Elephant Hill

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4.9/5 (31 reviews)
Monticello, Utah (San Juan County)
Last Updated: 04/02/2023

Trail Information


Desert Category Icon Desert
Iconic Category Icon Iconic
Overland Category Icon Overland
Rock Category Icon Rock
Sand Category Icon Sand
Wash Category Icon Wash

Elephant Hill, a remote Jeep Badge of Honor Trail, takes you deep into the interior of the otherworldly scenery within the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park. Many call it one of Utah's most technical 4WD routes, which may or may not be true depending on your driving skills. Without question, this trail has the most pristine scenery and solitude in the area that a remote four-wheel drive can offer. The route immerses you in thousands of colorful sandstone spires reaching up from the desert floor. Adding to this topographical wonderland, arches, washes, plateaus, and narrow slot canyons are scattered along the ever-changing trail. The park only gives out 24 day-use permits per day for Elephant Hill, so plan ahead.

Trail Difficulty and Assessment

Trail Navigation

The route described in this guide is from the parking lot to Chesler Park and back. Elephant Hill connects to Devil's Lane, which connects to Bobby's Hole and Beef Basin for a multi-day trip. The trail is one-way in the southerly direction between Waypoints 10 through 15.

The road surface is a mix of rock and dirt and includes several very steep grades and tight switchbacks. While the rock has excellent traction, good driving skills and knowing your vehicle's capabilities are required. The most challenging portion of the trail is the very first mile, going up and over the actual Elephant Hill. One of the switchbacks requires driving in reverse for a few vehicle lengths. The narrowest portion of this trail, Devil's Pocket, Waypoint 14, is not suitable for wider vehicles. Longer wheelbase vehicles must take extra care navigating the obstacles at SOB Hill.

Canyonlands National Park lists the following restrictions for Elephant Hill:

  • Vehicles (or a combination of vehicles and trailers) that exceed 21 feet in overall length are prohibited from traveling on Elephant Hill Access Road and the Elephant Hill road system at The Needles.
  • ATVs, UTVs, and OHVs are not permitted. Motorbikes must be equipped and licensed for interstate travel.
  • Group size is limited to 3 vehicles.

The Canyonlands National Park Website lists daily road condition status. The park only gives out 24 day-use permits per day for this trail, so be sure to plan appropriately.

Trail Reviews

4.9/5 (32)
Rated 5/5
Visited: 09/03/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

Excellent trail! Great technical drive and gorgeous scenery! The iconic obstacles are a blast! Tight narrows, switchbacks, and *** Hill is a decent shelf earning the 5 ranking
Rated 5/5
Visited: 09/03/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

Excellent trail! Fun technical spots and gorgeous scenery
Visited: 06/06/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

A very diverse and fun trail to drive. We were a group of 4 people in 2 Jeep Wranglers and completed the trail without difficult, grinning all the way. One of our group mentioned that on a scale of 1 - 10 this was rated a 4, and I think that is inaccurate. I would rate this trail a 5 or 6. Even so, we saw a stock Jeep Cherokee with highway tires complete the trail with help from some capable spotters. My compliments to the driver of that red Cherokee. The initial climb out of the parking area at the start of the trail will get your attention, but if you negotiate that climb without any apprehension or vehicle problems, the rest of the trail will be ok. The side trip to the Confluence overlook is worth the time to do. It is mostly dirt road with about a half-mile hike from a parking area to the overlook. The only other comment is with the permitting process. The application for a permit opens at 8:00 a.m. the day before you plan to do the trail, and there is a limit of 25 permits issued each day. I think this is too restrictive. in some regards. The people I was with drove from Tennessee, and it would be disappointing to drive all that way to find out you can't get a permit. I think this procedure was the result of people who sign up for the permits in advance, filling up the 25-permit limit, and then not showing up. It would be nice however, if they could figure a better way to accommodate folks coming from out of state.
Rated 5/5
Visited: 05/30/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

Incredible trail. This has been a bucket list trail for a long time and it was absolutely worth the trip. We started in Moab and drove about 90 minutes to trail head. Make sure you have your reservation on your phone. When we pulled up, there were a couple of cars coming down and only ran into 2 vehicles the rest of the day. Very quiet trial. This trail has a lot of variation. The majority of the trail isn't difficult - there are a few obstacles that are tricky but nothing that was too bad. We did the trail in my Bronco with 37s, Gladiator on 37s (his first difficult trail) and a Tacoma on 33s with a 2in lift. None of them had any issues and the Tacoma only scraped once. The hardest part was definitely the climb back out of Elephant Hill. Going down was tricky but going up will definitely raise your heart rate. Take your time and a good spotter will make this better. We chose to not do the Confluence part of the trail and it still took us just about 5 hours to complete the loop with a 30 minute stop to eat lunch. It's definitely an all day trip. Trail is rated a 5 but I would say that last section coming back up might be enough to push it to a 6. Keep that in mind if you have people who are new to off-roading - this can be an intense trail for a first time. Overall, will definitely be doing this trail again in the future.
Rated 4/5
Visited: 04/23/2023
Difficulty Accuracy: Easier

This is a beautiful trail. Since it’s in the national park and requires reservations it’s not crowded. (Bonus: no side by sides allowed). A great trail to do on weekends to avoid the madness on the popular Moab Trails. You have to get a pass the day prior (did it online). They say groups are limited to 3 vehicles, but no one ever checked our passes or was around to monitor group size. There are a lot of hikers and bikers on the trail so be cautious. It takes about an hour and Half to drive to the trailhead from Moab, gas up there and you will be fine. The closest gas is in Monticello (which is about 15 miles from the turn-off on Highway 191). The only difficulty on the trail is at the very beginning going up and down over Elephant Hill. I didn’t use a spotter, but if your vehicle is not modified it probably is a good idea. It’s a very tight switch back trail (exposed) and a section where you have to back down (it’s fairly wide so not that bad). On a side note i backed up this on the way out, the section above it is technical and would be dicey going up backwards. You might be able to do multi point turn, but it was very easy to just back-up (same place you back down) and not deal with it. On the return make sure you peak over the top to make sure no one is coming up, it would really stink to have to back-up either direction on the narrow technical switch backs. Except for SOB hill at 19 (4.85) (very fun section and probably the most technical section on the trail), the rest of trail is fairly easy, but beautiful. Devils Pocket at 14 (The Squeeze) is really fun. I barely fit in my JLU with 13.5 37’s (see pic). I didn’t go to Bobby’s Hole, we stayed on the loop (we wanted to go to Confluence Overlook). The overlook was worth the easy drive (watch your speed, bikers and two unexpected obstacles are on the road) and 1/2 mile hike. I did rate this easier, mainly because the switchbacks don’t really require a dedicated line and after that the trail is significantly easier,. If your vehicle is stock then the published rating is probably more in line. We had a very lightly modified Tacoma with us (on 33’s) that had no difficulty, BTW this was his first wheeling trip ever. Overall a very fun trail that requires a full day to complete.
Trail Review: Elephant Hill - Mark Zabolotny
Trail Review: Elephant Hill - Mark Zabolotny

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