy. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.