The Elephant Hill off-road trail takes you deep into the interior of the otherworldly scenery that lays within the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park. Some call it one of the most technical routes in all of Utah, which may or may not be true depending on your driving skills. Without question, though, is that this trail has some of the most amazing scenery and solitude in the area accessible by four-wheel drive. Along the route, you are immersed in the thousands of the colorful sandstone spires that come up from the desert floor, washes, cliff edges, and narrow slot canyons.
The road over Elephant Hill was originally built in the early 1940s by a man named Puge Stocks, to improve the cattle grazing activity in the area. Several small airstrips were also built in the area after the road was finished, so light airplanes could service the ranching operations. Although it is not visible today, one of the runways was near the road on the top of Elephant Hill!
Only twenty-four day-use permits are allowed per day for this trail, so be sure to plan appropriately. This is also a Jeep Badge of Honor Trail.
Trail Difficulty and Assessment
Lightly Modified 4X4 (Small Lift and Larger Tires)
Known as one of the more technical trails around, this trail has extremely steep and narrow spots and requires driving skill to back down switchbacks. The hill, by far, is the hardest part on the nerves.
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Rocky or undulated road surface. Potential rocks less than 36" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 36" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 84" inches. Tire placement becomes more difficult. Can be steep and off-camber.Read More about our Rating System
The route described in this guide is from the parking lot, out to "The Joint", then back. The main Elephant Hill trail connects you to "Devils Lane", which you can take to reach Beef Basin and make a multi-day trip. This route is an out and back returning the way you came in.
This off-road trail will take you up and down some very steep grades and tight switchbacks. While the rock has extreme grip, good driving skills and knowing your vehicle's capabilities will be required. The toughest portion of the trail is the very first mile where you go up and over the actual Elephant Hill with one of the switchbacks requiring driving in reverse for a few vehicle lengths in distance. From this point forward the road is dirt, sand, or slick rock, and has several obstacles along the way. Longer wheelbase vehicles could have to take extra care in navigating over the obstacles at SOB Hill.
For road condition status: https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/road-conditions.htm
1. Trailhead (0
Drive through the gate uphill. Even though uphill has the right-of-way, be sure to check for other vehicles coming down.
2. Turn Around (
You will have to drive hood first into the turn-around location. From here back up and get yourself turned around to where your hood is facing the way you came in and then drive up the last stretch of narrow and rocky road.
3. Small Obstacles (0.1
Follow the slick rock up and in between the boulders and trees as you move closer to the Needles.
4. Scenery (0.3
Once at the top of Elephant Hill, you reach a short dirt road portion of the trail with amazing views right up next to The Needles.
5. Begin Switchbacks Down (0.6
Back on slick rock, you will see a sign pointing down. You will want to double check and make sure no other vehicles are coming up the trail. You will descend down four very steep switchbacks.
6. Back Up Here (
With the hood of your vehicle pointed down and at a small sign, you will pull forward to that sign and then back up a few vehicle lengths before orientating your rig to descend the final small obstacle of this downhill section.
7. Bottom (0.7
Follow the dirt road surface deeper into Elephant Canyon.
8. Cross Wash (1.2
Follow the well defined road across the wash.
9. Begin One Way (1.5
Follow the road generally to the west. Here the road begins as a one-way only as there are locations further along with zero passing.
10. Uphill Obstacles (1.6
Follow the road up this rocky section. Lower clearance vehicles will need careful tire placement.
11. Uphill Obstacles (2.7
Follow the road up this rocky section. Lower clearance vehicles will need careful tire placement. You will veer left uphill and under a rock overhang.
12. Devils Pocket (3.3
Continue through the narrow slot section called "Devils Pocket". It is wider than it looks, but you may want to pull your sideview mirrors in.
13. Devils Kitchen Campground (
There is a restroom here and 4 camp locations. The camp locations require a permit. Backtrack to the main road.
14. Camping/To Devils Lane (3.6
Continue the main road and follow the signs to Devils Lane.
15. Fork - Left to Chesler Park (4.2
Turn left (south) to travel Devils Lane and explore The Joint.
16. SOB Hill and Squeeze (5.2
Travel through this tight squeeze. Longer wheelbase vehicles will need to take care in picking the proper wide line. Roughly a mile before this Waypoint, you will see a pull-out area that has pictographs.
17. Bobby's Hole Trailhead (7.2
Turn southeast to reach The Joint hiking area. This is also the Trailhead for Bobby's Hole, which leads to Beef Basin.
18. The Joint (7.7
This is a great spot for lunch or even better, get out and stretch the legs by taking a hike to The Joint. The Joint is a series of slot canyons and cracks that you can hike through. When you reach the end of the hike, in the cave portion, you will be greeted by cairns that have been placed there. Leave all as you found it.
Be sure to remain on the hiking trail and off of the cryptobiotic soil, which is actually a living organism. It is thought that these organisms were among the first land colonizers of the earth's early land masses, and played an integral role in the formation and stabilization of the earth's early soils. Extremely thick mats of these organisms converted the earth's original carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into one rich in oxygen and capable of sustaining life. We may very well owe our life to this cryptobiotic soil.
Return the way you came.
19. Fork - Continue Straight (11.2
20. Narrow Passage (11.8
Continue straight through this narrow passage.
21. Silver Stairs (12.3
Continue down this slick rock portion that is lined on each side by cliff walls. There is nothing difficult about this section, but you may want to walk it first. We traveled down in a serpentine fashion to the right first, then back left, to each small ledge for the easiest lines.
22. Confluence Overlook Trailhead (12.6
Continue right (east) to return. Continuing straight will take you to the New Bates Wilson Camp and the Confluence Overlook.
23. Rocky Descent (12.9
Follow the main trail down this slightly off-camber and rocky ledge section.
24. Follow Up Wash (14
Bear southeast. The road as it winds down will make you want to keep going north, so keep an eye out for the wide wash traveling generally southeast and to your right.
25. End (14.8
The trail ends here. Return the way you came. When going back up Elephant Hill, use the same backing maneuver you used going down it to get up the first switchback. Going up seemed a little scarier going down because you can not see what is in front of you, but remember to just stay in 4-low and keep it slow and steady.
There is no dispersed camping along the trail, you must camp in a designated location. While this trail can be run in one day, The Park Service maintains eight campsites along this route, but camping elsewhere is not permitted. You will need to get a 4WD/Overnight permit in order to stay in the backcountry. https://canypermits.nps.gov/index.cfm
The other camping options are within the park itself. Squaw Flat Campground has 26 sites available, first-come, first-served. Bathrooms, fire grates, picnic tables, tent pads, and water are available year-round. The fee is $15 per night. Squaw Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.
The Needles District also offers three campsites for groups of 11 or more people that may be reserved in advance. We suggest reserving these well in advance and we really like the Split Top site for large groups. You can reserve the group sites at www.recreation.gov.
Drive south 40 miles on 191 and turn right/west onto 211. Follow 211 west for roughly 34 miles to the Guard Station at Canyonlands National Park. Continue another 3 miles past the visitor center and turn left at the sign for Elephant Hill. Follow a dirt road another 2.7 miles to the parking lot for Chesler Park hiking trailhead. You will see a gate with a steep road winding up the cliffside as your starting point.
Easily one of the best trails in the Moab area. Just unbelievable views throughout the entire trip. Definitely some technical aspects and you defiantly will need a good spotter to help you through some of the obstacles. Its roughly 80 mile one way from Moab to the visitor center at the Needles District. Plan on a full day for this trail. We enjoyed this trail very much!!!
We camped at the Horsehoof campsite two nights. The best campsite in Canyonlands IMO. Photos attached. I do not have much to say about the trail other than if your vehicle is outfitted correctly, the trail can be made easy. My FJ Cruiser is not equipped to render the trail "easy" but it is equipped to get through okay. That's the fun of it - challenges. I got through the Squeeze and SOB Hill fine in my FJ but it took my buddy a few back and forths to get through. While he was making his maneuvers in his Toyota Tundra, we let a caravan of jeeps roll through, and by roll through, I mean they rolled across those boulders in the Squeeze like they were pebbles. Of course, they were lifted with 40" tires. Being properly equipped makes all of the difference.
Elephant Hill is a great trail, as well as, a test of all of your nerves. You get right into this trail from the start and the first 0.8 miles of the trail will make you pucker for sure. Be ready and mentally on to start the day. While most of the obstacles are pretty steep, they are very passable with the right line and tire placement. Take your time. Once through the first sections of the trail it is sandy single track and you will encounter difficult obstacles until you hit the two-way section. Again, nothing crazy but pick you line and go for it. This trail took us about 6 hours to complete with lunch and exploring. The scenery is beautiful so make sure take some time to take it all in.
Switchbacks up from Gate - Nothing hard but steep. Keep you line and momentum.
Switchbacks down into the wash and one way sections - This part is only wide enough for one vehicle (or groups in line at a time). This section is steep with some small to moderate drops but a stock 4x4 vehicle can make most of it but make sure your tire placement is good. When you get to the part where you have to back down the trail, it is only a short distance but make sure you have a spotter. The road is wide-enough but a spotter helps. Once past this section, its just a rocky downhill decent. This took us an hour to go down on the way in.
First one-way section - sandy road mostly, but you will encounter and few difficult obstacles. They are shorter uphill climbs. Also on this section there is the narrow section in between some rocks. It's and easy section but you will only have a few inches on either side of you vehicle.
Triangle split - After the first one-way section, you come to the intersection that will take you left to SOB hill and the southern spur of the trail and if you go right, you will head toward the Colorado and Green rivers confluence off shoot.
SOB Hill - Short obstacle but you have to come over with large boulders. Tire placement is key and you may scrape you skid plates. Once over the rocks its a sharp turn to your left and you will have to maneuver a large boulder. The downhill after its relatively easy with a couple steps.
- Coming back up you have two options. Option A: Take on the right turn over the larger boulders. This will take some good tire placement and spotting to get over. Option B - (we watched a tour company do this) drive up the first part normal, then pull all the way forward passed the large boulders, then backup over the large boulders. This actually looked WAY easier after going through it the first way.
Confluence Turnoff back to the Entrance - We did not take the Confluence to the river overlook due to time, but this second one-way section is mostly moderate but has some difficult short downhill sections along the way back.
Going up the steep switchbacks to the gate - This section is the same as coming down. Steep but manageable. The back up section is easier with a spotter to back you up to the sign and align you with the uphill section. From here it seems steep going up but just keep you momentum and we made it up no problem. Going out of the tail took us roughly 20 minutes.
Wow, was this a blast. From the very beginning you get challenged. First trail I ever had to back down/up part of the trail. After you get through the first 1.5 and down below, the trail gets easier, but still quite fun and challenging. Then there are the views!! Love the Canyons and the Needles. There was so much diversity. I would definantly do it again!
Might be my new favorite as it was more technical than Black Bear and the views were just as amazing.
This is a great trail for all! One of the most technical trails I have been on in sometime. From the very start, it will separate the contenders from pretenders; won’t find mid-sized SUV’s with Midwest plates on this trail.
First time on this trail. Truly lived up to its "classic" reputation. My impressions:
--Elephant Hill (the first 1.5 miles): technical but easier than I feared
--Devil's Lane: not that intimidating once you get there (looks worse in pictures/videos)
--SOB Hill: much harder than expected, the most difficult obstacle for me on the entire trail
--Silver Stairs: easier than expected
--There is also an obstacle on the way to the confluence (b/n Waypoints 23 and 24) not mentioned in the guide that presented moderate challenge for me
Now this is a fun trail! We did it in a 2019 Rubicon on 35s with a 2.5 inch lift and a completely stock 2007 FJ Cruiser (31” tires and no lift!!). This trail was fun and challenging for both vehicles and drivers and yes the FJ had a harder go of things but complete the trail in about 7 hours. The scenery is epic, the trail is worthy of being on your bucket list. We wished groups coming on the trail observed the 30 minute gap and groups of 3 vehicles max rules, but we just let the super built guys pass when possible. We ran out of time to see The Confluence or to do any hiking, but we will be back (after the FJ grows up 6” and graduates to 35s). All in all this is an amazing place to visit.
Wow! This trail is a must do trail that should be on everyone's bucket list! It really has everything! I'm not even sure what to add. Pictures really do not do it justice. The scenery was amazing. Right out of the gate the climbs were steeper than I had imagined, but there was plenty of traction. It's quite a technical trail, but the Jeep ahead of us was able to get through it with her stock Rubicon. Backing down the switchback was much easier with a backup camera, but tire placement is key, especially at the end of the day when you have to go back up the switchbacks. SOB Hill was a really unique obstacle. The hike to The Joint was a lot steeper than I had read, but the payoff is awesome. And the confluence was amazing with views that go on for miles. Definitely enough challenge for everyone. You do share the area with hikers and the occasional motorbike, so be on alert. Also, there is one big gotcha that will hurt your vehicle if you go too fast down the flats. Overall an outstanding experience! Plan to spend the entire day on the trail.
Edited to add video. It's a little long, but it'll give you a good idea what you'll find on the trail. Since we went with the Red Rock 4 Wheelers, we were allowed to have 12 vehicles in our group. Normally, it's 3 vehicle groups and they are allowed in 30 minutes apart.
Totally Open and Passible!!! We were worried we would have snow in parts because of the temperature and time of season, but not a drop of snow. This is a doable trail for a stock Rubicon for sure. With good tires, you won’t even need lockers. Having great clearance and choosing smart lines is a must though cause you could get yourself in trouble if you’re not careful. Our rig had 37’s and a 86” wide from tire sidewall to tire sidewall, and it was about as wide as you wanted to be through Devil's Pocket. The park rangers were oddly right in front of us expecting us to get stuck, filming for their enjoyment. We squeaked right on through, but it was definitely tight. Bring your permits cause they do check them!
We ALWAYS do the Joint Trail hike at the end, on through to Chesler Park. It’s a big reason why this is one of the best trails around. ALSO: We always stop at Needles Outpost right before the park entrance and store our doors and tops so we aren’t driving down in the cold or crazy wind on the freeway. Jacob there is a great guy, and we threw him a $20 and he took all 12 doors and a top. Spend some money in their store cause they are a great resource that we want to keep around.
Really fun trail. It was difficult without being too challenging and didn't constantly hit you over the head with one obstacle after another. Did it in a mostly stock 2018 Jeep Wrangler JLU Sport S with take off Rubicon shocks/springs and 33s. Not too much trouble. The trail can be very tight in places, but that really adds to the fun. I camped out at Hell's Kitchen and would recommend camping if you can and stay for awhile, the scenery is top notch and there are plenty of places to explore. Access to the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers is a nice bonus! Getting to the confluence is pretty tame but requires a short hike at the end.
There is a small parking lot to set up at before heading up the trail. It has vault toilets and access to many hiking trails in the area.
As mentioned previously, Park Rangers are out to keep you and others safe. They aren't hiding and monitor traffic on the trail. They ask that you keep to your group (limit of 3 vehicles per group) and wait at least 30 minutes after the last group starts before heading up the trail. Please be respectful of them and others you may find on the trail.
We loved this trail! Well worth the drive from Moab... the scenery is indescribable. Go and see for yourself. It's in a national park so there are some extra rules versus a backcountry trail but this one is fun. The initial climb is easier than the subsequent decent. There is an obstacle at the top of the first climb, do it and see if that is comfortable for you. If not, turn around and go back down. No shame in it, just don't continue where you might get stuck. After the first climb and decent the trail is pretty easy until SOB hill.. that is an SOB!!!! Good thing we had skid plates, no issues at all just some scrapage on the skids. Highly recommend this one, maybe our favorite near Moab.. although Poison Spider had an amazing overlook... We will be back.
Great trail! Very secluded and felt like we owned the place. Got scolded a bit by the ranger, apparently they count as a party so even though we were at the 3 vehicle limit including him, we were supposed to wait 30 minutes before starting up the trail. Overall well worth the drive and one of our favorite trails of all time. Trail conditions were very good and able to.pass all of it with no issue.
Very happy to have finally made it to Elephant Hill. Was very doable in my '18 stock Rubicon JLU. There were only a couple of spots that pushed its limits just a bit, but in the end were no problem when scouted. The entire area offers spectacular, other-worldly scenery. We camped a couple of nights in Devil's Kitchen, which offers access to some excellent hiking. Trail was in good condition overall (also went down to Horsehoof campsite and up to the confluence trailhead).
We did this trail on our second day of wheeling in Moab. The drive down from Moab was a bit long, with the doors and windows off, but it was well worth it. From the very beginning, we could tell Elephant would be both challenging and rewarding. The climb out of the parking lot was more than we expected, but was also a lot of fun. For the first 1.5 miles, I thought, “I’m going to have to do this all again!”, but it wasn’t as intimidating the second time around.
The Joint at Waypoint 18 was a little difficult to find, especially with the hot sun, but was well worth it when we did. If you have time and the weather is favorable, definitely check it out. Overall, Elephant was a little more difficult than we expected, but still very manageable, and very much worth it.
Also, look for the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock along the road on your way in and out of the park.
My new favorite trail in Moab/Canyonlands! It's a nice medium trail, fun and not boring for a highly capable vehicle, challenging but not dangerous for aggressive stock SUV's (Wrangler, Land Rover), a lot of fun obstacles and sandy roads without a lot of jarring or bumpy driving. The views on the confluence are amazing. There are great campsites. Wonderful rock formations.
We ran this today in an XJ with a 4" lift and 31's, and a more aggressive Wrangler. Both drivers had fun, and no recovery or assistance was needed. The Narrows is doable by normal vehicles but *not* wide vehicles like a Hummer or Raptor, it will not fit. Many who use this trail will ask TrailsOffroad, "will my stock SUV make it?"... the answer is, "yes, a stock SUV with 4WD will make it, if you're an experienced driver AND you're willing to take some underbody and body damage"- in my opinion. A Wrangler in experienced hands will probably have no trouble and take no damage. We saw a group with a stock XTerra and XJ on top of the Elephant Hill, so it is do-able if you know what you're doing.
Remember that this trail requires a special day use permit from the NPS and that they only sell 24 per day, so make your reservations more than 2 days in advance if you plan to come. April and October are your best seasons because summer is HOT in Canyonlands. Watch out for hikers, there is a lot of foot traffic here.
I took the opportunity during the 2017 Easter Jeep Safari to tackle the famous Elephant Hill, one of the few trails in the Canyonlands National Park near Moab, UT. Taking the trip with others participating in the EJS gave me the opportunity to see how other drivers with varying skill levels handle the moderate trail. The EJS rates the trail a 4, while Trailsoffroad rates the trail slightly more difficult.
The sky was sunny, the temperature was in the mid 70's, the trail was dry, and the scenery was spectacular. The trail leader, who has run this trail dozens of times, was very helpful with identifying landmarks and citing history of the area. Although they were pointed out to me, I did not see elephants in the rock shapes at the top of Elephant Hill.
The trail leader spoke about how much the trail has changed in the past season. He felt that the trail has become a bit more difficult over the past year with rock obstacles becoming more exposed and difficult to maneuver. He was of the opinion that the trail conditions easily justified an EJS rating of 5. This is not an easy trail.
Our group consisted of ten vehicles, 9 Jeep Wranglers and one Toyota Land Cruiser. All of the stock vehicles had difficulty on the trail conquering the rocky terrain. Three of the trail's obstacles required the ability to back the vehicle to get set up for an upcoming tight switchback. It is clear that many drivers have difficulty with the skill of backing. The Land Cruiser required assistance from others to finish the trail.
This trail is a real challenge for an inexperienced driver or a stock vehicle. It was beneficial to watch drivers of different skills and vehicles of different capabilities tackle this trail. It helps to verify the trail's rating. For me, this is a trail to come back to during my next Moab visit.
I have to admit, I really did not know what to expect when I did Elephant Hill. I had heard how steep and treacherous it was, and that if I do not like steep trails, stay away from this one. The day before doing the trail, I walked up the road a little to scope it out and see what I was getting myself into. I walked up along side a fairly stock Jeep JK, and figured ok, it can't be that bad. I hung out and took in the views as I waited for more vehicles going up or down. The next vehicle I saw was a beautiful condition 80 series Land Cruiser towing a trailer. A trailer! I thought to myself how is this possible with what I had heard about this trail. So I introduced myself to the gentleman driving and found out that he had to Hi-Lift his trailer in order to pivot it to make it the switchbacks. I can say though after seeing an 80 series come down towing a trailer, I figured I wouldn't sweat the trail anymore.
The next day we did the trail and I was just amazed at its sure beauty. I do not know of too many trails that takes you into the heart of such terrain and scenery. I would do this trail over and over because I am sure it is one of those trails that one time is just not enough to soak it all in.
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Todd is an avid wheeler who loves to explore new trails whenever and wherever possible. They say necessity is the mother of all invention, which is true for Todd. His want and desire to find passable trails and new nooks and crannies of the Great American west to explore were his reasons behind starting Trails Offroad. On any given day, you can find Todd on an obscure 4x4 trail, curating Trails Offroad guides, or using his legs to hike to an alpine lake.
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