Elephant Hill

5/5 (17 reviews)
Monticello, Utah (SanJuan County)
Last Updated: 03/21/2022
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Trail Information

Highlights

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

Trail Navigation

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

Trail Reviews

5/5 (17 reviews)
Status: Open
Visited: 10/04/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

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. Obstacle Assessment 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.
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 05/30/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

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.
Trail Review: Elephant Hill - Ed Helmuth
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 05/10/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

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.
Trail Review: Elephant Hill - Dale Holland
HB
500
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 05/09/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

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
Status: Open
Rated 5/5
Visited: 04/30/2022
Difficulty Accuracy: Spot On

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.

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