• You need to explore this swimming hole in Arizona! Outside of Payson near the town of Strawberry, Fossil Springs amazes visitors with its turquoise waters, large waterfall, explorable underwater cave, 'toilet bowl' whirlpool, and unbeatable views.

Exploring Fossil Springs is like stepping into a lush heaven with clear waters and green all around. As you make your way down the mountain overlooking the entire Verde Valley, you'll notice the red rock in the path with amazing red colored bush with red berries covering the sides. As you reach the floor of the valley, you'll wander through thick vines and trees that eventually take you to the gorgeous Fossil Springs.

Fossil Springs amazes visitors with its turquoise waters, large waterfall, explorable underwater cave, 'toilet bowl' whirlpool, and unbeatable views. It is on a nine-mile trek via the Bob Bear Trail that is challenging with gorgeous scenery. I am going to share my experience making the incredible nine mile journey to the iconic Fossil Springs. You'll want to remember this

Here is what you will learn about in this guide:

  • How to Reserve a Permit to Bob Bear Trailhead
  • Bob Bear Trailhead = Fossil Springs Waterfall hike
  • My Trip to Fossil Springs
  • Tip/Tricks for #TheJoyClub

The Permit:

If you want to explore Fossil Springs, you need to hike the Bob Bear Trailhead. After researching Fossil Springs, Bob Bear Trailhead is the only trailhead that will take you to the actual waterfall itself. Permits are required for Bob Bear Trailhead that can be reserved at this site. Typically, permits are booked up one month in advance with weekends going first. Permits are not required October 2–March 31.

Recreation.gov is where you need to purchase your permit from. They are a booking platform and you can create a login to leave reviews.

Permit website to Bob Bear Trail Arizona FOssil Springs
Reserve and purchase your Fossil Springs permit here on the Bob Bear Trailhead.

You need to bring at least 2 printable copies of the permit as one goes on your windshield and one needs to be carried with you at all times. It says on their site that only one car per permit. There are signs all over the parking lot and beginning 1/2 mile of the trail with the warnings saying to place your permit on your car. While I was there, the car parked previously before me had an orange ticket glued on the side for not having a permit.


Directions:

Park at Fossil Springs Trail Heading in Arizona
Parking at 'Fossil Springs Trail Head Parking'

The Bob Bear Trailhead is accessed via Fossil Creek Rd from the town of Strawberry. Type 'Fossil Springs Trailhead' into Google Maps to find the correct location. It should be in Pine NOT Camp Verde.

You will pass through the towns of Pine and Strawberry if you come up the way from Payson. If you're coming from Winslow or Camp Verde, you'll enter Strawberry without crossing Pine.

sign to Bob Bear Trailhead at Fossil Springs in Arizona
Navigation Sign to Bob Bear Trailhead on Fossil Creek Road

You'll pass lots of country farm homes on Fossil Creek Rd. and then eventually will hit a dirt road. This dirt road is ok for 2x4 vehicles and does not require a 4x4. Look for the signs pointing to Bob Bear Trailhead. You'll make a right at the dirt road intersection. Passing some equestrian parking stalls on the left, turn into the parking lot to snag a spot at the trailhead.  

Remember to place your permit directly on the dashboard of your car to prevent being ticketed.


The Hike (Bob Bear Trailhead):

Permits only at Bob Bear Trailhead in Arizona to Fossil Springs
Lacy and friends checking in at the Bob Bear Trailhead parking lot.

Before you begin this hike, your preparation is essential to your success. This is not an easy hike, but a rewarding one! Recreation.Gov make the following disclaimer:

No water and little shade are available for the first 3.75 miles of the trail. Summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees F. Cell phone coverage is unreliable. Visitors must come prepared for being out a full day, with plenty of food and water (at least a gallon per person is recommended), sturdy footwear (no flip flops!), and good physical fitness. Every year unprepared visitors require rescue from this trail, risking the lives of themselves and emergency responders.

You'll notice that the first 1/2 mile is full of warning signs posted about the dangers of what might happen if you don't hike to Fossil Springs prepared. Kids aren't going to be able to do this one nor most dogs. If you bring your dog, make sure you bring dog shoes for the sharp rocks on the bottom half of the trail and plenty of snacks/water for your dog.

warning signs posted at Bob Bear Trailhead in Arizona
Don't be a statistic! Prepare yourself with water and good shoes.

If you are NOT A GOOD SWIMMER, don't enter the water without a life vest. The current is challenging even to myself who I consider a strong swimmer and truly sucks you to the side by the waterfall. Wildjoy does not take any responsibility for you hurting yourself on this adventure.

As you start down the Bob Bear Trail, enjoy the scenic views overlooking the valley. Before you go on the trip, you can look at the 'fall/winter' or 'spring/summer' trails to see the general direction you'll be heading as you make your way down the 1,500 foot descent. There are lots of other trails like Flume trail that connect to the waterfall from a 20 mile roundtrip hike.

Bob Bear Trailhead is beautiful and has amazing views of the red rock
The view from beginning of the hike will amaze you with the red rock in the mountains.
Girls posing at Bob Bear Trailhead at Fossil Springs
The girls posing at the overlook portion of the Bob Bear Trailhead. 

Stop at the overlook spot that shows off the entire valley! Look for a tree stump that you can stand on to appear floating over the valley. Keep heading down looking at the red branches of the bushes with the scarlet berries against the red rock floor. This part of the hike doesn't provide a lot of shade so be sure to really take advantage of the occasional tree to take a few minutes to rest in.

Suddenly, to your left, you will see an open space with shade and a well-like object randomly placed. This is the halfway point! Take five minutes to eat a snack, drink some water, and rest. The second half of the hike is the rugged, steep portion of the climb so you'll want to conserve your energy.

Pro-tip: Bring some toilet paper and a plastic baggie in your backpack in case you need to use the restroom. PACK IT ALL UP in the bag and place it discreetly in your bag.

On this next part of the hike, you'll see the landscape becoming more red-rock covered and meadow-like. Be sure to stop every bit and drink more water. You'll head down until you reach a river bed. When we visited, it was completely dried out and we went to the left of the river bed which wasn't the correct path.

If you take the correct hike, you will want to cross the dry river bed or river to the other side and look for the side indicating the Dam vs. the Spring. Head towards the Dam.

After about 1/2 mile from the 'Dam Trail', you'll approach the waterfall from above and hike down into the beauty that is Fossil Springs. Be cautious as it is slippery at times.

Made it to Fossil Springs! Now What?

When you first get to Fossil Springs, you're going to notice lots of amazing things to go check out. You could start by setting your stuff down on the rock looking into the pool and deciding where to explore first! In order to capture the iconic photo in front of Fossil Springs, you'll just need to enter the water waist deep and stand about 10 feet from the large rock ledge.

While you're here, you need to explore these places at Fossil Springs:

  • The Toilet Bowl Whirlpool
  • Mermaid Grotto Swimmable Cave
  • La Croix Underwater Cave
  • Fossil Creek

Toilet Bowl Whirlpool

Fossil Springs is home to amazing finds like the Toilet Bowl Whirlpool. This whirlpool is unique in that it spits out directly into the pool beneath it if someone were to jump in. There used to be a tree and rope that would encourage jumpers but not anymore. Toilet Bowl has a crystal clear warning nailed into the rock NOT to jump in as you may hit your head and/or drown. Don't be a statistic!

If you were looking directly at the waterfall, the Toilet Bowl is to the immediate right. If you want to approach the waterfall from the same angle I captured these photos, you'll need to cross the river. BE CAREFUL! See if you can spot any fish or frogs.

Mermaid Grotto Swimmable Cave

If you're interested in swimming near the waterfall at Fossil Springs, you need to check out the Mermaid Grotto Swimmable Cave that is hidden into the left side of the waterfall. It is on the opposite side of the waterfall than the Toilet Bowl Whirlpool. As you're trying to make your way to the grotto, I would bounce off the walls as the current pushes you strongly. You can see in my photo below how Dani and I were swimming towards the grotto.

Girls swimming at Fossil Springs by the waterfall
Dani and I swimming at the Fossil Springs Waterfall in Arizona

As you enter the grotto, you can see fish and there is even a comfortable spot to rest and sit against. Enjoy as you watch people swimming in the distance or cliff jumping right in front of you.

La Croix Underwater Cave  

If you're interested in adventuring further down the way, climb back to the top of the mountain and descend to the lower creek area. You'll find an opening in the creek where you can spot a large cave waiting to be explored.  It's called La Croix Cave because the water is bubbling SO much by the stream, it feels like you're swimming in La Croix.

Spot the little fish while you can rest on the ledge to the far back of the cave. Swim around but be careful as the current is strong in here.

This is the Wildjoy secret code - iykyk.

To wrap up the adventure, swim out of the creek and enjoy the absolute serenity that is the Verde Valley. You can wade in the water or find a tree to sit in for a photoshoot. This would be a great time to pick up any trash you see and pack it away in your bag making this place better for the person after you.

On the way back up, I would highly recommend stopping in the shade and resting up. It's quite challenging, but remember, you can DO HARD THINGS! Fight the pain and get back up that four miles even if it sucks!


Tips/Tricks

To make this the best trip for yourself, please pack:

  • At least 1 gallon of water
  • Swimmable Shoes
  • Sturdy backpack
  • Sturdy hiking shoes and a fresh pair of socks for post-swim
  • Sunscreen/Hat/Sunglasses
  • 2 plastic bags to pick up trash and store your wet socks
  • Snacks/Lunch (I love RX bars, trail mix, beef jerky, and good ole gummy bears)

Stay safe and let me know at @wildjoyexperiences DM or hello@wildjoy.com if you have any questions about Fossil Springs and your adventure.

xx- Lacy