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Casner Mountain Loop - Coconino National Forest

Summary: A long loop hike which connects the Casner Mtn., Taylor Cabin and Dogie Trails in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness.
Directions: From Phoenix take I-17 north to Camp Verde to exit 285. Turn left (west) onto Highway 260. Follow 260 to the town of Cottonwood. Turn north onto Highway 89A and drive 9 miles to milepost 364. Turn left onto Forest Road (FR) 525 (also called Red Canyon Road) and follow this well graded dirt road 3 miles to it's intersection with FR 525C. Turn left on 525C. After 3 miles (stay right at the prominent split) you will reach a signed intersection with left branching FR 761. Follow the Sycamore pass sign straight, continuing on 525C. Drive 4 miles to where the road makes a sharp left bend in a small depression. There is a small, rusty metal Casner Mtn. Trail sign (easy to miss) and one car pull out on the right. Park here.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Moderate
Length: ~20 miles
Date Hiked: December 2002
Weather Conditions: Cloudy and cool in the morning, becoming sunny & nice
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the car park and Trail #8 Casner Mountain sign, begin hiking on the OHV road as it begins climbing the hill heading north towards Casner Mountain. Shortly the road intersects with another road under a set of power lines. You will be following these power lines for the rest of the Casner Mtn. hike. If you have not figured it out by now, the Casner Mtn. Trail is really a right of way. The road soon begins climbing very steeply up the side of Casner Mtn. When you reach a shoulder, you will have views to the east down into Sycamore Canyon. Continue climbing steeply past the buzzing poles & eventually you will reach the top where you will find some hitching posts made from left over power poles. Continue following the road and lines as the trail begins to descend (should be able to see the San Francisco Peaks in the distance). The road flattens out, then begins to bend to the northwest and eventually begins following a ridge (Buck Ridge on my map). There are a few short but steep climbs along the ridge, and if you are observant, you may spy a trail coming up from the right and below. After a while, the trail drops down into a pine tree studded saddle at a signed junction with the right branching Mooney Trail #123 (this is the path you saw earlier) and the left branching Taylor Cabin Trail #35 (6.5 miles). Turn left and follow the Taylor Cabin Trail as it begins descending out to a prominent butte. Before reaching this butte, the path bends right and begins contouring and descending the side of the slope. Before long, it simply heads straight down (steeply) into the canyon. As you get near the bottom, the trail levels out and begins following a shallow drainage on one side or the other. As you near the end of this trail, you will be walking down the middle of the drainage through a nice canyon with red Supai sandstone walls. There are a few narrow sections at pour overs along the way, but these are easily avoided and though nice enough, never become terribly exciting. Before long you will enter into the dry, boulder strewn, main drainage of Sycamore Canyon, which, true to its name, contains some very old and large sycamore trees (9 miles). You will want to turn left and head down canyon, but before you do, scan the opposite bank for cairns. The cairn piles on the edges of the rocky creek bed lead up to some nice stretches of trail along a bench above the creek. Alternatively, you can rock hop right down the canyon, but the bench walking is considerably easier and more pleasant. At times, the trails will dump you back into Sycamore Canyon & you will have no choice but to rock hop. After walking about 30-45 minutes, keep an eye out on the right for a prominent cairn (just opposite where another trail dumps you into the creek from the left). The cairn marks an extended section of good trail that leads along the right hand bench through the manzanita, scrub oak, juniper, prickly pear, pine & mesquite. Soon you will reach a signed junction just above Taylor Cabin. Note: the signs at this junction confused me at the time, and now that I have had a chance to look at several different maps, can say that they still do not make sense. The signs read: Sycamore Basin Trail #63 (right), #53 (right), #66 (back the way you came and straight). Here is the source of my confusion: the Beartooth map (referenced below) says that you are on the Taylor Cabin Trail (which is #35) and puts the intersection with the Sycamore Basin Trail another 3 miles or so down stream at the junction with the Dogie Trail. This map also shows that the trail heads straight down the creek bed below Taylor Cabin. The Coconino NF map (which I didn't have with me at the time), says that the entire trail along Sycamore Creek is #63. Neither map lists trails #66 or #53. What should you do? It may be that the Sycamore Basin Trail #63 is the one you want. I was not sure and opted for the safe, if tedious, route directly down the stream bed. If you choose this route you will pass Taylor Cabin (a stone structure which had 4-5 backpackers lounging around and smoke coming out the stack when I was here - though I can't imagine why since it was 11am), then a corral. Just below the corral you are forced to walk in the stream bed and its a rockin' boulder hop for the next hour and a half or more. Eventually you will see some prominent cairns on the right, left and middle of the creek (maybe the trail entering on the right is where you would come in had you followed #63 from Taylor Cabin?). Turn left and follow the cairns onto the unsigned Dogie Trail (13.6 miles). The path climbs a bit, then begins winding its way on a bench above Sycamore Creek. The Dogie Trail gains and loses a small amount of elevation at a moderate grade and is easy, pleasant walking. After a while, the path drops down a rocky hill, passes by Sycamore Basin Tank, then bends east (away from the creek) and begins heading towards a prominent gap in the red rock hill side in the distance (the gap is Sycamore Pass). It's easy walking for the most part with one short, steep climb at the end up to the pass, a fence line and register. Head through the gate, and another 5 minute walk will bring you to the road and Sycamore Pass Trailhead (18.3). Follow the road back to your car (20 miles).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author slept in his car at the pull out at the Casner Mtn. Trailhead. With an early start and fast pace, he completed the loop described in just under 8 hours. Other than the initial climb up Casner Mountain, most of the walking is fast and easy.
Maps: Bear Tooth Maps: Sedona
Coconino National Forest Map
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Butte seen at the start
of the Taylor Cabin Trail.
Supai sandstone as you
approach Sycamore Canyon