Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is the oldest wilderness area in Arizona. Parsons Trail is located at the lower end of the 56,000 acre wilderness area, reached by traveling north from Cottonwood, AZ.
The beautiful canyon was once home to Native Americans, and later, western cowboys. The former homes of both inhabitants can still be found in the canyon. Please be respectful toward the historical importance of ruins and cabins when you come upon either.
Today the area is primarily visited by hikers and horseback riders. There are many trails within the 21-mile-long by 7-mile-wide canyon that can be reached from all four sides. The trail leading to Parsons Spring, also a summer swimming hole, is the most popular of all.
To get to the trailhead, one must drive an11-mile rutted road along the Verde River. This is best traveled via a high-clearance vehicle. We left our “good car” in the garage and drove the Jeep on this rugged stretch of mostly unimproved road.
Parsons Trail begins by descending a quarter-mile, rocky path to Sycamore Creek. The “gate” at the top of the trail and accompanying signage, provides laughs for everyone. Do be mindful that later you’ll have to make your way back up this slope to your vehicle, so save some drinking water for the end of the trek.
Once you’ve arrived at the creek below, the rest of Parsons Trail is relatively easy-going. This is one of the most beautiful and surprising hikes we’ve made in the northern Arizona area. Turtles, friendly fish, butterflies and birds amazed us as we hiked the trail. It is an unexpected abundance of lush, green vegetation and golden, dry desert that meet just above Sycamore Creek. Parsons Trail meanders through both. This area has a reputation for being spectacular in all four seasons. We experienced Parsons Trail in early April when wildflowers and even morel mushrooms were abundant.
On our visit, snowmelt caused the Sycamore Creek to be high. Unless you’re ready to hop boulders during wet seasons, a shorter walk to the headwaters of Summers Spring may be more appealing. The spring is notable in that it rises out of the ground by the side of the trail.
To reach Parsons Trailhead drive AZ 89A from Sedona to Cottonwood. Follow 89A to Tuzigoot (National Monument) Road. Immediately after crossing the Verde River, turn left/north. The paved road is Sycamore Canyon Road or FS 131. Signage is minimal here. The road will become increasing rutted and dusty gravel as you drive north along the Verde River. Pass the slag dumps and crusty farms to climb, finally, toward red rocks and, at about 11 miles, parking for Parsons Trailhead.