Hiking the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake is an oasis along the Salt River that winds through the hills outside of Phoenix. The area is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with fishing, boating, hiking, swimming, and more. Plus, the reservoir’s cool water offers some relief from the brutal desert heat. The Butcher Jones Trail is one we frequented because it is great for all levels and offers some pretty views of the reservoir.

Butcher Jones Trail at a Glance

Hike Distance: 4.9 miles round trip

Hike Type: Easy out and back. Some moderate rocky sections

Duration: 2-2.5 hours

Fees: Tonto National Forest day pass – $8; Tonto Discovery Pass – $80; OR Annual Parks Pass – $80

Regulations: Day use only, pets must be leashed, no motorized travel on the trail, no glass containers, and no fires allowed on the beach areas.

Enjoying the views from the Butcher Jones Trail
Enjoying the views from the Butcher Jones Trail

Getting to the Butcher Jones Trailhead

The Butcher Jones trailhead lies in Jones Canyon on the northeast side of Saguaro Lake. From Phoenix, you can get here by taking North Bush Highway from either Highway 87 or Highway 202. Take East Butcher Jones Beach Road until you reach the Butcher Jones Recreation Site.

There are many parking spots, but this is a popular area, so it’s best to go earlier in the morning. There are picnic spots, a small beach, a swimming area, and vault toilets, making this a nice, but busy place to hang out.

Visitors are unable to obtain a Tonto National Forest day pass or other passes at the trailhead, so make sure you stop at the Saguaro Del Norte marina, Pebble Beach, or one of the many retailers listed here.

Up above Saguaro Lake
Up above Saguaro Lake

Hiking the Butcher Jones Trail

The Butcher Jones Trail begins along the shores of Saguaro Lake and winds through some vegetation and wooded areas before ascending. There are a few side trails that lead to little fishing spots, but the main trail isn’t hard to follow.

A slight climb will soon bring you atop the hills overlooking the lake. The ascent isn’t too long or steep, but it is a little rocky in spots. As you hike among the saguaros and many chollas, you’ll also get a view of the rugged cliffs surrounding the lake, the marina on the opposite side, and the boats down below. This was a great hike to bring visitors to because it offers a great taste of the Arizona desert and is good for a variety of skill levels while being pretty close to our previous apartment in Phoenix.

Lia at Saguaro Lake

The Butcher Jones Trail eventually leads from the lake towards the Salt River and dead ends on the river shores of Burro Cove. Because this is an out-and-back trail that has pretty views throughout the hike, you can go as far or little as you want. There were some days that were so hot that we turned back early to go relax by the water.

My sister exploring among the cholla
My sister exploring among the cholla

Preparing for Your Hike

The Butcher Jones Recreation Site is open from sunrise to sunset. The parking lot fills up pretty quickly, so it’s best to get there early. The road to the parking lot and most of the parking spots are paved. This is a pretty spot to hang out, so bring your fishing pole (and license), paddle board, a packed lunch, or a swimsuit to enjoy more of the lake before or after your hike.

Even in the winter, it still gets pretty hot at Saguaro Lake. There is no potable water or much shade along the trail, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen or other sun protection. The trail is rocky in some spots and there are many cacti along it, so we recommend sturdy, closed-toe shoes. With some pretty vistas and unique cacti, don’t forget the camera!

My dad taking a look at the saguaro
My dad taking a look at the saguaro

Lastly, be aware that you may encounter rattle snakes and scorpions in the area. The trail is popular, so they usually don’t linger on the trail for long, but always keep your eyes open for them and listen for rattle warnings.

Have you visited one of Arizona’s many desert lakes? Tell us below!

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