Summertime in Arizona sparks in desert dwellers an undeniable urge to escape the heat and seek out water. A quest begins to find the best oasis where friends and family can splash around in cool water and picnic by a crystalline creekside. Oh to discover those rare places where water springs up from the ground, and flows through canyons, forming small islands of paradise. Places where Sycamore and Cottonwood trees provide rich green canopies of shade and everything comes to life despite being surrounded by a vast expanse of desert.
That is exactly what you will find along Parsons Spring Trail #144 in the Coconino National Forest near Clarkdale, Arizona.
The trail winds through the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Arizona’s first wilderness area, designated in 1972. It skirts a crystal clear creek making several crossings on its way to Parsons Spring about 3.7 miles into the canyon.
This trail, like Horton Creek, offers a leisurely stroll along a beautiful Creek. The most difficult part of this hike is the immediate decent a couple hundred feet into the canyon, and the subsequent climb out, however it is short and not very steep. It can be extremely hot during the summer months and there is very little shade on the decent into the canyon. So make sure to wear a hat and being plenty of water.
Once down in the canyon, it’s as if you have been transported to another world.
Along the trail hikers are greeted by a variety of birds, butterflies, and dragonflies that enjoy the cool water and the shade of the trees. Grapevines wind their way through the trees and lush berry brambles line the trail, choking out the cactus. Along the creek water flows through gardens of mint, monkeyflower, columbine, watercress and cattails.
Inside the creek, crayfish scurry about and peek out from under rocks.
Steep redrock cliffs offer a colorful backdrop to cool pools of water deep enough to swim in.
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Canvas Print
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• 20.5 mil thick poly-cotton blend canvas
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• Matte finish coating
The trailhead is not the easiest to access, as it is several miles in along a very bumpy, poorly graded dirt road. A high clearance vehicle is definitely recommended, however we did see a couple small passenger cars parked at the trailhead.
There is no camping along this trail, it is open to day use only. Also there are no services along this trail, so hikers should plan to pack out what they pack in, and properly dispose of any waste. Please don’t leave trash along the trail (this includes toilet paper ladies)!
Dogs are allowed on this trail on leash, but keep in mind that the ground gets super hot during the summer so I recommend boots to protect their feet. And make sure to bring water and snacks for them too.
If you visit this trail, plan on getting wet! There are several creek crossings and the pools will be a welcome and much deserved cool down on a hot summer day.
Length: 7.4 miles round trip
Difficulty Rating: Easy/Moderate
GPS Coordinates: 34°51’50.7″N 112°04’11.0″W
Google Maps: VW7J+M7 Sedona, Arizona
USGS Map: Sycamore Basin, Clarkdale
From the Phoenix area take I-17 North to Camp Verde exit 287 for Highway 260. Turn left and follow the road into Cottonwood to Highway 89A. Turn left again and follow Main St through the quirky little downtown area of Cottonwood and out the otherside. Turn right on Tuzigoot Rd then left on Sycamore Canyon Rd. Follow Sycamore Canyon Rd (FR 131) for approximately 10 miles to the trailhead on the right side of the road.
Information: Red Rock Ranger District, 928-203-2900 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino