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Lower Sycamore Loop - Coconino National Forest

Summary: A long loop hike through lower Sycamore Canyon, or a shorter out and back hike to a well preserved Indian ruin. This hike can be done in one long day by fast hikers, but is probably better suited to a multi-day backpacking trip. Sycamore Canyon is usually dry above Parson Spring, so backpackers will need to carry all the water they'll need to reach the spring.
Directions: From Phoenix take I-17 north to Camp Verde and exit 285.  Turn left (west) onto Highway 260 and follow it 12 miles to the town of Cottonwood and the junction with Highway 89A. Turn left (south) on 89A which is also Main Street. After 0.5 miles 89A bends left, stay straight on Historic 89A (heading towards Clarkdale). Drive 4.5 miles, turn right at the sign for Tuzigoot National Monument. Immediately after crossing a bridge over the Verde River, turn left onto Sycamore Canyon Road (which is also Forest Road #131). This road is paved for the first 1.4 miles, then becomes well graded dirt which gets somewhat more bumpy as you proceed. You will want to follow FR #131 for 10 miles to the trailhead. There are few signs along the way, so just stay on the main road at any forks. At the 7 mile point, turn left at the sign for FR #131.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Moderate
Length: 24 miles for the full loop, or 14 miles (~7 miles each way) to the ruins
Date Hiked: October 2006
Weather Conditions: Partly cloudy
Required Skills:
Hike Description:

From the trailhead, pick up the Parsons Trail #144 as it drops down a hill to Sycamore Creek to an unsigned, left branching junction (the Parsons Trail continues straight). Turn left and walk across the cobbles (the path disappears) to locate a route across the creek. Once on the other side, look for a trail that leads a short distance downstream to a signed junction with the right branching, and well maintained, Packard Mesa Trail #66. Turn right onto rocky Trail #66 which begins climbing moderately to eventually level out at a bench above Sycamore Creek. Before long, the path bends west and climbs more steeply up to the top of Packard Mesa through a break in the cliffs. At the top of the mesa, the trail becomes flat and the rocks diminish (making for fast, easy walking) as it heads through the juniper grasslands. As you make the long trek across Packard Mesa, the path devolves into a series of braided trails which all seem to head in approximately the same direction (a classic sign of a horse trail). Stick to the main path and keep your eyes peeled for cairns and signposts which are interspersed at infrequent intervals. Eventually you will reach a signed junction with the Sycamore Canyon Trail #63 which heads left and straight. Stay straight on the Sycamore Canyon Trail. Just beyond this junction is a fence line and Sycamore Tank. Walk through the fence to Sycamore Tank, then back out of the fence (continuing in a northerly direction) to a dirt road and signed junction with the Sycamore Tank Trail #97 which heads to the right. Cross the road and continue north on the path on the other side to soon reach another road and fence line. There is a trail sign and register on the fence.

Optional Detour (1.4 miles): To visit a nice, well preserved Indian ruin, turn right at the fence and follow the dirt road to its end. Look for a trail which crosses a shallow dry wash to the right and follow it as it climbs moderately up through a minor saddle in the hills above. At the saddle, the path crosses and begins dropping down behind the left most hill to soon reach a ruin with an excellent view of Sycamore Canyon far below. Remember, ruins are fragile and irreplaceable, please leave the area as you found it. It is also illegal to remove artifacts from these historic sites. When ready, return the way you came.

Head through the fence and continue north on Sycamore Canyon Trail #63 towards Cow Flat (2 miles) and Taylor Cabin (8 miles). The path is well maintained and easy to follow as it passes through Sycamore Basin with nice views of red rock formations in the distance to the left. Eventually you will reach a confusing spot at a fence line. Continue north, keeping the fence on your left and soon you will pass an old corral made from mesquite branches tied together with cable. More hiking will bring you to a signed junction with the left branching Yew Thicket #52 (which is invisible). Continue straight on trail #63. At the northerly end of Sycamore Basin the path begins descending moderately to a junction with the left branching Cedar Creek Trail #116. Stay straight once again, crossing a dry wash to eventually reach a junction with the right branching Dogie Trail #116. Turn right on the Dogie Trail and follow it a short distance down to the dry, rocky bottom of Sycamore Creek. Once in the creek, leave the trail and begin rock hopping down the creek bed. There's not much to report about the long hike down Sycamore Canyon, other than it's a bit tedious, though it is thankfully free from brush above the springs and offers little in the way of elevation change. Many of the rocks are loose and will roll under foot, so it's important to watch your footing. Normally the canyon will be totally dry, but if you do this hike after recent rains there may be large pools that you'll need to avoid to keep your feet dry, and mud. These conditions will make the hike somewhat slower. If you are forced into the brush along side the creek to avoid a pool, keep your eyes out for poison ivy. After hours of rock hopping you will eventually reach a thick stand of trees and brush at Parsons Springs. You'll have to push through the foliage for a short distance, but just beyond you'll find a trail, that becomes better the further down canyon you hike. Below Parsons Springs the creek flows vigorously. To keep your feet dry, look for cairns marking spots where the path changes sides. The path eventually settles on the left side of the canyon (facing down stream) as it passes through a very pleasant riparian area on a flat path that is welcome relief from the rocks. From Parsons Spring it is 3.6 miles back to the trailhead and your car.

Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed the loop described, with a detour to the indian ruins, at a fast pace in 10 hours.
Maps: Click here: Map 1, Map 2, or Coconino National Forest Map
Books: Backpacking Arizona - Bruce Grubbs
The hike to the ruins is described in Hiking Ruins Seldom Seen - Wilson, Dave
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
A dawn climb to Packard Mesa. Typical view on the mesa.
Ruins. Another view of the ruins.
Sycamore Creek. Sycamore Creek just above
the Verde River.