TRAIL:Cave Creek
Regional Park

View of the Cave Creek Mountains from Go John Trail

in a hilly slice of desert just a few miles east of Interstate 17, Cave Creek
Regional Park is bordered by an eclectic brew of subdivisions, strip malls,
nature preserves and national forest.

West leg of the Go John loop is part of the Maricopa Trail

Somehow, the seemingly miss-matched adjacencies blend into a sort of
extended back yard for North Valley outdoor recreation. Replete with the
standard amenities of suburban patio life, the family-friendly park has a nature
center, frequent workshops and events, picnic ramadas, restrooms, water, playground,
horse staging area and camping.

Flaky metamorphic rock outcroppings line the route

beyond the grills and easy interpretive trails, there are also plenty of ways
to escape into the wild end of the 2,922-acre site.

Of the
eight trails in Cave Creek Regional Park, Go John is the deep-cut classic. As
the core loop in the Maricopa County park’s 14-plus-mile trail system, the
moderate-rated hike explores some of the most remote and scenic corners of the property.

Elephant Mountain in distance
Downtown Phoenix visible on the distant horizon
Scaly rock formations at Gunsight Pass

The beautiful
thing about loop hikes like this one are the continually-changing views and Go
John delivers the goods in far-reaching vistas, cloistered passages, a variety
of geological features and rich plant communities. To get the major climbing
done first, begin the loop at the north trail sign where the route dives right into
the zig-zagging western leg of the loop that’s also part of the
Valley-circumnavigating Maricopa Trail that connects all 10 county parks.

Long switchbacks mitigate the climb on Go John Trail
Quartz deposits appears along the route

The ascent
is mitigated by long switchbacks cut from foothills that swing around desert
trees and saguaro-cluttered bends. The first big views are revealed after less
than a mile of uphill trudging. Sloping canyon walls frame hazy patterns of
Downtown Phoenix and the jagged silhouettes of the Hieroglyphic Mountains west
of the Valley. The west leg tops out at
a saddle where the first of several benches offers a place to enjoy glimpses of the Cave Creek Mountains and the distinctive pachyderm profile of
Elephant Mountain appear to the north.

Continually-changing vistas are key features on Go John Trl

A large clearing on the saddle makes for
a good spot to regroup and take a breather before continuing on the less steep
segments that complete the loop. The
route dips and climbs through shaded drainage areas, washes and ridges lined
with outcroppings of vertically-tilted metamorphic rocks that shed in thin
sheets, coating the ground in glinting tile-like scales.

Palo verde and mesquite trees thrive in drainage areas
Creosote is a common shrub along the trail

Adding to the park’s interesting geology are
deposits of white quartz that show up as scattered pebbles and artfully-veined
boulders near defunct mining operations.
About halfway through the hike, Gunsight Pass, a high point with bizarre blade-like rock pinnacles on the
loop’s east leg, hovers above golf communities and ranches backed by the
commanding form of Black Mountain and the distant Superstition Mountains.

Part of theeast leg of the hike traces a drainage gorge

A final swing on cliffs above a deep gorge
leads hikers through sunny rangeland where the Quartz and Jasper Trail spin off
for optional geology-themed side trips or a shorter loop for young kids.

Cholla cacti frame views of the Cave Creek Mountains

LENGTH: 5.8-mile loop


ELEVATION: 2,088 – 2,520 feet

FEE: $7
daily fee per vehicle


37900 E.
Cave Creek Parkway Cave Creek.

From Carefree Highway in Cave Creek, go 1.5 miles north on
32nd Street to the park entry gate.
Follow the main park road to the Go John trailhead.