July 2021
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness

Lush greenery and soaring cliffs make a spectacular hike

Sycamore Canyon is the second-largest canyon in Arizona, next to the Grand Canyon. That’s saying something. Sycamore Canyon is 21 miles long and seven wide. Hikers go frequently from North to South Rim of the Grand Canyon and vice versa, but I've never met anyone who hiked the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness from one end to the other. That’s because some of it is dense with trees and brush, and there are no trails in parts of it.

From the scenic overlook of the Sycamore Rim Trail there is a beautiful view of the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. It appears to go on forever. To get away from society, this is a good place to get lost.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is also among the oldest designated wilderness areas in Arizona. Congress gave it that designation in 1972, covering 58,441 acres. It is best known for its colorful cliffs and a unique desert riparian area among the 15 trails that hikers can choose from.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is managed by four ranger districts in three National Forests — Prescott, Kaibab and Coconino. Elevation in the wilderness area ranges from 3,580 feet in the Sedona area to over 7,000 feet near Williams.

Black bears, mountain lions, ringtail cats, javelina, elk, deer and rattlesnakes roam the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. Canyon wrens, hermit thrushes, turkey vultures, bluebirds and hummingbirds are among the many birds resident here.

Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail, the highest trail in this wilderness, is near Williams, offering secluded pools and a pine forest. Parsons Trail, on the lower end of Sycamore Canyon, has a riparian area with sycamores and cottonwoods.

The natural Pomeroy water tanks make the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail one of the most beautiful trips in the Arizona wilderness. The water is filled with lily pads and beautiful yellow flowers. Cattails and lush green grass also surround the ponds. The views along the rim are outstanding, the canyon below and the soaring cliffs making this a spectacular hike.

Sycamore Falls come later in the hike, and are known to be great when running, but due to drought they are rarely flowing. Some aspens grow by the waterfall.

Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail is popular, as it has made the Arizona Highways 52 Best Day Hikes guide. It also appears in most Arizona hiking books, yet during a recent weekend only about 20 people were on the trail.

The Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail is an 11.1-mile loop. There are five entrances to this trail, but we took the one at Dow Spring. In just .25 of a mile we reached the loop sign and went to the left. At just .15 mile more you see the incline going up about a hundred feet, but as soon as you go up it drops back down and you're at the first lily pond.

Big frogs and several kinds of colorful dragonflies enjoy the ponds. You follow the ponds for about .75 mile before you climb back up a small hill and enter the forest area full of Ponderosa pines and some oaks.

At the 3.5-mile mark there’s a small wilderness sign letting hikers know that no motorized vehicles are allowed past that spot. At the 3.8-mile mark the Rim Trail sign appears, then at 3.9 is the Sycamore Canyon Vista sign. This is where hikers can get a great view of the Sycamore Canyon Trail Wilderness.

Rock-climbers love these cliffs. There are some small fish in the Pomeroy Tanks, and a couple of hikers were preparing to fish there as we were on our way out.

The elevation change on this trail is minimal, going from 6,721 feet to 7,287 feet. Dogs are allowed, but should be leashed. For more information, phone the Williams Ranger District at 928-635-5600.

Directions: From Williams, drive east on I-40 about four miles and take the Garland Prairie Road exit. Drive 8.1 miles on Garland Prairie Road, also known as Forest Road 141, but it's not marked as a forest road. Then take Forest Road131, whichis marked, straight for 1.5 miles to the trailhead on the right.

NOTE: As we go to press the Rafael Fire continues to burn the area and the Kaibab National Forest is closed. Trails featured here may be inaccessible for some time, or sadly burned over.

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com