Elephant Hill Road

Round Trip Distance: 7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 5004 - 5260 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Elephant Hill
Fee:$30/vehicle (plus permit)
Attractions: Scenic landscape, pictographs

The Elephant Hill Road is located in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park between Moab and Monticello, Utah. With steep drops, hairpin turns and multiple ledges Elephant Hill is rated as one of the most difficult 4-wheel drive roads in Utah. A day use permit is required to drive the road but not for hikers and mountain bikers. Anyone wanting to camp at any of the backcountry campsites will also need an overnight permit. Permits and additional information are available at the Visitor Center as well as online.

The Elephant Hill trailhead is at the end of the gravel road west of the campgrounds about 6 miles from the Needles District Visitor Center.

The road starts out on a steep grade as it climbs away from the trailhead. Some of the ledges on both sides of the first hill have been smoothed out with concrete to help preserve the road.

Before reaching the top of the first hill a hairpin turn comes up that is so sharp that vehicles have to take advantage of a large area of slickrock in order to turn around and make the corner.

At the top of Elephant Hill the road levels off and even has some fast moving stretches of dirt mixed in with the uneven slickrock. After traveling across the top of the hill the road begins a dramatic descent into the next canyon.

There are 2 notable turns during the descent that are too sharp to make. For the first one vehicles must pull far enough forward in order to back down to the next turn where they can back up far enough to begin driving forward once again.

The road speeds up once it makes it into the bottom of the canyon where there are some long enjoyable dirt tracks to follow.

At the first intersection that comes up around the 1.5 mile point vehicles have to commit to either completing the loop that is made by continuing to Devil's Lane and returning via the one-way route or turning around at this point and heading back over the hill to the trailhead.

The road continues along a mostly easy route, with the exception of one minor hill, until it reaches the 2.8 mile point where it climbs steeply out of the valley up a very rough stretch with exposed rocks and rocky outcrops.

At the top of the hill the road levels off and travels through a very scenic trough that is surrounded by cliffs on both sides.

At the west end of the high valley the route passes through a joint that looks a little too narrow for our truck and judging from all the scrapes on the rocks it was also too narrow for a few other vehicles. Of course, our truck was safely parked back at the trailhead since we were hiking for this trip.

A short distance past the narrow joint the road reaches  the intersection at the Devil's Kitchen area. The Devil's Kitchen backcountry campsites and restrooms are immediately to the left as well as connections to the Joint trail and Chesler Park via the Devil's Pocket trail. Going to the right will continue the loop as well as lead to Devil's Lane and Cyclone Canyon. For this post it was our turn around point. Since we are hiking we don't have to worry about the one-way portions of the trail.

Before heading back it is well worth hiking around to enjoy some awesome views of the needles in the Grabens area of the park.

There are some interesting pictographs in a sheltered spot on the right hand side of the trail right before it reaches the Devil's Kitchen intersection.

We have seen pictures of some of the vehicle damage from 4x4's that drove the trail. Mostly broken shocks and bent up side panels. As far as hiking goes the Elephant Hill Road is a nice option in the Needles District. Especially if you have been on all the other trails multiple times. It is hard to go wrong in Canyonlands no matter what you choose to do. The only other person we saw on the trail was a Park Ranger that was out doing one of their regular sweeps of the area. Other than that we had the whole time to ourselves. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.