Skunk Tank - Cave Creek Loop
ElevationAscent: 1,661' 506 m
Descent: -1,661' -506 m
High: 4,075' 1,242 m
Low: 2,948' 899 m
GradeAvg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 22% (13°)
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“Eleven miles of pure awesomeness”— Guy Granger
The first and last part of the trail is a 0.8 mile section of the Cave Creek Trail #4. Stay on Trail #4 as it crosses a road, and then stay right soon after, where there is an unmarked trail to the left. After crossing a stile, you come to the junction with Cottonwood Trail #247, where you go left.
Trail #247 heads south, crosses Cave Creek, and then heads uphill to a junction with the beginning of Skunk Tank Trail 246, in about 1.1 miles from the TH. Stay right onto Trail #246. Here, the views range from pleasant to spectacular. Alas, Skunk Tank as a water source is not well-maintained, but the canyon below it has intermittent water, and there is a spring box being installed at Quien Sabe spring, which will be easily accessible on this trail.
At mile 2.1, you encounter the first of several summits on this trail, with wide expansive views. At mile 2.5, cross the stream flowing from Quien Sabe spring. A large spring box is in preparation here (Jan 2019). At some point, there should be very reliable water at this spot.
The next summit is at mile 2.8, with even more expansive views. At 3.9 miles, intersect the Quien Sabe Trail #250. This is roughly the high point of the trail. As you continue down toward Skunk Tank, you'll encounter some cat's claw and some areas on the trail of loose small rocks. Be very cautious.
There is a gate at Skunk Tank, about 4.8 miles. Be sure to close it behind you. Skunk tank did not appear to have much water in it, but just 0.1 mile further on at N33 57.545 W111 54.374 there was water running across the trail. Here you enter the top of a spectacular canyon. I sat on a rock outcrop just off the trail for a half hour to eat my lunch and enjoy the amazing view. There is a very old Geocache near here as well.
The trail follows high on the canyon wall, then along the top of the ridge, finally zig zagging in switchbacks down to Cave Creek Trail #4 at 6.3 miles. This is the low point of the route, and you now begin a long, gentle climb along the creek back to the TH.
It follows Cave Creek much of the way, and is beautiful and peaceful when the creek is flowing. The ridges and canyons, as well as the trees and flowers, are inspiring. The path is usually well above the creek, but crosses it several times. In January, the creek was flowing steadily, making beautiful babbling noises. From above you can see well down into beautiful pools, sometimes quite clear, sometimes a little green. Negotiating the crossings can be slightly tricky, but I never got my feet wet. Take your time, and watch for the cairns that show the preferred place to cross.
Along the way, there are a couple of somewhat rare Crested Saguaro cacti. One is right on the trail at N 33° 58.0098 W 111° 53.9735. These Saguaro's are marked by Geocaches, as well.
As your reach the last mile or so back to the trailhead, the trail moves away from the creek, but you might still hear it if it is quiet. The trail threads between a road going to a forest service maintenance area and a private ranch, running along a fence in this section, so it is not quite so wild here.
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Land Manager: USFS - Tonto National Forest Office
Feb 11, 2020: Tonto National Forest to waive fees on Presidents Day
Feb 10, 2020: Forest Service schedules prescribed burn near Payson