When the summer temperatures rise in the Valley of the Sun, it is good to find an oasis. My family and I found our oasis at Fossil Creek, which is located about 2 1/2 hours north of Phoenix, between Camp Verde and Payson. Fossil Creek is one of only two Wild & Scenic designated rivers in all of Arizona.
As you drive through the desert, it is hard to realize that such an oasis exists. You need to drive through about 14 miles of rough dirt road to get to the waterfall trailhead. From the trailhead parking lot, you then have about a mile hike to the main waterfall. Once you get to the waterfall, you realize it is definitely worth the trip! Fossil Creek is one of the most beautiful areas for swimming and hiking in Arizona. The water flows from underground springs and is super-saturated with calcium carbonate, which forms travertine as it flows, creating steep waterfalls, smaller cascading falls, and large pools. The calcium carbonate that is dissolved in the water also gives the water a beautiful blue-green color.
What I enjoyed the most about Fossil Creek is swimming in the crystal-clear water. I brought my snorkeling gear and allowed the current to push me along as I snorkeled downstream, using a rock to weigh myself down. I could see numerous fish that were swimming all around. They didn’t swim away or act afraid as we were swimming with them. The fish seemed to like to play in the bubbles created by the falls.
The main waterfall has a small cave where we went behind the waterfall. It was cool to be so close to the rushing water, but it was slippery trying to walk into it. I also really enjoyed swimming in the pools created by the smaller, cascading waterfalls, whichwere less crowded than the main falls.
If you need a place to escape the summer heat, I would definitely recommend a visit to Fossil Creek. It is important to note that the road is very rough to get to Fossil Creek, so you will need to have a high-clearance vehicle. Also, in order to make sure that this popular place does not get too crowded during the summer months the National Forest Service has enacted a permit system where you must reserve a permit online if you plan to visit Fossil Creek during the busy season of April 1—Oct. 1. You can reserve your permit online, but availability is very limited.