I thought our 11 a.m. start on the Butcher Jones trail may be too late and we would encounter more of a crowd. But on this particular March Friday morning, the part-year residents and spring break stragglers weren’t out and about, and we had the popular Saguaro Lake hiking trail almost to ourselves.
A few research checks on two popular Arizona hiking websites hikearizona.com and arizonahikingtrails.com alerted us about the Tonto Pass, a $6.00 recreational parking permit — necessary if one plans to park their vehicle in the Butcher Jones parking lot. This day permit is available at the Tonto N.F. Mesa district ranger office, as well as many retail locations, and there’s a listing on the Tonto National Forest website. As we pulled up to the parking/picnic area at Butcher Jones, it’s evident not many improvements have been made in the last 5-10 years. The picnic area is overgrown and tables are neglected, the parking lot pavement looks cracked and potholed.
We started out at the trail head, located at the southeast corner of the parking lot. The trail begins as asphalt trail and looks like it once could have been set up as an ADA accessible trail for a floating fishing pier which is now closed, because of extensive high water or storm damage.
Previous reports made for this trail on other sites described a path laden with trash. While the trail isn’t exactly pristine, it is relatively clean, with only some paper cups washed in to Peregrine Cove from boaters. Overall, the hike is fairly easy. There’s a few ups and downs but accessible for most hikers. I would recommend sturdy shoes as the trail can be rocky with some jagged-edged protrusions — so I’d leave the flip flops at home. This is one of those trails that often requires concentration so allow yourself stopping break time for wildlife sightings, photo ops and scenic viewing.
Late March and early to mid-April are the best times to see the desert in bloom. Many varieties of wildflowers and cacti are in bloom.
The “in-and-out” hike takes about three hours round trip for most leisure hikers. There’s little reason to remind people to bring plenty of water. We use our 100-ounce Camelbaks. And don’t forget to pack some snacks or a light lunch. Besides the end of the trail, there are two short side trips down to water’s edge of the lake that make nice picnic locations.
Although we didn’t get to see any bighorn sheep that day, they have been spotted before — usually at dawn or dusk on the bluffs overlooking the narrow inlets. We did however, sight a bald eagle soaring overhead, scouting the fishing possibilities. It’s always good to watch the trail for flowers, footing and snakes during the spring, but try to take enough breaks to look up once in a while.
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