Length: 10.4 miles
The Cave Creek/Skunk Tank Trail, though quite long and challenging, provides a welcome break from the typical desert climate one expects so close to Phoenix.
Beginning at the popular Seven Springs Campground, the loop begins by following the Cave Creek Trail along the banks of Cave Creek. In the late fall (mid-November), this area will be easily identifiable by the rich gold color of the fall foliage from the various non-desert vegetation growing along the creek bed. (Several of the guide books state that this area is also rich in wildlife and that it is quite common to see or hear javalinas among these riparian areas - sadly I did not encounter any major wildlife.)
The trail continues along this path, repeatedly climbing the hills adjacent to the creek and then falling back towards the creek and valley bottom. Although this portion of the trail does require one to cross the creek three times, the water is generally extremely shallow and poses little difficulty when crossing. Unfortunately, finding the correct spots to actually cross is by no means anywhere as easy! Be on the lookout for the small rock cairns marking the crossings...otherwise you'll never find the proper spots. (I spent 30 minutes trying to locate the third crossing...and still ended up having to climb a steep, overgrown slope to land on the established trail again.)
Shortly after the third creek crossing, the Cave Creek Trail intersects the Skunk Tank Trail. From here, you can either turn around and retrace your way back over the easy Cave Creek Trail, or continue along the more difficult Skunk Tank Trail.
The Skunk Tank Trail immediately begins with a two-mile climb into the mountains away from the creek. The first mile or so isn't so bad due to a nice breeze common at the higher elevations; however, you soon turn between two mountains, and this breeze completely disappears for the next mile or so (making for one blisteringly hot climb!) Although the Skunk Tank Trail does provide a nice panoramic view at the top, it can by no means match the beauty of the Cave Creek. My advice would be, unless you desire a challenging workout, turn around where the Cave Creek and Skunk Tank Trails meet and enjoy a leisurely return hike along the creek!
To view more pictures of the Cave Creek/Skunk Tank Loop Trail, click here.