Our favorite trail in the Moab area, maybe our favorite trail we’ve ever been on. Far off the beaten path, you first need to get yourself to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park – a 74 mile drive from Moab. Head south out of Moab about 40 miles on US 191. Turn right at the sign to Needles on Highway 211 and drive another 34 miles. Right before the entrance station you will pass Needles Outpost, your last chance for gas and supplies. After paying the entrance fee it’s always a good idea to stop in at the vistors center to check in and check trail conditions. Follow the signs to Elephant Hill, there is a parking area with vault toilets right before you head up the trail itself.
Heading up over the hill you follow a lot of steep, narrow rocky switchbacks. Try to check for vehicles descending before you start, there are very few places to pass. Once you make it to the top, cross Elephant Hill and start your descent. Again, check for traffic first, the back side is even tighter than the front. About half way down one switchback is tight enough that you need to back down – be sure to watch for that sign! We have personally witnessed a rollover there. Be sure to remember that for your trip back up, you’ll need to do the same. After conquering the hill and wheeling over to the start of the loop be sure to head left – the loop section is one way only. After completing the loop you’ll head back over Elephant Hill the way you came in.
The track below only shows the hill and loop portions of the trail – there are two excellent side trips that are shown in the Funtreks book linked below. One is south on Devil’s Lane to the Chesler Park area. At Chesler Park there is an excellent side hike to The Joint, an amazing sight to see (there is a picture below). You can also continue heading south into the Beef Basin area, see this trail description for details. The other side trip is just after Silver Stairs on the loop portion, it heads out to the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers.
Although a popular trail please be sure that you are prepared before starting out. The only way out (other than a long and difficult trek through Beef Basin) is over Elephant Hill, and if you break down after crossing the hill be prepared for a long and expensive recovery experience. The park rangers are under no obligation to help you recover your vehicle. There are vault toilets at Devil’s Kitchen campground, The Joint trailhead, and at the confluence overlook trailhead.
- Difficulty: Hard – Elephant Hill itself is a series of very tight, very steep and rocky switchbacks up one side of the hill and down the other. The rest of the trail is mostly hard with some medium/easy connecting parts. Not a trail for stock vehicles.
- Our rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
- Type of trail: Over Elephant Hill, then the main part of the trail is a one way loop. There are multiple side trips. Once you complete the loop, head back over Elephant Hill.
- Permits/fees: Elephant Hill is part of Canyonlands National Park, Needles District. There was an entrance fee of $5/vehicle/day as of May 2012. There are additional fees for camping and reservations are recommended in advance.
- Starting Point: The parking lot at the Elephant Hill trailhead.
- Starting Point Coordinates: N 38° 08.5004′ W 109° 49.6509′
- Approximate distance from starting point: 9 miles (entire loop, start to finish)
- Further Info: Much more information available in Funtreks‘ Guide to Moab, UT Backroads and 4-Wheel Drive Trails 2nd Edition
- When the track below was produced: May 2012
Disclaimer: Off-road travel has inherent dangers that could possibly result in injury, property damage, and even death. By using any of the information on this web site you assume full responsibility for these risks. You are solely responsible for determining if the trail is safe, if your vehicle is capable of completing the trip safely, and what supplies you should bring. If you are traveling in a hot climate please carry plenty of water (a good guideline is at least 1 gallon per person per day). Good judgement is essential to safe off-road trips. Travel with another vehicle whenever possible. The owners of this web site disclaim any and all liability for bodily injury, death, or property damage that could occur as a result of using this information.