The SMYC Trail is a beautiful 2-mile trail with an approximate 200ft elevation gain running North/South along the base of the Rainbow Mountains between the Willow Spring lower parking area and Ice Box Canyon. It’s the Northernmost of 4 trails that run along the Eastern base of the Rainbow Mountains in Red Rock Canyon. From North to South these are:
Taken together, these trails offer the experience of hiking all the way along the Eastern base of the Rainbow Mountains between the Willow Spring area and Mt. Wilson. It’s an amazing experience of both Red Rock Canyon and the Rainbow Mountains that border the West side of the Canyon. Incidentally, you can also hike far above South/North along the Upper Crest Ridgeline of the Rainbow Mountains. Both routes put you in another world, but the lower baseline route is a good place the start vs. the far longer and more challenging Upper Crest Ridgeline.
You won’t see it spelled out anywhere on the trail, but SMYC stands for “Spring Mountains Youth Camp”, a long-term correctional facility for young men. The SMYC, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service designed and created the SMYC trail. The trail is well constructed with artistic sandstone stairways ascending to two high point overlooks on the trail.
The SMYC Trail is relatively easy. There is little or no exposure to a fall, and the only challenge could be attempting this trail during the heat of the Summer which can easily rise above 110 degrees. For this reason, it may be best to stick to mid-Fall through mid-Spring.
Take the Highway 159/Red Rock Canyon exit off I-215. Take a right onto the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop. Circle the scenic loop past the high viewpoint and on to the far Northwest side of the loop. Take a right turn to Willow Spring. The first parking and picnic area on your left is access to the SMYC Trailhead.
Alternately, pick up the trailhead from the Ice Box Canyon Trailhead parking area, which is the next turn-off from the Red Rock Scenic Drive after the Willow Spring area. The SMYC Trailhead will be a right turn about 1/8th mile into the Ice Box Canyon Trail.
I diverted to the SMYC Trail as I was descending from Ice Box Canyon. The out-and-back to Willow Spring is a great experience to follow Ice Box Canyon due to its contrast to the canyon. After Ice Box Canyon you’re ready for the wide-open views along the SMYC Trail.
Almost immediately, upon turning onto the SMYC Trail from the Ice Box Canyon Trail, you begin ascending to the trail’s first high point along the base of the Rainbow Mountains. You’ll see spectacular views up and down Red Rock Canyon from the La Madre Mountains cliffs to the North to Blue Diamond Hill to the South. Also in view are White Rock Mountain, Turtlehead Peak and the Calico Hills. It’s a non-stop photo opportunity! From that high point you can look South to the Ice Box Canyon Trailhead and North to the Willow Spring Trailhead parking areas. To your immediate West, towering above, are the colorful slopes of the Rainbow Mountains.
A second high point along the way is The SMYC Overlook High Point. Here you can take a short detour to walk along a beautiful Aztec red rock ledge for another spectacular view. It gives the experience of standing on shelf of the Rainbow Mountains without having to be an expert Rock Climber. Below you at the base of the Rainbow Mountains there is the pleasant sound of running water (at least on April 1st this year). You can trace the water route up high into the cliffs of the Rainbow Mountains.
A very short cool adventure would be to begin at the lower Willow Springs parking area and do an out-and-back to this high point. This would match the distance and be a great compliment to the other short trails in the Willow Spring area.
I saw a number of boulders with large flat surfaces covered with a dark iron oxide film. These are the perfect surface to discover petroglyphs. There’s a similar huge flat boulder on the East side of Red Rock Canyon that is filled with petroglyphs. The Native Americans etched the dark surface away to reveal the lighter surface beneath and so create their designs and symbols. Perhaps a little exploration would be rewarded with the discovery of petroglyphs off the SMYC Trail, but none appeared on this day. There are a number of petroglyphs not far from this point in the Willow Spring area.
After descending to and crossing a wash at the Northern end of the SMYC Trail, the trail ends at the Willow Spring Loop within about 100 feet of the lower Willow Spring parking area to your right. A left turn onto the loop would take you up Lost Creek Canyon to the waterfall in that canyon.
If you’re doing an out-and-back between Ice Box Canyon and Willow Spring, retrace your way along the SMYC Trail back to the Ice Box Canyon Trail, then take a left back to the Ice Box Canyon Trailhead.
Alternately, when you reach the Ice Box Canyon Trail, you could cross that trail and continue South on the Dales Trail to Pine Creek Canyon, then catch the Knoll Trail to Oak Creek Canyon.
However, if I were taking these Rainbow Mountains baseline trails between Oak Creek Canyon and Willow Spring I’d probably start at Oak Creek Canyon and head upward so that the return trip would be mostly downhill.