Sycamore Canyon

Arizona > Sycamore Canyon

The area around Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona is the second most popular tourist destination in Arizona, but just 15 miles west there is another deep gorge of comparable size and beauty with many colorful rock formations, and yet is hardly ever visited. This is Sycamore Canyon, where Sycamore Creek and its tributaries have carved into the layered red rocks at the edge of the Colorado Plateau southwest of Flagstaff, creating a deep, branched canyon system extending for over 25 miles. Unlike Oak Creek, there is no road through the canyon, and the only approach is along lengthy dirt tracks through the Kaibab National Forest south of the town of Williams.

Approach Roads

A complicated network of rough roads crosses the undeveloped, thickly wooded land that surrounds Sycamore Canyon to the west, north and east. The easiest approach is from the west, starting from the paved Perkinsville Road (FR 173), which is the only main road that leaves Williams to the south (it starts as South 4th Street in town). After 8 miles, FR 110 (White Horse Lake Road) branches off eastwards - this has signposts to several features of interest including two lakes (White Horse and J D Dam), both used for fishing and boating.

Sycamore Canyon Overlook

FR 110 continues to an overlook near the south end of Sycamore Canyon, at the end of a flat promontory where the land drops steeply at either side. The drive to this point is 15 miles from FR 173 and takes almost 1 hour - there are various junctions, and the road gradually deteriorates, becoming quite narrow, rutted and bumpy, with one stream crossing. For the last few miles, the dense trees are replaced by scattered bushes and the land becomes open and empty, with grassy meadows and rocky outcrops. There is no sign of the canyon until close to the edge, when the gorge comes suddenly into view - a great vista of red and orange rocks with covering greenery, a sight which is especially memorable at sunset.


At the end of the road are several flat areas for camping, just a few feet from the cliff edge. At night the only visible signs of life are the twinkling lights of Cottonwood, far away to the south in the Verde River Valley. The atmosphere is especially peaceful on a perfectly clear sky, free from any trace of artificial light.

The Canyon

The land on the canyon rim is sparsely covered with bushes and small trees, and with a variety of subtly-colored wildflowers, such as skyrocket, harebell and several types of lily. It is easy to wander along the canyon edge and across the promontory to the west-facing rim, but there are no trails down into the canyon; however, although parts have sheer walls many meters high, it is just possible to climb down. The environment is quite different to the largely open ground on the plateau above; the sides are rocky and steep with many spiky cacti, thorny bushes and agaves with dagger-sharp leaves, that often hinder progress. It is quite an adventure to descend 1,500 feet to the sandy river bed below, which is dry for most of the year.


The nearest towns with hotels close to Sycamore Canyon are Cottonwood, Prescott, Sedona and Williams.
Highlights: Remote, rather inaccessible red rock canyon with several tributaries, surrounded by a wooded plateau; similar to the landscapes around Sedona to the east
Nearest city with hotels: Williams
Management: USFS - part of the Coconino National Forest
Location: 35.058, -111.958
Seasons: Spring to fall; the approach roads are likely to be impassable during winter due to snow and mud

Sycamore Canyon - Photographs

Weathered cliffs
Penstemon flowers

Canyon walls
Calochortus ambiguus

The canyon edge
Bushy hillside
Nearby places Similar places

Kingman to Williams - atmospheric section of old Route 66
Nearby places Similar places

Sedona - popular town surrounded by red rock peaks and canyons



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