register help

Seven Springs Inner Loop, AZ

94 14 1
Guide 14 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix NE
4.5 of 5 by 4
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 14 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,361 feet
Elevation Gain 1,000 feet
Accumulated Gain 3,150 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 7 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 29.75
Interest Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Will recalculate on button tap!
14  2018-11-03
Rustic 7 Springs Ride from Bronco TH
34  2017-12-19 KBKB
30  2015-12-27 Uncharted
7  2014-01-24 Sun_Ray
14  2011-01-08
Quien Sabe Peak
9  2010-04-23 MEWhiteman
Author MEWhiteman
author avatar Guides 40
Routes 91
Photos 790
Trips 351 map ( 2,703 miles )
Age 75 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Apr, Nov, Oct, Mar → 8 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:15am - 6:26pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Views & solitude
by MEWhiteman

Overview: Seven Springs is a recreation area north of Carefree in the Tonto National Forest. There are over 30 miles of official trails in this area, some connecting to the Spur Cross Recreation Area. This hike called the Inner Loop is a lasso loop utilizing five trails through some beautiful, remote, and hilly country near the Phoenix Metro area. This is a strenuous hike and is difficult to follow in places, but rewards you with great views and solitude.

Hike: This description of the hike is in the clockwise direction. All trail junctions were signed at the time I did this hike. Begin on the Cave Creek Trail (#4) at the south corner of the parking area (N33 58.344 W111 52.000). Follow #4 for .8 miles to the junction with the Cottonwood Creek Trail (#247) (N33 57.833 W111 52.144). There are several side trails along this section, so be careful to stay on #4. At the sign for #247 you want to go left across the river, but at the time I did this the bank was eroded away. There's an easy way down to the river a short distance further on to the left. Once in the riverbed look for cairns leading to one on the opposite bank at N33 57.801 W111 52.131. At this cairn turn left. The trail makes a sharp right in about .02 miles. From here the trail is easy to follow to the junction with the Skunk Tank Trail (#246) at 1.1 miles (N33 57.617 W111 52.114). You will pass through this intersection on the way back also. At this junction turn left to stay on #247. Continue on #247 for another 2.6 miles to the junction with the Bronco Creek Trail (#245) (N33 55.807 W111 51.386) at 3.7 miles. Bear R here to stay on #247. Continue another 2.1 miles on the Cottonwood Creek Trail crossing Cottonwood Creek numerous times until reaching the signed junction with the Skull Mesa Trail (#248) at mile 5.8 (N33 55.189 W111 53.107).

The next two trails, Skull Mesa (#248) and Quien Sabe (#250), are faint and difficult to follow in places. My accompanying GPS track follows the tread for the most part but may be off in places where I could see where the trail was ahead due to a cairn or ribbon but could not see the tread in the ground due to spring vegetation and light use. Turn right onto the Skull Mesa Trail (#248) as it climbs a ridge. The views are really nice for the next few miles. Follow #248 for 1.8 miles to the junction with the Quien Sabe Trail (#250) (N33 55.728 W111 53.927) at 7.6 miles. Turn right onto #250 hiking 2.5 miles to the junction with the Skunk Tank Trail (#246) (N33 57.310 W111 53.815) at 10.1 miles. As with the Skull Mesa trail keep your GPS handy as the trail "disappears" frequently.

Turn right on the Skunk Tank Trail (#246). This follows an old road and is easy to follow unlike the two prior trails. Continue on #246 for 2.8 miles to the junction with the Cottonwood Trail (#247) (N33 57.617 W111 52.114) at 12.9 miles. You passed through this intersection at the beginning of the hike. Turn left onto #247 and retrace your steps from the beginning of the hike. You should be back at the trailhead at 14.0 miles or so depending on how well you were able to stay on the trail and any exploration you did.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2010-04-23 MEWhiteman
    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
    Seven Springs Inner Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    I did the Seven Springs Inner Loop as a scouting trip for a point-to-point hike that I'll be doing later in December. I was not familiar with most of these trails, though after starting, I realized that I had been on Cave Creek #4 and Skunk Tank #248 before.

    In any case, I decided to do it in a CCW direction, specifically:

    Starting from Cave Creek TH, I went south on Cave Creek #4, south on Cottonwood #247, south and then west on Skunk Tank #246, south on Quien Sabe #250, east and then south on Skull Mesa #248, east and then north on Cottonwood #247, and, finally, north back to trailhead on Cave Creek #4.

    The short section of Cave Creek #4 was straightforward, though it was cold starting off. I was feeling sluggish from not sleeping well the night before - one of our cats woke me up shortly after falling asleep. It was cold enough that I saw frost on the ground.

    Cottonwood #247 crosses Cave Creek; fording the creek was easy, but I (initially) missed the spot where it headed uphill out of the creek. There was a sign and there were cairns; I just wasn't observant enough. #247 headed uphill for a while which warmed me up and got me to feeling better.

    Soon thereafter, I was at the intersection with Skunk Tank #246. There was even more hiking uphill along this stretch, but it felt good because even more cobwebs were cleared away from my brain. It started looking familiar to me and I realized that I had hiked here many years ago.

    Quien Sabe was scenic and easier to follow than I expected. I only referred to my GPS watch once to find my way back to the trail after a side path led me the wrong way.

    Skull Mesa was probably the most fun due to the challenging route finding. I probably wouldn't have been able to figure it out without the GPS track. That said, there were cairns, but they weren't spaced closely enough to be able to walk from cairn to cairn. I think that cows might have grazed this area in the past, because there seemed to be an abundance of faint trails. I would follow one for twenty yards or so and then check my watch to see that I was off route. With the aid of my watch, I'd get myself back on route, sometimes finding a cairn along the way. I'd proceed a ways further along a likely looking path (or sometimes just wandering across the desert along no path), get off route, get back on route, etc, etc.

    After a while of doing this, I found myself on a hillside wondering if the trail followed the contour that I was on - which sort of looked like a trail - or headed downhill or even back uphill. I consulted the map on my phone and found that it went downhill. When I got to the bottom, I located a well trodden trail and wondered how I ever missed it. That said, the trail wasn't visible from where I had been on the hill.

    The Skull Mesa Trail started heading steeply downhill w/ switchbacks. Route finding got easier here, but the footing was less certain. I used both hiking poles to make it down some sections. The views were absolutely stunning here.

    When I got to the Cottonwood Trail, I expected the going to be easy due to that section now being part of the Maricopa Trail. Shortly after leaving the intersection with the Skull Mesa Trail, the Cottonwood Trail entered Cottonwood Creek. The trail is routed to repeatedly cross the creek, going in a fairly direct fashion through islands of brush and trees. It's somewhat overgrown in this area, which means some amount of bushwhacking if you actually intend to follow the trail. I did two bushwhacking sessions between creek crossings before deciding to just walk in wide open dry creek bed. This was somewhat longer, but was a lot easier and quicker too. I suspect that it added somewhat to the overall distance that I hiked that day.

    The Cottonwood Trail left Cottonwood Creek and went over a ridge. Soon thereafter, it crossed Bronco Creek and, shortly thereafter, I came to the intersection with the Bronco Trail. I continued on Cottonwood #247, walking in Bronco Creek for a while. The trail then headed up high the right (east) bank for a good while. I got slightly confused at the point where it turned to go up the bank because there was another path which continued onward for a short way lower along the bank. But, once I got up high on the bank, #247 was easy to follow.

    It eventually headed back downhill and dumped me into Bronco Creek. Once in the creek, I checked the track on my GPS watch and saw that I (somehow) should have been high on the left (west) bank at this point. There didn't seem to be any obvious way to achieve this from where I was, however, since the bank was very steep and also densely vegetated. In retrospect, I should have probably backtracked south along the creek to figure out where the trail crossed over, but I didn't... Instead, I continued northward in Bronco Creek, keeping an eye on the diverging track that my watch showed. Shortly before reaching the Cartwright Ranch boundary, I noticed a faint trail heading up out of the creek; better still, there was a 247 trail marker! I headed up the faint trail and, after some amount of bushwhacking, encountered a much better trail, which I took to be the newer and rerouted 247 trail that I should have been on. This diversion undoubtedly added a bit more distance to my route.

    At this point, it was fairly straightforward to get back to #4, and from there back to the trailhead. I did mess up slightly after getting back on #4, probably due to fatigue.

    I really enjoyed this hike; winter seems like a good time to do it. I brought two 3L water reservoirs with me and drank about 4L of the 6L that I brought. The only water that I saw (that could be filtered) was in Cave Creek. There were a few spots in Cottonwood Creek which were damp. It may be that digging a short ways would have yielded water.
    Seven Springs Inner Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    With Judy and the boys. We started at the Seven Springs Trailhead about 9 AM. Glad to see no other cars in the lot as I wanted to have the dogs off lead so they could hit the water as we hiked along. These two Flat Coated Retrievers just LOVE this trail and the water that is along most of the trail. We turned around almost at the spot you need to cross the stream. Time includes all of our stops. Had the trail to ourselves today.
    Seven Springs Inner Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I walked about 80% of this loop last year, once an out and back on the Cottonwood Creek Trail, and another time on the Skunk Tank Trail, but since I enjoyed the area so much I wanted to go back and do the exact loop. MEWhiteman's description is very good and I was glad to have his GPS track along particularly for the intermediate section I hadn't been on before.

    I walked it counterclockwise and I'll give some impressions. At 8:30AM the sun still hadn't hit the Cave Creek Trailhead and the ground was frosty. Less than a mile in where Trail 247 crosses the creek the cairns have grown very large! No way to get lost...

    The Skunk Tank Trail (#246) seems to be an old road/cow path and nicely traverses the open hills with views to the north. At 4.0m the Quien Sabe Trail (#250) branches to the left. This is an old shelf road and a little overgrown but easy to follow with good views to the west. At the highpoint (at about 5m in), just below Quien Sabe Peak, views open to the south.

    This starts the part I hadn't been on before and route finding definitely got harder. I had been expecting a pretty straight shot down to the Cottonwood Creek Trail but in fact the trail winds all over the place and in many places is hard to find. Intersect the Skull Mesa Trail (#248) at 6.6m and finally reach the Cottonwood (#247) at about 8.6m. Generally Whiteman's GPS track was better than what I was seeing and I used it many times to fine tune where I was.

    The Cottonwood Creek Trail mainly keeps near the (dry) creek bottoms as it passes through obvious cow country (I didn't see any cows!). At 10.0m you crest a ridge then start to turn north and into the next creek bottom. A few miles further #247 traverses out of the drainage to the left and completes the loop at the #246 intersection. Then it's ca. 1m back to the trailhead.

    All-in-all an enjoyable loop that apparently doesn't get a lot of use. There were a lot more deer tracks than boot prints on #250 and #248 and a lot more horse tracks than boot prints on #247. I didn't see anyone all day until I got near the end and that was mainly trailriders who exited #247 for a horse trail a mile or so above that nice looking ranch near Seven Springs.
    Seven Springs Inner Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Quien Sabe Peak
    I took my first hike in the Seven Springs / Spur Cross area a few weeks ago. I didn't plan well and got lost but in the process I spent some time staring at the hills trying to figure out where I was. I later figured out that the most impressive peak I was looking at was called Quien Sabe Peak, the highest one in the "park". I was looking at the south side of the peak from the Cottonwood Trail.

    I returned to Cave Creek Trailhead (the northern access point) armed with some preloaded GPS tracks (thanks MEWhitman and nonot). I walked the Cave Creek/Skunk Tank Loop clockwise up to it's high point where the Quien Sabe Trail branches off to the south. It was pleasant walking through hilly scrub land on this old cattle trail. The Quien Sabe Trail is more overgrown but it looks like an old shelf road along the hillside so it's not hard to follow. Quien Sabe Peak is to the east (left) as you travel the Quien Sabe Trail and I started to bushwack up the hill near the apex where it crests the edge overlooking the valley to the south. Particularly after scouting around on the way down, I'm sure this is the easiest way to go.

    The off-trail walking is not steep but there are a lot of small rocks under the knee high grass - this is also reported in the triplogs for nearby Skull Mesa. The summit area is flat and the highest point is at the southern edge....the actual summit doesn't come into view until until you reach the edge - it is a nub displaced another hundred yards to the east. From car to summit (6.2mi) took about 2.7 hrs with only about half hour off trail.

    There was very little evidence that people visit the top often but there were a lot of deer tracks. A summit cairn was present but I couldn't find a register or USGS marker. A modern petroglyph on a summit rock said 1994.

    I thought I would descend a different way. But the mountain is much steeper to the south and it would be a pretty long bushwack down to the Cottonwood Trail. I started off toward the west but common sense kept me contouring more to the north and in the end I hit the Quien Sabe Trail about where I had left it.

    I retraced my steps on the Quien Sabe Trail but then went west on the Skunk Tank and Cave Creek Trails to complete a nice loop back to the car. A good variant would be to go the other way on the Quien Sabe Trail and take the Cottonwood Trail back to the trailhead or even carry on to Spur Cross.
    Seven Springs Inner Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This is what happens when 1. At 9AM Sat you decide to go hiking. 2. You notice you have a hiking book you haven't looked at before and select a hike in an area you've never been to before. 3. Get in the car at 9:15 and go.

    My intention was to walk the Skunk Tank Loop. But I was unfamiliar with the area and made one inadvertent error (turned left at the 247/246 junction instead of right)....the result was a hike a little closer to this one. I enjoyed hiking clockwise on the Cottonwood Trail (#247) and ~2.5hrs in hit a signed intersection. 247 continued straight while 246, 248, and 250 apparently branched right up the hill. Thinking I was on the Cave Creek-Skunk Tank Loop I was thoroughly confused. I didn't have enough information with me to resolve the confusion and instead wasted about an hour and a half walking back and forth on the two branches before becoming firmly convinced neither was the planned route back. It was already getting late so I retraced my steps back to the Cave Creek Trailhead.

    It's now clear (after some HAZ-fueled forensic analysis) that I was on the wrong trail and that continuing the loop would have been farther than planned. If I would have continued up the hill on the faint trail I would have been on my way to completing this Seven Springs Inner Loop. Next time I'll load up my GPS (as I now see many HAZ folks recommend for this area).

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    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
    page created by MEWhiteman on Apr 23 2010 10:09 am
    help comment issue

    end of page marker