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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : visiting the verde valley : visiting the verde valley 2009 July 22, 2014


5/6/2009 10:46:00 AM
Sycamore Canyon: a taste of wilderness
Parsons Trail provides excellent hiking adventure
If you go ...
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area, Parsons Trail

What: A 3.7-mile, one-way trail, with minimal 500-foot elevation change, leading to Parsons Springs along Sycamore Creek; day-use area only to above Parsons Springs (to protect sensitive riparian environment and wildlife habitat)

Where: From Historic 89A (Between Old Town Cottonwood and Clarkdale), take turnoff for Tuzigoot National Monument; approximately a half mile, after bridge, immediately turn left on Sycamore Canyon Road (FSR 131) and go 10 miles, parallel to Verde River, to Parsons Trail trailhead

Gear: Day hiking gear, food, a gallon of water per hiker, hat, sunscreen, camera and high-quality hiking shoes.

Contact: Ranger District offices in Prescott, Sedona, Flagstaff or Williams.



With nearly 58,000 acres, Sycamore Canyon was the first place in Arizona to earn the "primitive area" designation. In 1984, the Arizona Wilderness Act upgraded it to a "wilderness" designation.

Lying in the Prescott, Coconino and Kaibab national forests, the canyon stretches 20 miles from the confluence of Sycamore Creek and the Verde River up to the Mogollon Rim. At its widest point, the canyon is seven miles across.

Parsons Trail provides perhaps the finest opportunity for visitors to experience an up-close encounter with the canyon. Classified as easy-to-moderate, Parsons Trail can be covered in about four hours or enjoyed for an entire day. But time on the trail, since it is now posted as "Day Use Only" is limited to one day, although backpackers are permitted to continue past Parsons Springs for overnight camping.

Anyone in reasonably good hiking condition can cover the trail, in and out, in four to five hours. But the vegetation and wildlife of the trail invites wilderness lovers to linger, and an entire day devoted to the trail would be time well spent.

It's 3.7 miles each way, and high-quality hiking boots and plenty of water are absolute necessities anytime of year. During hot weather, extra water is a must. As in most of Arizona, a lack of drinking water can put even experienced hikers in trouble.

The hike begins at the trailhead with a steep descent to creek level. From there, it is a cakewalk for the next couple of miles. Eventually, the trail crosses Sycamore Creek more than once, and the crossings are more challenging than simply hopping from one flat boulder to the next.

At the trail's end, hikers will find a wonderful place to rest and picnic, a tranquil pond rising out of the canyon through cold, underground springs. The water is clear, and fish can usually be seen swimming lazily.

While one can hike in the 3,000- to 3,500-foot elevation, spring and summer heat is intense. Visitors should bring more water than they think they'll need. A gallon for the four-hour day hike isn't inappropriate. Cover the head, wear light-colored clothing, and use sunscreen generously.

Spotting wildlife is one of the highlights of hiking Parsons Trail. Wildlife includes mountain lions and bears. It is their country, and though it is very unlikely hikers will encounter these large mammals, remaining alert to the possibility is always advised. More likely, would be an encounter with a rattlesnake. Even so, spotting one is fairly rare, and staying on the trail, being alert and avoiding the reptiles once spotted will keep hikers safe. Most bites occur when people attempt to handle the snakes.

Although flash floods are rare in the canyon, they can occur and are deadly when they do. To avoid such a situation, hikers are urged to listen to weather forecasts before setting out on a trail in areas where the canyon narrows. Keeping an eye on changing weather conditions is also a good idea, one that experienced hikers never forget.

Other popular trails in Sycamore Canyon include Taylor Cabin, Winter Cabin and Sycamore Rim. Ranger district offices offer excellent maps.




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