“A hidden gem in far southern Arizona—run along a beautiful creek through a craggy canyon with abundant wildlife!”
— Almonzo Wilder
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This remote canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness is famous for its biological diversity, and also offers fantastic scenery and adventurous running along a perennial spring-fed stream.
Need to Know
This is remote and rough country adjacent to the Mexican border. Travel in a group and expect to see Border Patrol agents. You may encounter migrants or smugglers. Poison ivy is patchy, but abundant, in the canyon bottom. Expect extreme heat in summer, possibility for flooding during the monsoon, and the usual rigors of desert travel.
Access to Sycamore Canyon is via Ruby Road, which runs through the Atacosa Highlands from Arivaca to Nogales. This road is steep, narrow, and remote, but usually well-traveled and graded. Expect to come across Border Patrol vehicles along the road. The Sycamore Canyon trailhead is well signed.
The route starts at the site of the Hank and Yank Ruins, which is now nothing more than an adobe wall from early settlers to the area in the 1880's. From here, the trail heads down-canyon, and quickly enters a lush riparian area fed by springs. A path will be evident in some points, especially in the first half mile, but generally the route simply heads downstream in the creek bed.
After 20-30 minutes of running, the canyon tightens and enters a narrow rock gorge surrounded by craggy pinnacles. The stream forms beautiful pools and riffles, and wildflowers can be quite good. At a couple points you'll have to choose between wading in the stream or scrambling around on rock ledges, but the traveling is typically easy with no dangerous or exposed scrambling required.
The stream intermittently appears and disappears in dry seasons, and passes through a forest of sycamore, ash and other trees squeezed incongruously among dry desert hillsides. Eventually, the canyon opens up and dries out a bit. In the lower canyon, saguaros dot the hillside, and the stream is less and less likely to be flowing. Turn around whenever seems right, but the Mexican border marks the absolute end of the line.
Flora & Fauna
Sycamore Canyon is a spectacular center of biological diversity. In the creek you can see the critically endangered Sonora chub swimming in deeper pools. The U.S.'s only population of Mexican vine snakes calls the canyon home. The canyon contains breeding populations of Elegant Trogons and Five-striped sparrows, and is visited regularly by rare bird species from Mexico. Over 600 species of plant occur in Sycamore Canyon, an astonishing diversity that includes many rare varieties.