Skull Mesa is located just east of Cave Creek (the creek, not the town). When looking north from the Spur Cross trailhead, two prominent mesas can be seen, separated by Cave Creek. Skull Mesa is the one on the right (east) side of Cave Creek and New River Mesa is on the left (west) side.
The top of Skull Mesa is mostly grasses, some Juniper trees and various types of cacti including Prickly Pear and Hedgehog which can produce very colorful flowers during Spring. There are no Saguaro cacti on the top of Skull Mesa, as the high elevation makes Winter temperatures too cold for them to thrive. Skull Mesa offers great views of Cave Creek, New River Mesa and other mountains in the area.
Scenery along the Cottonwood trail
Follow North Spur Cross Road north from the town of Cave Creek, AZ for few miles (last mile or so is gravel, but in good condition) and park at the Spur Cross Trailhead. Hike the Spur Cross trail for 2 miles, entering the Tonto National Forest after approximately 1 mile and becoming the Cave Creek trail (#4), to the junction with the Cottonwood trail (#247). Follow the Cottonwood trail east for about 2.5 miles to the junction with the Skull Mesa trail (#248). Hike the Skull Mesa trail for a little over a mile to the top of Skull Mesa. The Skull Mesa trail gains elevation rather quickly and is somewhat obscure in sections as it makes its way to the top of the mesa.
The Skull Mesa trail can also be accessed by starting out at the Cave Creek trailhead which is the at northern terminus of the trail. Follow the Cave Creek trail south for approximately 9 miles to find the Cottonwood trail junction. Alternatively, one can start at the Bronco trailhead and hike west on the Bronco trail (#245) for 4 miles to the Cottonwood trail. Take the Cottonwood trail 2 miles west to the Skull Mesa trail. Both the Cave Creek trailhead and the Bronco trailhead are accessible from Seven Springs Road.
If you park at the Spur Cross trailhead be prepared to pay $3.00 per person at a self-payment station. You will need to purchase a Tonto Pass (available at the Cave Creek District Office on Cave Creek Road before you enter the national forest) and display it on your vehicle to park at the Cave Creek trailhead. Parking and access is free at the Bronco trailhead.
Camping is allowed in the Tonto National Forest.
External LinksCave Creek trail system map.
Tonto Pass information