Travel Hooray – Get Hooked on the Maricopa Trail in 2021


Beautiful back country on the Maricopa Trail

an addiction is a good thing.  Swapping a
junk food obsession or a movie streaming fixation for a commitment to healthful
foods and regular outdoor recreation are the kinds of addictions that improve
quality of life.  Kicking bad habits
isn’t easy, but hiking can help wean even the most devout
triple-burger-with-the-works aficionados off the artery-hardening stuff.

The route crosses Cave Creek several times

That’s because,
like easting potato chips, once you start, it’s difficult to stop.  And when you really get into it, you’ll be
inspired to get fit to take on longer, more difficult treks.

A bird verifies Audubon Arizona important bird area

As with
goals in general, it helps to have a plan. 

An old forest service sign on the Maricopa Trail

For Phoenix-area hikers, there’s a ready-made plan already in place.
It’s called the Maricopa Trail.  The
315-mile route circumnavigates the Valley, connecting 10 county regional parks,
urban centers, suburbs and national forest trails.  Outfitted with dozens of trailheads and
community access points, the trail is easily accessed from anywhere in the
Valley.  While the route is still
expanding and improving, the main course is complete. There’s a beginning,
middle and end which makes it a perfect choice for anybody who wants to earn
the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing a long-distance hike
without committing to a months-long, non-stop journey. This one can be knocked
off in approachable day hikes. 

The Maricopa Trail is 315-mile route

The route passes through a stony corridor

Of course,
to get “addicted” it’s best to start with the juiciest segment.  While naming the “best” segment of the
Maricopa Trail is purely subjective, the bit that goes from Spur Cross Ranch
Conservation Area in Cave Creek to the Skull Mesa trailhead in Tonto National
Forest is as fine a candidate as any.

Rich in
biodiversity, ecozones, history and scenic beauty, this short, easy hike is a
great way to sample and possibly get hooked on the Maricopa Trail. Begin by
hiking north on the Spur Cross Trail, an old ranch road that has been incorporated
into the trail.  Right from the start,
the hike embodies a remote feel as it delves into hilly back country along the
leafy corridor of Cave Creek.  The
waterway fosters a healthy community of cottonwoods, sycamores and mesquite trees
where many species of birds thrive in the area that has been named an important
bird area by Audubon Arizona. 

An abandoned corral on the Maricopa Trail

The Tonto National Forest boundary

After a
mild uphill walk and a couple of usually dry creek crossings, the trail enters Tonto
National Forest. Staying close to the creek bed, the last mile passes through
rocky corridors and cliffs cluttered with enormous saguaros. A few creek hops
later, the path meets the Skull Mesa trailhead where an old wood sign displays
a map and key mileage notes.

Huge saguaros grow along the route

From this
point, the Maricopa Trail continues on through one of its most remote, rugged
and mountainous sections.  But for an
introductory outing, the wood sign makes for a good turnaround point that will
inspire you to come back for more.

Elephant Mtn is a dominate feature on the hike

LENGTH:  4 miles roundtrip


2,263 – 2,407 feet


Spur Cross ranch Conservation Area:

37622 N Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek.

From Loop 101 in Phoenix, take Cave Creek Road north to Spur
Cross Road (on the left just as you enter the downtown area) and go 4.5 miles
north to the parking area. 

$3 per person daily fee. Bring exact change.


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