Updated: Aug 14
The Mogollon Rim is one of the go to locations for local Arizonans looking to escape the desert heat. With its dramatic cliffs, serene lakes, and a rich history to discover, the rugged and beautiful Mogollon Rim is a gem thats promises an extraordinary experience for every nature enthusiast and adventure seeker.
All photos courtesy of Matt Girgis featuring OTG member Dan Blanchard.
Trip Length & Season
Adventure Rating: Epic Trip Length: 180 miles, 2-4 days Season: Recommended mid-May thru early November. Portions of this track may be inaccessible earlier/later in the season depending on snow.
Technical Ratings & Terrain
Avg Technical Rating: 1-2
Peak Technical Rating: 4-5
Typical Terrain: Rim Road (FR-300) comprises the majority of the track, and is primarily a well graded dirt or gravel road in most locations. The bumpier sections of the track are on the far west end, near Buckhorn Cabin. Expect to be slow going with lots off rocks along the Buckhorn cabin section.
Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans
Recommended Vehicle: Stock 4x4
Recommended Moto: While a large adventure bike is capable of taking on pretty much all of Rim Road, you're likely to run into sections along the Buckhorn Cabin section. If you intend to ride the Buckhorn Cabin section, we recommend a mid-weight ADV bike.
Adventure Vans: Sprinter 4x4s shouldn't have any issues with Rim Road. We'd recommend skipping the section north of Highway 87 (Buckhorn Cabin).
Fuel, Provisions, and Recommended Gear
Fuel: The longest distance between fuel stations is never greater than 85 miles. Provisions: Provisions can typically be obtained in the same general vicinity as fuel. Gear: no specialized gear is recommended for this adventure.
Fossil Creek (day use permit required from Recreation.gov)
Distance: 53 miles out-and-back
Technical Rating: 2-3 The Fossil Creek tree affords access to the Verde River as well as Fossil Creek, which is designated as a Wild and Scenic River and certainly the highlight of this track. It was one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers within Arizona, and is known for its clear pools, many swimming holes, and lush vegetation. Most folks enter Fossil Creek from the east via the Bob Bear Trail, which entails a considerable amount of hiking. Entering from the West, the hike is much easier, and the creek and its many swimming holes can be easily accessed from many points along the dirt road Fossil Creek features numerous interpretive sites, and we believe it has some of best swimming holes in the state. Be sure to make the hike up to Fossil Falls. There are a number of caves and grottos within close vicinity of the falls. Expect many of the more popular swimming holes to be busy on the weekends when the weather is warm. There is a locked gate at the end of the track that prevents vehicles access to Strawberry.
Don't forget to pick up your day use permit from Recreation.gov if you plan to visit the Fossil Falls area
Mogollon Rim is a very popular weekend getaway for folks in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, especially when the desert heat is in full effect. You can expect many of the campgrounds to be full and brimming with activity on weekends. We recommend trying to locate one of the many dispersed camping sites right along the rim. Check the GPX file and you'll see there are tons of options! Once you get away from the Rim, dispersed camping becomes a bit easier.
DP1- Deer Springs Lookout
DP2 - Buckskin Lookout Tower
DP3 - Travis Walton UFO Abduction Site
DP4 - Scott, Stott and Wilson Gravesite
DP5 - Sheep Creek Point
DP6 - Sardine Point Day Use Area
DP7 - Colcord Lookout
DP8 - Mogollon Rim Visitor Center
DP9 - Military Sinkhole Viewpoint
DP10 - Rim Lakes Viewpoint
DP11 - Woods Canyon Viewpoint
DP12 - Woods Canyon Lake
DP13 - Promontory Lookout
DP14 - Promontory Butte Viewpoint
DP15 - Horseshoe Vista
DP16 - O'Haco Lookout Tower
DP17 - Myrtle Point Observation Point
DP18 - Battle of Big Dry Wash
DP19 - General Springs Cabin
DP20 - HiView Point
DP21 - Baker Butte Lookout
DP22 - Mogollon Rim Aviation Arrow
DP23 - Garden Tank Viewpoint
DP24 - Buckhorn Cabin
DP25 - Fossil Creek
DP26 - Verde River
DP27 - Ikes Backbone
DP28 - Fossil Creek Bridge & Swimming Hole
DP29 - Fossil Creek Waterfall
Permits & Papers
If you plan to explore Fossil Creek between April 1 - October 1, we highly recommend obtaining a day use permit that will allow you to park at one of the many dirt pull outs and explore the area. To obtain a day use permit, please visit Recreation.gov
Formed roughly 500 million years ago through geological uplifting, the Mogollon Rim forms part of the southern border of the Colorado Plateau. Stretching more than 200 miles in length from just outside of Phoenix to the New Mexico border, the Rim has long attracted folks from the desert lowlands looking to escape the heat. The oldest rocks in the rim are thought to be about 1.7 billion years old.
The Mogollon Rim is home to a variety of different ecosystems, including ponderosa pine forests, grasslands, and deserts. The different ecosystems are supported by the different types of rocks that make up the Mogollon Rim. Humans have inhabited the region for the last several thousand years, and the Rim derives its name from the Mogollon people that lived in the area from circa 1000 BC to 1400 AD. The Apache people called the Mogollon Rim home from roughly 1400 through the 1800s. Today, the Rim attracts outdoor recreationalists and desert dwellers looking to escape the heat of the Sonoran desert.
The Mogollon Rim Discovery Trail can be driven in either direction, but this guide starts from the east and travels to the west towards Phoenix. Forest Road 300, better known as Rim Road is the foundation for the track. It's a well known and popular road, and for many folks who call Arizona home, it's their first overland/off road adventure. Rim Road is primarily a wide, graded dirt and gravel road that can be traversed by two wheel drive vehicles. Rain and snow has been known to degrade certain sections, but nothing a stock AWD or 4x4 can't easily handle. The vast majority of Rim Road runs along the escarpment of the Mogollon Rim. The most rugged sections of the Rim can be found between Willow Springs Lake and Garden Tank Viewpoint (DP23). The rim along the far eastern end of the track does not contain the the impressive cliffs of the middle portion, and the western end deviates north away from the rim while exploring some fun jeep tracks.
Given the proximity of the Mogollon to the greater Phoenix Area, Rim Road and the surrounding campgrounds can become rather busy on weekends. But if you know where to look, chances are you can still snag an incredible campsite (check the numerous sites marked in the gpx file). The track features access to no less than half a dozen fire lookouts, all of which are marked as discovery points. If UFOs and aliens are your thing, be sure to pay homage to the Travis Walton abduction site (DP3), which was turned into the Hollywood blockbuster, Fire in the Sky. While Rim Road is a well traversed dirt "highway", once you begin exploring away from Rim Road, and especially if you head towards the Mogollon Rim itself, expect things to get a bit bumpier. The out-and-back to Promontory Butte (DP14) is a perfect example of this, but the views are well worth it and the bumpy tracks tend to keep the crowds away (most of the time at least!).
Upon reaching the Garden Tank Viewpoint (DP23), the track juts north away from the Rim, and then wraps back around to connect with the Fossiel Creek alternative route. The section from Lake Mary Road that passes Buckhorn Cabin (DP24) and out to highway 260 is the most "technical" portion of the track, but nothing a stock 4x4 with stock tires can't handle. If you're in a Sprinter 4x4 or stock AWD vehicle, we'd advise skipping this section. The highlights of the final leg of the track include Buckhorn Cabin, and if you're up for it, the 7 mile out-and-back to the red rock Indian Maiden Falls. If 7 miles seems a bit too much, be sure to read up on the Fossil Creek alternative route, that includes access to some of the best swimming holes in Arizona that requires a lot less physical exertion. The main track ends just outside of Camp Verde.
Maps + Navigation
Download Digital Mapping Files