Skull Mesa Trail #248, AZ | HikeArizona
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 This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Preferred" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Skull Mesa Trail #248, AZ

Guide 66 Triplogs  0 Topics
  3.3 of 5 
no permit
804 66 0
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 4.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,202 feet
Elevation Gain 1,359 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,673 feet
Avg Time One Way 2.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 10.38
 Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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15  2023-02-19
Skull Mesa Ruins
8  2022-05-07
skull mesa hike May '22
18  2022-01-30
Skull Mesa from Cave Creek TH
7  2022-01-30
Skull Mesa from Cave Creek TH
4  2022-01-04
Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
38  2021-12-27
Skull Mesa Ruins
18  2021-12-04
Skull Mesa from Spur Cross TH
29  2021-02-13
Skull Mesa - Mattys Fork Loop
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5 ... 7
author avatar Guides 9
Routes 175
Photos 770
Trips 219 map ( 3,709 miles )
Age 39 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Associated Areas
list map done
Phoenix Region
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred Feb, Jan, Dec, Mar → 7 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:59am - 6:22pm
Official Route
26 Alternative
Historic Fire Perimetersacres
🔥 2019 River Fire7.9k
🔥 2005 Cave Creek Complex169.4 mi*
🔥 View (All) - over Official Route 🔥
*perimeter length in miles

Not as bad a trail as it once was
by ShatteredArm

 Likely In-Season!
Word has it that somebody was complaining about the lack of a full guide for Skull Mesa Trail #248, and having managed to cover the length of the trail a few times at this point, it seemed like a good idea to finally write one. Skull Mesa is a tall, flat mesa to the northeast of the Spur Cross Conservation Area, and can be seen from the parking lot. Atop the mesa, at just over 4,500 feet in elevation, one experiences transitional vegetation, with grass, prickly pear cacti, and some juniper. There are also old Native American ruins located on and around the mesa.

This guide assumes a west-to-east direction, although it can be hiked however you prefer.

The west end of Skull Mesa Trail is along Cottonwood Trail #247, about 2.5 miles from Cave Creek Trail #4, and almost due north of Cottonwood Spring. There is a gate immediately before the signed junction. The first leg of the trail is a steep, rocky one-mile climb up a ridge, arriving at the top just east of the SW corner of the mesa. From here, there is a short 0.1-mile spur to a point on the end of the mesa offering fantastic views of the surrounding area, including Cottonwood Creek, the Spur Cross Ranch area, Elephant Mountain, and Sugarloaf Mountain. This is where most people turn around, and doing this as an out and back from Spur Cross is a perfectly adequate activity.

However, if you choose, you can explore the top of the mesa, or hike the rest of the trail. The caveat is that the stretch of trail across the top of the mesa is only loosely defined: no visible tread; only cairns that are sometimes hard to spot through the vegetation. The official route generally travels in an arc, starting off in a northeasterly direction, but curving east and southeast as you get closer to the other side. If you lose the track (which is quite likely), just make your way towards the southeast corner of the mesa, being careful to avoid the countless prickly pears hiding in the grass. As of this writing, there is a helpful (and impressively tall) cairn marking the location where the descent begins.

The route finding on the descent to the Quien Sabe Trail #250 junction is not as difficult; in past years it was covered in grass but has recently been cleared.

The next mile (from the Quien Sabe junction to the start of the descent into Cottonwood Creek) used to be nearly impossible to find. This trail has been cleared as of January 2023, so strike while the iron is hot! This section features a short 200-foot climb before dropping down to a saddle lined by chalk-colored rocks and a large juniper. If the trail goes back to nature, your objective is to locate this saddle.

The final stretch of the Skull Mesa Trail is a steep one-mile descent to where it rejoins Cottonwood Creek Trail #247. Route finding has never been a problem on this stretch, although in the past, you had to watch out for cacti encroaching on the trail.

Water Sources
There are no water sources along Skull Mesa Trail, although water can sometimes be found nearby at Cottonwood Spring or where Quien Sabe Trail crosses Mattys Fork.

Loop Options
While Skull Mesa is commonly hiked as an out-and-back to the SW corner of the mesa, loop options include a Skull Mesa/Cottonwood Lasso, a Quien Sabe/Skull Mesa/Cottonwood loop from Seven Springs, and various off-trail routes for the more adventurous among us.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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.

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

2023-01-24 ShatteredArm
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One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
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.

 Permit $$

Paved - Car Okay

To Spur Cross Trailhead
I-17 North & Exit 233, which is SR-74 the Carefree Highway. Head east on Carefree Highway 9.9 miles to Cave Creek Road. Head North on Cave Creek Road 2.6 miles to Spur Cross Ranch Road. The road jogs a bit here but you go 4.0 miles to the parking lot.

It is a well-graded dirt road. As it nears the parking area, the road leads past a large green house, through a tall gatepost and past a corral. There is a large signed parking area. Along the road about 75 yards northeast of the parking area, there is a self-pay station and a small informational kiosk with rudimentary maps. Pay the fee and carry the stub with you.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 35.8 mi - about 57 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 144 mi - about 2 hours 26 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 133 mi - about 2 hours 10 mins
page created by joebartels on Jan 24 2023 7:45 pm

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