Views & solitude
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.
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.