A quiet forest hike featuring views into Sycamore Canyon, with a minor summit and a seasonal waterfall
Sycamore Rim Trail Guide – Trail #42
MAP: Kaibab National Forest – South
DESIGNATION: Kaibab National Forest
BEST SEASONS: spring, summer, fall
DISTANCE: 11 mile loop
WATER: seasonal at Pomeroy Tanks and Dow Spring
ELEVATION: waterfall trailhead 6,575ft – high point KA Hill 7,285ft
ACCESS: gravel roads to trailhead
GUIDEBOOK: 100 Classic Arizona Hikes
Driving Directions and Trailheads
The Sycamore Rim Trail has no less than 5 access points. The numerous trailheads include the Sycamore Falls Trailhead, Pomeroy Tanks, Vista Point, and Dow Spring.
Sycamore Falls is the most popular, and it registers on Google Maps. I dare say the navigation app will get you there just fine, but here’s the driving directions.
Leave Interstate I-40 at exit 178 for Parks, AZ. Parks is about 18 miles west of Flagstaff, and 15 miles east of Williams.
From Parks, travel south on Garland Prairie Road for 7 miles. Make a hard right, continuing to follow Garland Prairie for 2 more miles.
Turn right on Thomas Loop Road (527). After 1 mile, the Thomas Loop Road will make a hard left. Continue for 3 more miles.
Turn left on White Horse Lake Road. Drive south for 3.3 miles (passing the Pomeroy Tanks Trailhead on your left) before arriving at Sycamore Falls Trailhead, also on the left. (White Horse Lake Road will technically segue into road 109)
Here’s a map of the Sycamore Rim Trail. You can right-click on the image to view a larger version or download it.
The Hiking Loop
The Sycamore Rim Trail is an 11-mile loop, described here in a clockwise direction from the Sycamore Falls Trailhead. I feel that going clockwise is best, as it gets the elevation out of the way early in the hike, and saves the best views for last.
From the parking area, walk the 0.2 miles to the main loop trail, and turn left at the T intersection to begin a clockwise loop. After following a ravine north for about a mile, you’ll intersect a small spur trail that leads to the left (west) for the Pomeroy Tanks Trailhead.
Continue straight as the trail descends back into the ravine at the Pomeroy Tanks.
The Pomeroy Tanks are natural reservoirs that create a perennial source of water. This water was important to Native Americans, and now it provides a habitat for numerous insects, fish, and frogs. It’s complete with lily pads!
After traversing the ravine that holds the tanks, you’ll cross FR 139 at a nameless trailhead and begin a gentle ascent through open forest. It appears that some selective logging has taken place here, but the walking is pleasant as you approach KA Hill.
From the road crossing to the top of the hill you’ll gain 600 feet of elevation. Keep your eyes open for some sprawling specimens of Alligator Juniper.
The view above looks west toward Bill Williams Mountain, as seen from KA Hill.
On the far side of KA Hill you’ll be greeted with views of Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks through the trees. The highest mountain there is Humphreys Peak, the tallest summit in all of Arizona.
The range is actually a single ancient volcano, thought to have erupted sometime within the last million years. As a result, all of the rock underfoot on the Sycamore Rim is igneous in origin.
After descending the southeast side of KA Hill, you’ll cross another unnamed trailhead at FR 56 and begin working your way along an upper branch of Sycamore Canyon.
Soon you’ll come upon the historic sawmill site, followed closely by the site of an 1880s community called Dow Springs. This part of the upper canyon is home to a pair of springs – LO Spring and Dow Spring.
Here’s what the USFS interpretive sign has to say about the sawmill site:
The history of Williams and the surrounding area includes the “boom” of the lumber industry. The remains of this sawmill and the railroad ties to the north are a reminder of the beginnings of an industry that still thrives today. This mill was in operation around 1910-1920.
From this point forward, Sycamore Canyon will grow increasingly wider and deeper as your hike draws to a close.
About 4 miles from the FR 57 crossing is where you’ll reach the Vista Point Trailhead, with a nearby sign marking its overlook (officially called Sycamore Canyon Vista). The sign emphasizes that the depths of the canyon are a designated Wilderness Area.
Another 2 miles will wrap up the hike, as you approach the “Paradise Forks” of Sycamore Canyon. The seasonal falls flow at a point that’s only a short walk from the trailhead, where two forks of the canyon meet. If you’re extremely lucky, both arms of the canyon will be flowing… but they’re most often dry.
When is the best time to see Sycamore Falls?
The best time to view and photograph Sycamore Falls is on a warm winter’s day after significant snowfall. The idea is to ensure that melting snow will cause the falls to flow. Remaining snowpack on the rim can add a nice quality to your photos, too.
The next best time to try and see the falls is in the summer months – particularly July and August – immediately after there’s been a monsoon thunderstorm.
When the falls are dry, Sycamore Canyon hosts seemingly infinite possibilities for sport climbing routes. The best place to access these is via the Sycamore Falls Trailhead and Vista Point Trailhead.
For more details about the specific climbing routes, look here on Mountain Project.
Mountain biking is allowed on the Sycamore Rim Trail. Just be aware that the rim of the canyon marks a Wilderness Area, so biking is prohibited within the canyon.
The Overland Trail
Throughout your day along the Rim Trail you may encounter some signs and info about the Overland Trail. The US Army established the trail as a route from Flagstaff to Prescott in 1863.
The Forest Service developed the historic trail for recreational use, but it’s seemingly non-existent in places, and difficult to follow. Still, they list it in their official inventory as Trail #113.
The Forest Service deliberately constructed the Sycamore Rim Trail in the late 1970s. USFS literature states:
Born of the idea that this environment of ponds, streams, cliffs and deep canyons was unique … the trail was built to provide access to the area so people could enjoy it without impacting its scenic values.
The Falls trailhead was added in 1988 to provide easy access to the Sycamore Falls at Paradise Forks.
My Trip Report and Photos
I day-hiked the Sycamore Rim Trail on April 23, 2020 with Haley and Rachel. Haley and I camped nearby in the forest on the previous night. We saw plenty of wildlife and had a nice day in the forest, though the falls were dry.
See more pictures: