Backpacking the Sycamore Rim Trail
The Sycamore Rim Trail is a 12.5 mile1 (20 km) loop that skirts Sycamore Canyon, the second largest canyon in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon, and is arguably just as stunning and visually impressive in its own way. In its favor, Sycamore Canyon has cooler temperatures and more vegetation than the Grand Canyon and makes for an enticing backcountry adventure destination
In the spring, snow runoff creates impressive waterfalls and rivers that course on the north side of the canyon at Paradise Forks, which is also a popular rock climbing location. By June, the waterfalls disappear, but several pools remain at the Ponds, Paradise Forks, and the Pomeroy Tanks, providing key locations for refilling water, if necessary.
There are five different trailheads strategically placed around the trail, along with a few information signs that describe the historic Overland Trail that bisects through the Sycamore Rim Trail.
Our Boy Scout troop picked this trail to complete a 10-mile (16 km) hike for the Hiking Merit Badge, as well as train for our upcoming 50-miler summer adventure in July. We opted to set up a base camp about a mile (1.6 km) from the trailhead off Thomas Loop Road and begin our hike in the morning.
That night we were treated to a brilliant full moon. One of the parents who joined us brought along some amazing binoculars that allowed us to get some impressive shots of this lunar display.
My son came with me on this trip and we set up hammocks in a “V” formation that was text-book perfect. I also set up the Ticket to the Moon Mammock, a ginormous gathered end hammock that the scouts had fun playing in. Two scouts ended up sleeping in the big hammock while the rest crammed into a small pup tent.
If I had my choice, I would have backpacked a few miles/km down the trail to the overlook of the canyon to set up camp. The views are absolutely stunning, especially when the morning light licks the edge of the canyon.
While the scouts carried small day packs with water and snacks, I packed all my overnight gear and food in my Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack to get in some additional prep time for the 50-miler. I carried 3 liters of water, which was enough to get me through the hike with a little to spare.
I had a few failures on this trip that were good learning lessons. First, I hiked in sandals, which is my preference when I do lightweight backpacking and day hiking. The sandals I brought were the Teva Itunda, which feature a closed toe design. Unfortunately, the heels were poorly designed, having stitches on the heel right at high stress points. This pair of sandals already had broken heel straps that I had repaired, but they both failed again on this trip. I hiked barefoot for a while as I waited for the sandals the dry long enough to do a field repair. Which brings up my second failure: I left my Duct tape at home! I have a habit of wrapping Duct tape around my fuel bottle, as I typically use a cat food can alcohol stove. With the current fire restrictions, I brought along a canister stove instead and left my Duct tape. Thankfully, one of the other Scouters brought some, so my shoes (and feet) were saved.
- The official guide lists this as an 11-mile loop, but our GPS device, and our time control plan, agree on the longer distance ↩