Hike | Fossil Creek | Strawberry


Fossil Creek is the hike of the summer here in Arizona! Fossil Creek is known far and wide as the trail to set foot on if you’re looking for waterfalls and red rocks. There are a variety of trailheads that lead you to the creek, but this trail is the longest at a little over 8 miles.


  • Length: 9 miles
  • Trail Type: Out and back; Loose Rock and Boulders
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,486 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Kid Friendly: No
  • Dog-Friendly: Yes (must have a leash!)
  • Accessibility: 30 parking spaces at each trailhead! (There are 9 trailheads!)
  • Fee/Permit: Permit required during peak season (March 1 to October 1). You can buy your permit ($10 in 2018) online at recreation.gov.


The hike down to the creek is fairly easy. Starting early in the day, you will find the sun on your backs and relatively shaded by the trees on either side as you descend down into the canyon. You’ll arrive at an open section of the trail with large rocks and pools that may or may not be filled with water depending on how hot the last few weeks have been. Continue on past the first sight of water and follow the trail down to a fork in the trail.

You can either choose to go the creek route, which is quieter and less visited, or visit the dam to the right. The dam was our favorite part of the hike but it is quite busy and the place where most hikers go. It’s worth a look regardless, but expect to tack on another half mile to your trip if you choose to go that route! Once you get to your destination, creek or dam, prop up your Chacos and rejoice in the water you rarely see in Arizona!

The hike back up will leave you winded. The heat of the summer sun will be beating down on you by midday, so be sure to pack enough sunscreen and water. Your water will go fast as you ascend, so overpacking water on the way down is a good idea!

Hiking this trail is rewarding but also one that can be easily underestimated. Hanging out all day in the sun near the falls is fun, but it can drain you! Be safe and make sure you bring someone along to motivate you if you’re not used to hiking in the Arizona heat.


Find your way to Fossil Springs Trailhead by hitching a ride up the I-17 from Phoenix or down from Flagstaff. Make your exit at General Crook Trail off the 17 and drive about 30 miles towards Payson/Strawberry. Once you reach the town of Strawberry, take your first right and follow it all the way down. A nice park ranger will be waiting to check your permit and point you in the direction of the trailhead about 3 miles down the dirt road on your right.



  • Water is key! Over 200 people are rescued from this trail alone every year due to dehydration and heat exhaustion.
  • Bring a pair of river sandals for the water. The water during peak season is perfect for swimming!
  • Dogs are allowed on this trail, but remember to bring a leash with you as there are other hikers who bring their dogs, too. The last thing you want is to have your dog hurt herself this far down in the canyon or in the river!


This blog was thoughtfully written by Erin Maxon.  You can find her on Instagram @withdogshetravels.

* Please remember to hike at your own risk. To learn more please refer to our Hiking Disclaimer