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Hiking Fossil Creek and the Waterfall Trail with Kids

Hiking Fossil Creek and the Waterfall Trail with kids is a popular spot near Camp Verde, boasting lush vegetation in an otherwise dry desert and a gorgeous waterfall, often showing turquoise water! You can access Fossil Creek and the waterfall by two ways. One way is hiking the8 mile trail from Strawberry, and this is a very strenuous hike that is not recommended for kids. The second way is to drive the majority of the distance to one of the three parking lots along Fossil Creek, and then hiking the 1.2 miles to the waterfall. This blog post covers the latter option.

Note: a permit is required to hike to Fossil Creek April 1 – October 1. No exceptions, and permits are often sold out weeks in advance. See this website for more details.  However, starting October 2-March 31, a permit is not required and has far less crowds, especially on the week days! Early November is when we hiked Fossil Creek, so a permit was not required. Yes, the water was cold, but the water is almost always cold in this creek! 

We joined a group of about 20 friends to explore Fossil Creek and the waterfall. The drive there was quite the experience. Taking Hwy 260 East from Camp Verde was easy, and then we turned on Fossil Creek Road. And that’s where the adventure began. We literally drove no more than 15mph on a washboard road for an hour. The kids couldn’t read, could barely talk, and hearing the audio book was almost impossible. So be prepared for this part of the drive (remembering it will also be an hour back to the paved road). The road was honestly horrible. But is it worth this agony? Oh absolutely!


Once we got to the parking lots, all was well! We easily found parking at the Waterfall Trailhead, where there were also bathrooms. Then the hike began. We would rate this as on the low end of moderate; there were rocks on the trail, and some elevation climb, so not an easy trail. But we had kids as young as 2.5 years in our group and they did great! The trail crosses a couple streams too, with quaint (and mostly sturdy) bridges, so the hike will keep your interest all the way to the waterfall.

So the waterfall – so beautiful! Even in the fall there was plenty of water. A few friends went swimming but our kids deemed it much too cold. They choose to explore along the shoreline, finding fish, and rocks and sticks to build all sorts of creations! We even saw a few brave cliff jumpers. One guy took a full 5 minutes to work up his nerve and dive to the depth below!

There are a couple sandy spots to set up a picnic blanket, or you can roam along the creek for a more private spot for a hammock. We ate lunch, explored some more, and then headed back. Total we spent about 4 hours at the waterfall; counting in hiking the trail, and driving time, this is definitely an all day excursion.

Being this is an all day adventure, be sure to pack plenty of food, and definitely water. Also, make sure you have more than half a tank of gas before leaving Camp Verde! Sturdy hiking shoes, hats, and sunscreen are a must, and play items like small buckets and nets would be a fun addition. Pack it in, pack it out with the trash. One way travel time from our home to the Waterfall Trailhead was about 2.5 hours.

This blog post was first published when COVID restrictions are still present with many activities. Please check the official website for any current updates on visiting Fossil Creek.

If you’re interested in learning about the 8 mile hike from Strawberry, this is a good blog post to read. Again, remember that a permit is needed to hike at Fossil Creek from April 1-October 1. More information can be found here. But a permit is not needed starting October 2. And with the weather normally still in the 100’s at this time of year, exploring this area would be a fun water adventure!

Looking for more kid friendly hiking trails in Phoenix and Arizona? Check out this blog post with reviews of our favorites!

Jana is a homeschooling mother of three children, and lives in Scottsdale with her husband, Chris. She enjoys traveling, reading and coffee. Follow @phoenixwithkids on Instagram for daily photos around Phoenix!

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