This is a great day hike for when you don't have time to get out of the Phoenix area! It starts out paralleling a picnic area and campgrounds running along Cave Creek. In about .5 miles, you pass a private ranch and then it gets much better. For the first mile or so this is a level hike following along the creek. This is a multi-use trail for horses and mountain bikes as well, but we never saw any. Lots of birds in this area, and although we didn't see much wild life, it's a perfect area for it.
After the first 1.5 miles, the trail turns away from the creek, just for a short time, and then drops into a canyon. There are lots of pools and rocks for the next 2 miles. It was hard to find a good lunch spot because this is the kind of trail you want to keep following to see what's next. Around mile 3 there is a terrific specimin of a crowned saguaro--easy to miss when your eyes are fixed on the stream bed and the water. At 3.6 miles you can continue following the Cave Creek Trail which runs about 6 miles further, you can go out the way you came, or you can take the Skunk Tank Trail to make a big loop. (The Cave Creek Trail is supposed to end at FR 48, just north of the town of Cave Creek)
Up to now, this trail is easy. The Skunk Tank portion makes this a whole lot tougher. Taking this trail, you get to go up for approximately 1000 feet in the next 1.5 miles. Even with lots of switchbacks, this is a big climb, with lots of little elevation changes and loose footing. On the bright side, there are some really great views looking back down the valley and north to the plateaus. Just prior to the summit, you will pass Skunk Tank, which was full of water on this trip, but really looks like a cattle pond. You pass through a gate here and continue up a little more.
At the summit, there is a sign pointing to either Quin Sabe/ Skull Mesa or to the Cottonwood Trail which drops down to the right as you face the sign. Take the Cottonwood Trail. At this point the trail follows an old mining road, and while wide, the footing is pretty loose. Between 7 and 8 miles in, you can see the remains of the mine off the hill to the left.
The Cave Creek portion of the trail is the easiest and most scenic, but for those of us who prefer loop trails, this was a great one. We saw 5 other groups of people, all near the creek around mile 2, but had the world to ourselves the rest of the time. (Although I am sure it gets much more crowded as the weather warms up.)
We found this trail in 100 Hikes in Arizona, which shows mileage as 8 roundtrip. The Skunk Tank turnoff is shown at 3 miles. On our GPS, it was just about 3.6. The sign at the trail head show that it is 5.5 miles back to the Cave Creek Trail head. This description is based on our GPS readings. Total hiking time was 4 hours, 50 minutes, not including lunch and creek exploring breaks.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
Forest Tonto Pass is a forest wide permit for recreational sites and campgrounds. Typically not for trailheads.
To Cave Creek Seven Springs Trailhead Cave Creek TH in the Seven Springs Campground area.
From the intersection of Tom Darlington Rd and Cave Creek Rd, travel East on Cave Creek Rd. At 2.2 miles you pass Pima Rd. Continue on Cave Creek Rd and at 6.3 miles you reach Bartlett Dam Rd. Follow sign to Seven Springs Rd. At 9.1 miles you pass the Sears Kay Ruins. The pavement ends at 10.8 miles. You pass the Bronco TH at 13.8 miles and the road is now marked Forest Road 24. At 17.6 miles you pass a private ranch. At 17.9 miles you pass the Seven Springs Campground and the Cave Creek TH is on your left at 18.5 miles.
2012-03-07 Nahimana222 writes: From the signs I saw at the trailhead, you need a Tonto Pass to park.
From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 51.5 mi - about 1 hour 36 mins From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 153 mi - about 2 hours 57 mins From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 127 mi - about 2 hours 38 mins
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.