I know the secret to finding shade on this trail! I hiked Elephant Mountain twice in one day on the last weekend of May - at 8:30AM and 3PM (Sunrise 5:18AM; Sunset 7:31PM). Both times I took Spur Crossing/Tortuga/Elephant Mountain. On the morning hike, there was virtually no shade at all. On the afternoon hike, there were many long stretches of shade particularly after the 3-mile saddle crossing. There was a bit of a breeze that even made it feel very cool in the afternoon shade on the 93 degree day. I hike pretty fast, and easily completed the hike in 3 hours. I did not see the ruins. :( I saw only a handful of people on the morning hike; not a single person in the afternoon. Note that of the 7 mile hike, only the 2 miles of Elephant Mountain Trail are rated difficult; the rest of the hike is moderate; since I like difficult trails, that was a slight negative, but still a 4-star trail for sure. Many gnats and flies followed me around in the low areas, but didn't bite. Incredible desert views from the high points on the trail make this well worth a visit.
30 minutes from home and only saw 5 people on the entire Elephant Mountain loop on s Saturday. Be sure to gaze at the ruins as you pass through the saddle. Total hike was 7.5 miles from where we parked. Green grass and large cacti in some of the washes. Ocotillo were blooming on 30 Jan in one place. We will go again--3 bucks is very reasonable just don't forget cash. Also, we were fooled by some parked cars just before the actual parking area, so keep going!
To get to the trailhead, park at the Spur Cross Conservation Area and hike north (right) on the Spur Cross Trail. Once the trail crosses into the Tonto National Forest, it changes to FS 4. Continue until you reach a fork at an old corral. Take the right fork and continue hiking. You'll eventually reach a large National Forest sign that says Skull Mesa Trailhead on it. It should take about 40 minutes to reach the trailhead by this route.
There is a short section of loose rock about halfway along Tortuga. Watch your footing and wear appropriate shoes. Elephant Mountain is to the west (left) and Sugarloaf Mountain is to the east (right) as you approach the junction with the Elephant Mountain Trail.
We saw more deer than people on the trail today. The trail goes over the saddle of elephant mountain. At the crest, you can see the ruins of an old pueblo along the promontory to the east. It's a very enjoyable hike, but be forewarned that there is very little shade on the western side of the loop.
So... yeah, I must have done something wrong because I took the right entrance from the trailhead and took 48 to Skull Mesa, but realized I wouldn't have gotten back in time. So I ended up taking 252 assuming it would just loop back... so 4 miles on 252 and I look at the map on my phone and realized there's no way I'd be connecting anytime soon so I turned around. So 8 miles, but it was a nice view!