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A Majestic Red Rock Oasis and Scenic Back Country Canyon Exploration: The Parson Spring Hike

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Enchanted travel and adventure – With the temperatures finally out of the triple digits, the milder temperatures and plenty of warm, sunny days during the fall and winter months in Arizona attract many tourists and winter visitors from all over nation and the world. The months of October and November are especially beautiful and the best months here in Arizona to get outdoors and enjoy nature without having to travel a long distance in order to reach the higher elevations. A great place to go, if you’re up for taking a day trek a little off the beaten path to a very scenic red rock oasis for a remote back country canyon exploration and an easy rated hike without throngs of tourists and traffic like found in Sedona, then check out the Parson Spring Hike, in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Cottonwood, Arizona.

Starting out from North Phoenix, I met up with my good friends and fellow hikers on a beautiful late October weekend morning, then by 9am we set out on our day’s hiking adventure heading north on Interstate I-17 for about 72 miles, until we reached the Cottonwood/Payson exit 287, Route 260. After a brief stop at Starbucks, we headed west on 260 following the signs for Cottonwood and drove about 12 miles. By 10:45am, we had arrived in Cottonwood and made a left at the intersection for Route AZ-89A. We followed 89A, hanging a right on Main Street through “Old Town Cottonwood”, until we reached the sign and turn off for the Tuzigoot National Monument. At Tuzigoot National Monument, an ancient Native American archeological site, we made a right, crossed over the Verde River, then turned left onto FR 131 or Sycamore Canyon Road.

Sycamore Canyon road, FR 131, begins by following along a section of the beautiful Verde River and is paved but only for a very short ways, then it becomes an all dirt, gravel road for the next 12 miles until you reach the trail head. We continued on FR 131, noticing how remote it felt, but also noticing how gorgeous the scenery had become with the red rocks of Sycamore Canyon off to the distance straight out in front of you. The washboard road of FR 131 winds around, narrowing down in some places, and except for a few spots along the way where it seemed a little rough and extra bumpy, overall I thought the road was in pretty good condition. We had driven it in an SUV but I’d say the road is passable to regular vehicles if you take it really slow. Also, if you try to drive it in a regular car, you’ll need to account for the extra time it will take to arrive at the trailhead and include that into your day’s travel plans and itinerary.

By 12pm, and after a brief rest stop along the way, we finally arrived at the Parson Spring Trail and Sycamore Canyon where we parked in the small trailhead parking area located on the right-hand side. The view from the top of the hill looking down into Sycamore Canyon below, where we were heading, absolutely beautiful! We quickly got our gear together and after taking a few pictures and a group shot, we were ready to start our day’s hike and canyon exploration into Sycamore Canyon.

Sycamore Canyon is Arizona’s 2nd largest Red Rock Canyon after Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona, and its expansive and remote wilderness territory consists of approximately 58,000 acres extending all the way from Williams in the north, at its upper reaches, down to the Verde Valley at its most southern, lower end. Sycamore Canyon is just as scenic though as the famous Oak Creek Canyon, but much lesser known due to most of its wilderness territory being undeveloped. As a result, you have all the gorgeous red rock cliffs and breathtaking scenery like found in Sedona, but without all the crowds or throngs of tourists, making it a very scenic but much more serene back country canyon hiking experience and day trip.

As most trail descriptions accurately state, the Parsons Spring Trail begins by crossing through an old wooden gate, then via a series of steps, makes a gradual decent, roughly about a 200 feet drop to the canyon bottom. Along the way you’ll pass a sign for Parson Spring Trail & Packard Mesa Trail, just stay left for the Parson Spring Trail. Once at the canyon bottom, the trail begins by following along the beautiful Sycamore Creek, a dense and thickly forested riparian habitat area that at this time of the year, late October through November, was beginning to change color making it an excellent opportunity to see some gorgeous fall foliage scenery.

Thoroughly enjoying the beautiful heavily wooded riparian scenery, set up against the gorgeous red rock cliffs of Sycamore Canyon, we continued our trek on the Parsons Trail, following beside the winding Sycamore Creek, while also noticing just how peaceful and soothing the sounds of the waterfalls were along the way from the rushing water hitting the rocks and boulders within the perennial stream. With practically nobody else out on the trail besides us that day, and with the gorgeous, sunny, 70-80 degrees temperature weather, it felt like the perfect serene wilderness escape, we were all looking for. Wonderful!

Roughly after about 1.5-2.0 miles and after stopping for some picture taking along the way, we crossed over the rocky creek, looked up and were totally stunned and speechless at what we saw. We had come to what like a red rock oasis with a large crystal-clear water pool below. Wow, absolutely gorgeous! During summer months when temperatures are soaring, this is a very popular area and hike to come to cool off by climbing up the rock cliffs above and jumping off and into the cool swimming hole below. Although we weren’t interested in cliff jumping that day, we couldn’t resist climbing up the rock cliff on the other side to check it out for ourselves. From the top, it looked like quite a drop down too, maybe 20 feet or more, guessing. But it looked like it’d be a lot of fun to come back and do sometime when the summer season returns again.

After a short break for taking some more pictures at the red rock oasis, we got back on the Parsons Trail and continued our journey and exploration of the gorgeous red rock Sycamore Canyon. By this time, we were really feeling like we were way out somewhere remote in the back country as we made our way along the trail passing by many small caves, and across narrow rock cliff ledges all carved out in the sides of the canyon’s rock walls. Wow, really amazing!

As most trail descriptions and write ups state, the Parsons Trail continues for a total distance of about 3.7 miles, continually crossing over the rocky Sycamore Creek, some say about as many as 5 times. We lost track of the number but be prepared for many creek crossings and the closer you get to Parson’s Spring, the less recognizable the trail becomes so you have to watch closely for the hand-built cairns to help guide you and keep you on the trail. From the oasis, its about another couple of miles of creek crossings and route finding until you finally reach Parson’s Spring. Also true to most trail descriptions and write ups, Parsons Spring is not easily recognizable. However, you will know when you arrive because it is a large pool of shallow water set in a beautiful riparian area. Although they say the trail continues on the other side, we didn’t find it. By now it was already 4pm and starting to get late so we decided that this would be our stopping point for the day and after a brief rest break, we headed back and arrived back at the trail head by 6pm, then drove the 12 miles back FR 131 to Cottonwood by about 7pm.

After arriving back in Cottonwood, in the section called “Old Town Cottonwood” we decided to stop for something to eat before driving back to Phoenix. A great place to stop for a cup of coffee and a delicious dessert is the “Old Town Red Rooster Café ” where their 6 layers chocolate cake is absolutely to die for! However, they close daily at 4pm so you need to get there early. So, we decided instead to head across the street to the historical “Tavern Grill” restaurant. It is really a popular to go in Old Town that has an excellent menu! The restaurant had a lot of history behind it too as it was originally built in 1910 as the “Old Towne Palace Theatre” but had been burned to the ground, was rebuilt then burned down several more times when in 2004 it was rebuilt yet again and converted into a restaurant and named “The Tavern Grill Restaurant”. We really had a great time and enjoyed our dinner, then by 8pm, we started our drive back home again and arrived in Phoenix by 9:30pm. Our total hiking distance round trip on the Parson Spring Trail, about 7 miles, with an average hiking time of about 3-5 hours, and our total round-trip mileage and distance, traveling from North Phoenix, about 112 miles and about 2.5 hours to the trail head.

In all, it was absolutely a really great, memorable and enjoyable day trip and easy hike I highly recommend. So if you’re looking for an excellent place to go that’s a little off the beaten path, very scenic, quiet and a serene red rock canyon, with a rich riparian habitat and a gorgeous, majestic desert oasis, without all the crowds, tourists or traffic like Sedona, then be sure to check out the Parson Spring Hike, in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Cottonwood, Arizona for a truly incredible red rock canyon hike and day trip adventure!