This climb is excerpted from 100 Hikes in Arizona, by Scott S. Warren, published by The Mountaineers, Seattle. ©1994 by Scott S. Warren. All rights reserved.
To visualize Sycamore Canyon, imagine Oak Creek Canyon without the highway and homes, without its resorts and lodges, its campgrounds, and the crowds. What you have left is a wilderness canyon that cuts deeply into the Mogollon Rim. Like Oak Creek Canyon, Sycamore Canyon features impressive cliffs of Coconino and Supai sandstone, verdant riparian plant life, and beautiful desert terrain. Ringtail cats far outnumber tourist in the 55,937-acre wilderness, and the only "developments" you will find are antiquated cow camps and backcountry trails. The hike to Taylor Cabin from Sycamore Pass provides a great introduction to Sycamore Canyon.
Drive 10 miles west of Sedona on Alternate US Highway 89 to the Red Canyon Road (Forest Road 525). Turn north and drive 3.4 miles on this good gravel road to where Forest Road 525C branches off. Turn left here and continue for another 9.1 miles to Sycamore Pass. All but the last 0.5 mile of this road is passable to cars. This last section is a very rough 4WD road that is far easier to walk than drive.
From Sycamore Pass, the hike follows the Dogie Trail west into the canyon below. Broad and open, this section of Sycamore Canyon includes gently sloping basins with pinyon pine and juniper forests. Nearly impassable thickets of shrub live oak are common, as are manzanita bushes and various species of cacti. This upland desert community is occasionally interrupted by small islands of cottonwoods and other deciduous trees that encircle stock ponds. A short distance from the pass, the trail encounters the first of these watering holes, Dogie Tank. Sycamore Pass Tank is about 1 mile from the trailhead, and Sycamore Basin Tank is 1 mile farther. While not fit for human consumption, these ponds are important sources of water for the canyon's deer, javelina, mountain lion, black bear, fox, coyote, rabbit, ringtail cat, skunk, and squirrel populations.
During the first 2 miles to the Sycamore Basin Tank, the route descends easily from an elevation of 4,900 feet at the pass to around 4,400 feet. Beyond this point the trail angles north to parallel Sycamore Creek for 3 additional miles. Although it dips in and out of small drainages along the way, the trail has dropped only a few hundred feet overall by the time it reaches the canyon bottom. Although easy to follow, this section is rocky in places.
Approximately 5 miles from the trailhead, the route reaches Sycamore Creek. Although this drainage is usually dry, pools of water may linger after rainstorms or periods of snowmelt. In spite of this, the canyon bottom is able to support a nice riparian community of Arizona walnut, cottonwood, willow, and, of course, sycamore.
Upon crossing the creek bed, the Dogie Trail continues for another 0.5 mile to where it connects with the Sycamore Basin Trail. Lands west of Sycamore Creek are included in the Prescott National Forest, while those to the east fall under the jurisdiction of the Coconino National Forest. Turning left at the Sycamore Basin Trail junction leads you several miles south toward the mouth of the canyon. Turning right at this junction, however, leads you upstream along the west side of Sycamore Creek for 3 miles to Taylor Cabin. A national historic site, Taylor Cabin was built in the early 1830s as a line camp for cowboys grazing cattle in the canyon. The brands of the various ranches that have utilized the structure are carved into the front wall, while the preexisting sandstone cliff constitutes its back wall.
Although this hike turns around at Taylor Cabin, it is possible to extend the trip by several miles. Approximately 2 miles beyond Taylor Cabin, a trail junction provides a couple of options. Turn left and you will soon climb out of the canyon on the Winter Cabin Trail. This route eventually tops out on a remote part of the Mogollon Rim some 40 miles from Flagstaff. A right turn at the junction follows the Taylor Cabin Trail, which climbs 1,800 feet in 2 miles up Buck Ridge to the east. From here it is possible to return to Sycamore Pass by following a rugged power line road for 7 miles over Casner Mountain. Or, you could pick up the Mooney Trail, which follows Mooney Canyon south to Forest Road 525C.
Because finding water in the creek bed is not always a sure bet, it is best to pack in all you will need. The summer months can be hot, while the dead of winter may prove to be uncomfortably cold in Sycamore Canyon. Watch for rattle snakes in this remote wilderness. While the hike to Taylor Cabin and back can be completed in 2 days, an added day will allow for further exploration of this beautiful wilderness area.ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott S. Warren has lived in the Southwest for the last 20 years. He has spent much of that time in Arizona exploring its many different natural areas. "What I really love about hiking in Arizona is the incredible variety of terrain and plant life," Warren says. "From cactus forests and canyon bottoms to lush forests and high alpine summits, Arizona has it all." In addition to writing about the outdoors, Warren is also a photographer. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography from Utah State University and his images have appeared in Audubon, Outside, Sierra, Travel & Leisure, and various National Geographic publications.