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Sycamore Creek, Arizona
Report by Marc W. McCord

Headwaters to Verde River Confluence
~ 27 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Forming in southern Cococino County southwest of Flagstaff is Sycamore Creek, a major tributary to the Verde River. From its headwaters this Class II to IV stream flows south by southwest into Yavapai County to its confluence just above Clarkdale and west of Sedona near Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Snowmelt runoff from the Red Rocks area of Prescott National Forest is the primary source for its late spring through early summer flow. The water is very cold, and daytime temperatures will be mild to cold, even during the boatable season.

The area surrounding the river is a picture postcard image of tall forests, beautiful, red mountains (most of Arizona is shades of brown) and big, blue skies. The river flows through a tourist trap area at and around Sedona, but you will only know that from what you see on the rides to and from the river, leaving behind all signs of civilization while you are paddling. Sycamore Creek offers very limited access, and there are no campgrounds situated along this run, but riverside camping may be allowed by rangers in Prescott National Forest. The river has a starting elevation of about 7,000 feet msl, then drops nearly 1,000 feet over nearly 27 miles at an average gradient of some 37 fpm. The water is swift-moving, and the river is narrow. Downed trees and avalanche debris can ocasionally block the river or enhance the difficulty of drops. Be sure to bring your camera, because you will want to take many photos of this very scenic and gorgeous river valley in the mountains high above the desert floor.


Cococino and Yavapai Counties of central Arizona. Prescott is to the southwest and Flagstaff is a few miles to the northeast. Prescott National Forest is home to the Sycamore River.

Distance from major cities

Flagstaff 20 miles; Phoenix 160 miles; Tucson 277 miles; Albuquerque 347 miles; Salt Lake City 542 miles; Durango 336 miles; Grand Junction 526 miles; Denver 675 miles; Oklahoma City 889 miles; Dallas 1,015 miles; Austin 1,050 miles; San Antonio 1,077 miles; Houston 1,200 miles; Little Rock 1,228 miles; Kansas City 1,124 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Sycamore Creek flows clean, clear and cold from its headwaters to the Verde River confluence near Clarkdale. Flow is dependent upon adequate snowmelt in the drainage basin of Prescott National Forest, supplemented by late summer to early fall rains. Adequate flows for boating are rare, and may not exist in dry years.

Best time to go

Sycamore Creek is almost totally dependent upon snowmelt runoff for adequate navigable flows which, when they occur, are usually in April through June, or possibly part of July. Like all Arizona rivers, Sycamore Creek may not have a navigable season at all in drought years.

Hazards to navigation

Sycamore Creek has several serious Class III to IV drops consisting of large boulders, steep descents (though for only a short drop) and occasional dead-fallen trees that make navigation hazardous if not done with care and after careful observation. Scouting rapids and drops is usually easy, but some of them require vigilance to recognize them before it is too late to take a look. For the most part the river flows in straight lines with minor turns, but that is not always the case. The gradient of about 37 fpm makes the water flow swiftly, so allow adequate time to take out for scouting before getting swept into an unforgivable situation. The remoteness of the area, cold water temperature and difficulty of getting medical assistance quickly combine to make it necessary to exercise caution when running Sycamore Creek. Paddlers should have at least strong advanced level whitewater kayak skills, along with swiftwater rescue and First Aid training to safely boat this river. Canoes and rafts should not attempt runs on this river, though short, rockered canoes with flotation paddled by advanced or expert level whitewater boaters may be able to run it successfully if the water is not too high. Some portages may be required, especially if running the river in a canoe.

River Access Points

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no public or private campgrounds available along Sycamore Creek. Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located at its confluence with the Verde River at about 27.0 miles below the headwaters. Check with Prescott National Forest rangers for information and permission to run the river and camp along it while on your trip.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along Sycamore Creek. Plan on setting up and running your own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

Sycamore Creek is primarily a whitewater kayer stream that can occasionally be run by advanced or expert whitewater canoeists in playboat canoes shorter than 13 feet and outfitted with flotation and other whitewater apparatus (saddle, footpegs, thigh straps and kneeling pads.) It is a Class II to IV stream with some decent waterfall drops and boulder garden rapids, some of which may be clogged with dead-fall debris. Unfortunately, as with almost every Arizona river, this one flows seldom, and only for a few short weeks in late spring and early summer, when snows melt in the surrounding drainage basin. Scenery is spectacular, and you will want to photograph it getting to the river, as well as while running it. The river is located very near Flagstaff, Sedona, the Grand Canyon and the Red Rocks area, so there is plenty to see and do off the river, which flows through Prescott National Forest. This area, where the Verde River system flows, is about the most colorful and beautiful part of the State of Arizona.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to IV
Length 27 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in
Last Take-out Verde River confluence
Elevation msl
Gradient 37 fpm
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats Advanced+ Kayaks/Canoes ONLY!
Season January through April, rainfall dependent
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Central Arizona Paddlers Club

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Canoe & Kayak Magazine - The premiere paddlesports industry publication

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Verde River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Verde River Homepage ] [ US Highway 89 to Perkinsville ] [ Perkinsville to Beasley Flat ] [ Beasley Flat to Childs Power Road Access ]
[ Childs Power Road Access to Horseshoe Reservoir ] [ Horseshoe Dam to Bartlett Reservoir ] [ Bartlett Dam to Salt River Confluence ] [ East Verde River ]

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