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Kelsey & Little LO Trails, AZ

no permit
273 18 2
Guide 18 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Flagstaff SW
3.8 of 5 by 9
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 3 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,650 feet
Elevation Gain -1,800 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,500 feet
Avg Time One Way 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 8
Backpack Yes
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34  2018-04-19 azbackpackr
15  2016-06-11
Dorsey - Kelsey - Sycamore -Winter Cabin Loop
30  2012-09-15
Sycamore Canyon Loop-North
23  2012-09-15
Sycamore Canyon Loop-North
30  2011-06-19
Little LO Spring Canyon
23  2010-08-22
Babe's Hole Spring Canyon
46  2010-08-22
Little LO Spring Canyon
12  2010-07-17 suzaz
Page 1,  2
Author cyroc
author avatar Guides 2
Routes 0
Photos 25
Trips 1 map ( 12 miles )
Age 68 ?
Location Upper Marlboro, MD
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, May, Mar
Sun  6:12am - 6:32pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
descent into canyon
by cyroc

From all the reports I'd been able to find, the upper area of Sycamore Canyon was seldom visited, yet beautiful. Having spent a week hiking out of a base in Tucson, I was ready for the road less travelled. My wife and I tackled this one in May '04. Good call.

The latest update from the RS in Flagstaff suggested that the rental car wouldn't make it to the Kelsey trailhead. The drive out to the turnoff to Casner Tank was scenic and very smooth. Road maintenance seems to end at that point. Progressively worsening obstacles had us entertained for less than a half mile before we had to park just shy of the Tank. Ample parking spaces there suggest that this was a commonly used unofficial trailhead. A very few very deep mud holes block two-wheel access between there and the real trailhead. The additional 1.5 mile and 200' descent is a minor inconvenience only.

The road ends at the well marked trailhead. A nearby overlook gives you a false impression of what is to come. The trail drops right off the rim and descends through the pines past both Kelsey and Babes Hole Springs ( both flowing well ). We had wished we had paid a bit more attention to the "Invasives..." brochure at the RS, as there were many suspect plants lining the trail. Thistle was one I was sure could be ripped up with thanks from the FS, hikers and greens alike. Just below Babes Hole, Kelsey Trail goes off to the left and Little L O Trail continues on down into Sycamore. After about a quarter mile the trail reeeeally drops. This will truly be a fat burner on the way out. You do get some nice views across very narrow and for all you know, bottomless canyons. Switchbacks help with the gradient. One very steep last stretch flattens out only at the bottom near Geronimo Spring ( which was flowing ). Of course there is a convenient campsite to the spring but we chose one further that would less disturb the wildlife trying to drink. FS regs also prohibit camping so close for the same reason and to try to keep the water unpolluted. One of the best campsites I'd seen is a few hundred yards further up Sycamore Canyon. Surrounded by pines, oaks and wildflowers, it was cleared, level and had log furniture.

After setting up camp and getting a bite, we retraced our steps to the check out the unnamed canyon to the northeast of Geronimo Spring. It narrowed and was very scenic for the short distance we went. We got stopped by a pool and mud hole spanning the canyon, cliffs on both sides. There might have been mountain lion tracks in the mud.

Going back to camp, we set out up the broad floored Sycamore Canyon upstream to explore as much as we could. There are campsite possibilities on both sides where floodplains have developed. Interesting pools in the occasional limestone floor seem to indicate underground flow. Otherwise the 'trail' is mostly boulder hopping. After a couple of miles, Volunteer Canyon comes in on the right and we decided to explore it rather than the broader Sycamore. Like the unnamed canyon of earlier in the day, it too narrowed and was an incredible place! We got perhaps a mile up it before fear of loss of daylight forced us to turn back. Yes, we both had adequate headlights, but the thought of boulder hopping after dark... As it was we had allowed ample time to get back and cook and eat dinner before night fell.

Next day we broke camp, dumped excess water and hiked/climbed out. That gradient was steep, a good workout, but we beat our estimated time ( I forget what it was ). That 200' 'ascent' from the trailhead to the car was not even noticeable.

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2005-01-23 cyroc

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    I hiked down the Kelsey and Little Lookout Trails to the bottom of Sycamore Canyon. I made camp at the second campsite (not the one under the overhang, but the one with the log furniture and lots of trees.) I thought about staying there for a couple of nights. However, there was a storm in the forecast for the next day. My friend, Scott, and his 9-month-old preemie baby, Cora, day-hiked down with me to the bottom. Well, Scott hiked. Cora just rode along and observed with bright eyes. She was amazingly good. We had left my Jeep at Winter Cabin trailhead, and then Scott brought me around to the Kelsey trailhead. So, despite the bad weather, I knew I would still have to hike over to Winter Cabin.

    It was really windy. I set up camp and then walked further up the trail, which eventually gave out. Then I went down into the creek bottom (dry) to walk upstream. It's rough going on those big rocks, especially when you're tired and your knees ache. I turned around after a few minutes and went back to camp. So much for exploring.

    A campfire was out of the question. The wind was kind of crazy! I holed up for a while in my tent, then crawled out and made supper. When I crawled back into the tent it was about 6 p.m. I read for a while, (Camino Island, by John Grisham), but mostly slept, until 6 a.m. In the middle of the night I put my down jacket on. By that time I had pretty much decided I wasn't cut out for cold weather camping by myself. John Muir I ain't. I don't seem capable of awe and wonder when I'm chilled. I just want to crawl into my sleeping bag. So, I decided to skip the second night, and hike out in the morning to Winter Cabin trailhead.

    At Geronimo Spring there's an apple tree in full bloom. Gorgeous big flowers! There are some other flowers there that looked like impatiens, but they were on vines. (See photo.)

    It was a good shakedown cruise for me. I'm just getting back into backpacking. I felt pretty strong.

    All the HAZ photos, GPS routes and triplogs I read were very helpful, thanks to all who wrote them.

    Around springs. Also, manzanita.
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Dorsey - Kelsey - Sycamore -Winter Cabin Loop
    With the 1" of rain the night before and 20 miles of dirt roads, Karl slid us to the Trailhead in 4wd. With my 2wd Pathfinder, there is absolutely no way we would have made it. We started at 62, got as high as 95 degrees twice on the climb out and finished at a pleasant 68.

    - Dorsey Spring Trail #7
    This trail is just a wonderful walk in the woods.

    - Kelsey Trail #3
    At Dorsey Spring, we got on the Kelsey Winter Trail making our way closer to Sycamore Canyon. This also is a nice trail with a few good camp sites on it. We checked out Babes Hole Spring on the way down which had some good filterable water.

    - Little Lookout Trail #6
    At Babes Hole Spring, we got on to the Little LO Trail. towards the bottom, fill up at Geronimo Spring. Getting to this point is a pretty steep drop. The water is great at the spring

    - Sycamore Canyon
    While there are some great looking canyon views...
    5.8 miles of boulder hopping gets a little tiring for me.

    - Winter Cabin #70
    From Sycamore Canyon, don't miss the cairned turn on the east side. This is a steep totally exposed climb to Ott Lake. After Ott lake you pick up some trees and is gorgeous at Winter Cabin. Filter some water here if you need it.

    - Hog Hill #133
    Pleasant grade up from Winter Cabin. This appears to be an old road in many spots

    We saw a huge Fox running at top speed with a 3' bone in it's mouth on the way in, a dozen or so elk and plenty of Mule Deer on the day.

    I love this area, just need to work up a better loop minimizing the 5.8 miles of boulder hopping
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Sycamore Canyon Loop-North
    We tried to do this hike last month, but were turned away because of muddy roads. On this return trip Wally decided to join Denny, Joe and myself. The Trip to this trailhead includes 22 miles of dirt off of I-17. If you like washboard roads, then FR 231 is for you.

    It was a beautiful crisp clear morning with The temps on my Truck Thermometer getting down as low as 40 degrees on the way to the TH. We did a clockwise loop

    - Hog Hill #133
    Pleasant grade down to Winter Cabin

    - Winter Cabin #70 (With a stop at Ott Lake)
    This is a pretty area.
    Interesting Cabin.
    Spring is full of water.
    Ott Lake is Dry.
    Got to personally witness the Denny Rattlesnake dance. Hope to get it on camera some day.
    It goes something like this:
    "A high Pitched/Scared hoot, with both hands in the air, hopping on one foot in circles.
    This trail gets steep dropping into Sycamore Canyon Basin.

    - Sycamore Canyon Basin
    There are some pretty views in the canyon, but I tired of the 5.8 mile rock hop.
    Two more Blacktail Rattlers found down here

    - Little Lookout Trail #6
    Fill up at Geronimo Spring. The water is great.
    Short Steep trail that climbs out of Sycamore Canyon. If you are trying to find this trail from down below, the trail head is easy to miss as it is blocked by a fallen tree.

    - Kelsey Trail #3
    Traverses across to Kelsey Spring

    - Dorsey Spring Trail #7
    The final push up to complete the loop
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    First half of daily double!

    Keeper was 6 ft below the rim and did not yield to pack tosses. It is quite a serious/dangerous obstacle at this time!

    Canyon was pleasant though a little hot! Hot weather made me take many breaks on the climb out - the springs help greatly with this! Even so I still cramped up badly, unable to bend my legs for awhile with 200 ft left to hike. :sweat:
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    After doing Illusions Canyon and the steep AB Young trail the day before, we slept in this Sunday morning and downgraded to an easier canyon. :) Thankfully my car was able to take the forrest roads all the way to within a mile of the Kelsey TH. We walked the rode a bit before cutting cross country towards the side canyon of Little LO canyon but this time I made a point to stay on the side of the canyon longer to make for a shorter rock hop down that canyon. I knew that with this dry spell there'd be a slim chance the canyon was flowing so I wasn't surprised to find that upper mini narrows rather dry. ;) After some hot & dry rock hopping, we hit the beginning of the narrows and I sent her down first to evaluate the water level. When she said it was good, I splashed some water on the slide and slide in. :D This potential keeper was 1-2ft below the lip but we were able to exit using buddy boasts & pulls. :sweat: I second Todd's recommendation in not soloing this canyon unless you know for sure that the pools are close to full... The next pool required the same techniques to exit and we slide into the third smaller hallway pool. The pools from here on out where 1-3ft below being full but posed no difficulty in exiting other than being slippery. :) Even with the water being down, we were able to avoid doing any rappels by doing tricky down climbs and slides into shallow pools. :y: Once at the lower narrows, we dropped the gear and made the steep hike up the Little LO trail. :sweat:
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    2B or not 2B? That is the question... :lol: The canyon was lightly flowing, the keepers were plenty full so we slid down the chutes, and the tricky down climbs had pools below them to drop into so we ended up not even doing a single rappel. :y: The canyon was actually more enjoyable since we didn't get slowed up with anchors and rope work and ended up just taking my rope for a walk until we did the sidetrip down Babe's Hole Spring canyon. ;) But I'd bring a 100ft rope just in case the keepers & pools below all the down climbs & chutes aren't full...

    From the TH, we trekked NE to drop into the eastern fork of Little LO canyon. That canyon started off kinna pleasant in its upper reaches but it quickly turned into another rock hopping, bushwhacking, downed tree bypassing canyon. :sweat: After 1.5 hours of tediously descending that side canyon we finally reach the confluence with the main canyon and know that the real fun is about to begin. At the confluence, we took a snack break while admiring a flowing chute down below & gear up for the potential keeper not too far off. Little LO canyon starts off as a wide, brush-free, rock hopping, dry canyon with a few avoidable pools with a down climb above one of them but it soon narrows up with a slippery chute down to a large pool. Sweet! The canyons lightly flowing so most likely the potential keeper is full. My buddy slides down the 40ft chute to examine the keeper while I stay up with the rope next to the anchors in case I need to setup the rope for a retreat if we can't get out of the keeper. But he calls up that the pool is full to the brim as well is the next pool in the next chamber with another slide on the other side. Woohoo, wait for me! :y: I slide down that long chute, wearing a couple holes in the bottom of my pack, swim across to the other side, get out and hop into the next large pool, and then examine the next slippery chute before sliding down into yet another swimmer. Sweet, I don't think canyoneering gets much better than this! :D Soon afterwards the canyon opens back up with some more rock hopping for a bit before and some pools to wade before narrowing back up some and throwing the first tricky chockstone down climb at us. There's chest-high below it so we could have slipped off and still probably been fine, but we gracefully lowered ourselves over the boulder and swam our way to the other side of the pool. This was followed by another small chute that drops into a deep pool followed by another tricky down climb into a another swimmer. This sweet section of canyon stays fairly narrow as we traverse over slickrock, around boulders, and thru many pools of various depth until we unfortunately neared the confluence with Sycamore Canyon. We took a lunch break down there in the sun before hopping on the trail near Geronimo springs and making the steep climb up the trail to Babe's Hole Spring. We took a sidetrip down that canyon where we finally got to use the rope before hiking back up to those springs again and making the final sweaty climb back to the Kelsey Springs TH. :sweat: Wow, what a sweet canyon & fun narrows to play in though its too bad its such a long drive to get up here and an unpleasant hike down to the good stuff. :roll:
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    After having an amazing time playing in the water slides of Little LO, we made the steep climb up the trail to Babe's Hole Spring (hmm, sounds naughty ;) ) and dropped back down that dry canyon on the other side of the ridge of the springs. The canyon starts off rather thick with loads of boulders, bushes, and tree fall to make for a rather slow going and uninteresting descent of the upper section. :roll: A side canyon from the springs comes in and the canyon is to flow off & on for a bit. After dropping more than half of the way back down to Little LO canyon the canyon finally narrowed up and got interesting. :GB: The canyon starts off with a mossy 20ft drop down to a bouldery ledge/chamber with a V-notch above another mossy & slick 35ft rappel which puts you down into some sweet narrows. :) That was followed quickly by another 20ft chute that was wet and best to just rappel followed by a slightly tricky short down climb. Just when we thought the canyon was almost done, we hit another 25ft drop from a tree quickly followed by another 35ft drop down another dry chute. Todd recommends a 150ft rope for this drop so I brought my 200ft rope since I didn't fully read Jaclyn's post recommending only a 100ft rope since the anchor on that drop has been extended out 20ft to reach just above the rappel. :whistle: That final rappel was followed by a tricky 10ft down climb and then squeezing thru the Babe's Hole formed by a few large chockstone boulders before reaching the confluence with Little LO Canyon and once again making the steep sweaty climb back up the Little LO trail. :sweat:

    Time & mileage logged is just of our sidetrip from the springs down to the confluence and back up to the springs again... Hmm, I was having so much fun in the narrows of Babe's Hole that I forgot her name already. :sl:
    Kelsey & Little LO Trails
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This is considered an Upper Sycamore Canyon loop from Todd's site which involves dropping into Sycamore Canyon via Kelsey/Little LO trails, then rock hopping ~5 miles downstream to Winter Cabin trail, climbing out via this trail to Winter Cabin, and then heading north on Kelsey trail back to the TH. This loop is a rugged ~15 mile loop and I added an additional mile for exploring some side canyons. The three springs below Kelsey TH were flowing nicely in this heavily wooded area. I explored up 'Little LO Canyon' a bit after I reached the canyon bottom, but was turned back early on due to pools in the narrows. I didn't want to get the shoes wet or felt like wading the frigid waters. While rock hopping downstream, I ran into a few waders that required me to remove my shoes; one of them was up to my navel... :o Finding the trail for Winter Cabin trail wasn't too difficult. I explored up this Winter Cabin Canyon about 20 minutes before deciding to turn back due to lack of time. The climb out was a bit taxing due to the 80° heat and lack of shade but it made for great views though. I motored up past Ott Lake, Winter Cabin, north below the Basalt-lined rim, and back up in the shade of the woods around Kelsey TH. A long, rugged hike with greats views and plenty of side canyons to keep the adventurous happy. :)

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    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Flagstaff, take FS231 to FS538. Turn off right toward Casner Tank, which is marked on most FS maps. 4WD vehicles can make it all the way past Casner Tank...right fork.
    $17 3L Hydration Bladder
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