Fossil Creek is quite literally an oasis in the desert. Tucked within the folds of the Verde Valley's otherwise arid hillsides, this watercourse is fed with a constant 20,000 gallons of clear water per minute all year round. Although the water stays a consistent 70 degrees, this is a warm-weather-only destination because the deep gorge remains frigid in winter and gets limited sunlight.
The emerald green water flows through many cascades, riffles, and pools on its way down the Verde River, including one spectacular 20-foot waterfall. This is the most popular spot for swimming and cliff jumping.
Fossil Creek has recently been designated as a Wild and Scenic River, so it now enjoys special protections. Road access is now limited, but you can park within a mile of the falls if you enter the area from Camp Verde. Alternative access is from Strawberry to the east, but this requires a 5-mile hike to reach the river. Fishing is allowed, but stringent rules are in place to protect the native fish populations.
Most importantly, you need to reserve a permit from Recreation.gov to visit Fossil Creek from April 1 to October 1. The permit is $10 per vehicle and can be obtained up to one month in advance. This is a new rule put in place due to heavy use, overcrowded parking, and rampant littering. Please take care to respect this special place and preserve it for others to enjoy.
Fossil Creek remains extremely popular, so the Forest Service manages it closely. Road access can be closed at any time if conditions get bad or usage becomes too heavy. Check the Coconino National Forest alerts page for information on any closures that may be in place before you go. The road into Fossil Creek is long and rough. Passenger cars can make the journey, but high-clearance vehicles with four-wheel drive are best.
There are a few options for parking near the creek, but the best way to the waterfall is to park in the last lot that is just in front of the roadblock. To get to the falls, walk past the gate and along the road, then follow the trail to the left at the end of a fence line. This pleasant trail follows the stream for less than a mile and passes several excellent swimming holes and small rapids before reaching the falls.
Swimming holes and cliff jumping can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable outdoor activities that pose significant risks regarding personal safety. Changing water levels, unseen rocks, and river bottoms that have shifted with currents and seasonal weather can turn a well-known jumping area into a serious hazard. Prior to engaging in these activities, extensively scout the current conditions, and understand the risks involved with serious injury and the logistical challenges of evacuation from the water so you can make safe decisions.