The trail was good and long and for the most part easy to navigate...well, at least the first 6 miles or so before you get to the actual skull mesa trail. there weren't too many people, which was kind of nice. you cross a river 5 times before you get to the path junction to determine which way you want to go. then it's a couple of miles and you will pass through a gate, that's where the skull mesa trail starts. that trail is terribly marked. if it wasn't for the cairn stones (man-made rock piles), i would have had no clue where i was going. when you get to the top of the mesa, it is a gorgeous view! totally worth it! but make sure to go back the same way you came, i couldn't find a path off the opposite side of the trail. and make sure you plan on making a day trip out of this hike! i was moving pretty fast, but almost 18 miles takes more than a few hours!
This is the hardest hike I've done so far other than R2R of GC ! it is a must do ! The most scenic by far very very rocky and steep towards the very top! but the views are worth it. We ran out of water and daylight! we got to Skull Mesa 4290 elevation at 2pm and it took us 4 hours nonstop to get this far starting at Spur Cross Trailhead at !0 am so we did not have time to explore or find the ruins . Gives me a good reason to do it again! Saw the most gorgeous crested saguaro !
I've attempted Skull Mesa twice now. Once was with another guy who took us the longest and most difficult route possible so by the time we got to the base I was crushed and didn't do it.
Today I took trail # 4 all the way to the far end of the northwestern part of the base. Just below the ruins. I was told I could climb up the backside. Not in this lifetime!! So next weekend I take Cottonwood trail to Skull Mesa and ascend her.
I give it 4.25 - 5 stars. Nicely challenging!! Gorgeous scenery. I Recommend wearing hiking boots rather than running shoes. Boots will give you better traction (that you'll need) and keep you from turning an ankle. Super rocky in spots, but GORGEOUS views (although I recommend that you stop to take in the views, as it's too easy to turn an ankle or trip if you enjoy the scenery while moving). I posted some pics. Took my dog, but keep an eye out for fallen Jumping Cholla cacti because you don't want to remove them from your friend's paws. Most of them I could kick off the trail, but there was one area that I had to carry my dogger because they covered the entire trail.
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.