Butcher Jones Trail


  • Location: 19 miles east of Fountain Hills
  • Roundtrip Hike Length: 5 miles
  • Trailhead Elevation: 1535 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: 2/5
  • Best Season(s): Fall, Winter, Spring
  • Views: Numerous excellent views of Saguaro Lake and cliffs on south side of lake. Four Peaks can be seen at points also.
  • Sun Exposure: A few beautiful shady spots but most of trail is very exposed and very hot in summer.
  • Water: Trail is frequently on shoreline of Saguaro Lake.
  • Dogs: Good hike for dogs in cooler months – see article below for more details.
  • Fees: You MUST have a Tonto Day Pass or Annual Pass to park in the parking lot or you will be ticketed!


This trail starts at the Butcher Jones Recreational Area on Saguaro Lake. The trail generally follows the shoreline of the lake, at times climbing hundreds of feet above it for commanding panoramic views, and other times taking the hiker right to the shore. Butcher Jones beach (where the trailhead starts) is IMMENSELY popular and crowded during the summer season, especially on weekends. The number of vehicles is limited during peak times so don’t be surprised if you are turned back on major holidays or weekends, or have to wait for someone to leave before you are let in. Be aware that you must have a Tonto Pass (see below for more info) to park at the Butcher Jones recreational area or you will be ticketed.

Tonto Pass

In order to park at the Butcher Jones Recreation Site you will need a Tonto Pass. A 24 hour day pass is $6.00 and can be purchased at a number of Phoenix area locations or ordered online ahead of time.

If you have a high clearance vehicle another potential option for this hike is to take the dirt road at the far northeast end of the parking lot and drive back a few hundred feet or more. It is unknown whether you could be ticketed for doing this so do so at your own risk. These dirt roads travel north into the Four Peaks Wilderness area and connect with many other roads that 4WD and ATV owners use.

Getting There

Take the Beeline Highway (Route 87) northeast from the Shea Blvd intersection in Fountain Hills about 10 miles and exit at the Bush Highway exit. Turn right onto Bush Highway and take this south for about 3 miles until you get to the signs for the Butcher Jones Recreation Site and then turn left. Drive 2 miles on this paved road until you reach the parking area. Walk toward the lake and you will see the Butcher Jones beach. The trailhead starts to the left side of the beach as you are looking out at the lake.

Hike Details

Please remember the warnings given above in the overview of this hike. It is a beautiful hike with spectacular views of the lake, colorful cliffs and distant mountains. However, if you are looking for a tranquil hike to get away from people please avoid this hike on warm weekends and holidays. After a busy weekend the first part of the trail can be a bit trashed-up also. The best time to go is in the fall and spring during a weekday.

The trail starts at the southeast end of the parking lot into a beautiful shaded pocket of Mesquite trees and brush. The first ¼ mile or so has handrails and is paved to provide wheelchair access to the Peregrine Point Fishing Dock. This section is level and parallels the shore of the lake. Note that the Peregrine Point Fishing Dock angle may exceed 7 percent grade at times due to water-level fluctuations.

The Peregrine Point fishing dock is constructed in the shape of a T with a walkway that is about 130 feet long connecting the shore with the main section of the dock which is about 120 feet long and 15 feet wide. The center section has a roof structure over it providing shade for a more enjoyable fishing experience.

The trail gets a bit more challenging after Peregrine Point. It takes a turn to the east and hugs the shoreline of the lake as it takes you back into a lush Mesquite bosque at the end of this arm of the lake. As you walk out of the bosque the trail starts climbing and becomes exposed again. The trail continues to climb a few hundred feet until you are on the spine of a ridge with a commanding view of a large part of the western section of Saguaro Lake. You can see the Marina and docks a mile and a half away, Butcher Jones beach and the beautiful rugged topography on the south side of the lake.

The trail continues on well above the lake elevation for approximately a mile or so and then descends to the shore again. Here the trail continues east and a spur separates and takes hikers to a rocky shoreline with some shaded areas to perfect for picnicking.

The trail continues, going to Camper Cove and eventually ending at Burro Cove. These coves, in addition to the fishing docks at Peregrine Point were designed to provide shore-bound anglers excellent fishing opportunities.


The Butcher Jones Recreation Area and this trail are extremely busy at times. Weekends in the spring and summer are usually the worst in this respect. If you choose to go at these times be prepared to possibly be turned away because of quota limits.

Even though this trail follows the shoreline of a lake you MUST bring plenty of water to drink, especially in the warmer months. One gallon per person per day is recommended in the summer. Also remember your sunscreen, sunglasses, and shade hat. It is highly recommended to wear shoes when wading in the lake. The surface underwater often consists of jagged rocks and there is a good chance that broken glass may be present, despite the fact that glass containers are prohibited at the lake.

Pets should be on leash when on trail and kept out of areas signed off-limits. Even though the Butcher Jones Trail accesses the shoreline at many points, there are sections of the trail that climb way from water for a mile or more at a time. In the summer the ground gets brutally hot for dogs, so please be kind to your best friend and remember that he probably can’t deal with heat as well as you do. Dogs paws need to be acclimated to the rough terrain in Arizona so make the first hikes in the desert short to allow this to happen. Please note that a Rattlesnake vaccine is available now for pets to help protect them in case of a bite.

Fun Ideas

There are a number of spots on this trail that would make for a perfect picnic location. Bring a blanket for added comfort. Wear hiking boots or good tennis shoes for the trail, and bring water shoes or sandals for wading in the lake.

You can make a day at the lake by hiking this trail or a part of it, then going to the marina area at the west end of the lake (about a three mile drive) and taking a cruise on the Desert Belle or enjoying a nice dinner at the Lakeshore Restaurant. As you might expect they have an excellent Fish and Chips offering on the menu as well as other options.

2 reviews

  1. teri, August 31, 2014 11:44 am - Butcher Jones Trail

    Do you know what time the Butcher Jones parking lot opens, or is it open 24 hours? Several sites have said “day use only”, but no details are given on what time the gate to the parking lot opens. Thanks.

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  2. Peggy Roberts, October 21, 2014 7:52 am - Butcher Jones Trail

    Hard to believe it’s such a short drive from Fountain Hills, this is one of my favorite hikes and it’s always a pleasure to introduce this spectacular area to new clients, friends and visiting family members. Just be sure and purchase a Tonto Parking pass in Fountain Hills (Circle K on Shea just before the Beeline sells them) before you go, as you cannot purchase them on site. Boating, hiking, horseback riding, dining and scenery worthy of a National Park….what’s not to like?

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