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Sycamore Reservoir was originally constructed to supply water to an old prison camp along the Catalina Highway. This small lake has been made even smaller by flash floods which have washed huge amounts of rock and sand into the lake. Still, the reservoir and surrounding area remain a pleasant destination for a day trip or an overnight. A sand beach and stands of alder, willow and sycamore grace various parts of its shoreline. Riparian vegetation extends into the two canyons that come together to form the dam site, providing habitat for birds and other watchable wildlife.

The trail to the reservoir starts in an area occupied by the ruins of an old prison camp. Concrete foundations are all that remain of the buildings that once stood here, and a 4-wheel drive road now winds its way through the ruins to a trailhead at the Pusch Ridge Wilderness boundary. The road through the prison camp is closed seasonally, which adds about a mile and a quarter to the trip. If the gate is open, you will want to drive only part way to the trailhead, unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance.

At the Wilderness boundary, the trail parallels an abandoned road as it heads downhill toward the reservoir. To prevent erosion, visitors to the area should use the trail rather than the road or the unblazed spurs which branch off the main trail. At the point where the trail enters Sycamore Canyon, it shares a portion of its course with an old fire line bulldozed to stop a chaparral fire some time ago. Again, if you stay on the main trail, all of these unsightly scars will heal naturally.

1.7 miles of this trail are within the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. Motorized and mechanical vehicles and equipment, including mountain bikes, are not permitted in Wilderness.

Water can be found at Sycamore Reservoir year-round. Purification of water is recommended prior to use. Stay on the trail in all areas and allow old scars to heal.

Directions: From Tucson, Drive up the Catalina Highway to the turnoff into the old prison camp beyond milepost 7. Turn left and follow the road either to a closed gate or beyond if it is open. Low clearance vehicles should park at the last building slab in the prison camp. Four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance may continue the 1.25 miles to the trailhead.

Elevation: 5,000 feet

Ending Elevation: 4,500 feet

Elevation Gain: 500 feet

Distance: 1.8 miles

Usage: Moderate

Difficulty: Strenuous

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Coronado National Forest, Arizona

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The details, dates, and prices mentioned here were accurate at the time of publication.

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