Ordinarily, the National Park Service likes to keep its trails readily available to the public and not cluttered with large groups. We have used Park trails before under controlled conditions, however, and the officials have been cooperative with us in adding the Elephant Hill trail again. In fact, a Park Ranger may accompany the group to provide interpretive information. The trail enters the beautiful small canyons, called “grabens,” in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and has a reputation of being very challenging for stock vehicles. One goal is the overlook, accessed by a short hike, of the confluence of the deeply entrenched Colorado and Green Rivers.
The trail requires more highway driving than our other day trips — about 75 miles each way. Vehicles should be capable of maintaining 55 MPH highway speed. You should plan to have enough fuel for about 175 miles of travel. The Park Service will require that a normal entrance fee be paid and that all National Park regulations be followed (this is part of the park’s new “backcountry” plan, and pets are not allowed even if they are inside vehicles). The fee is expected to be $5 per vehicle, but annual permits, Golden Eagle Passports, or Golden Age Passports may be used. The optional hike to the confluence is about one-half mile each way and requires some minor rock scrambling. No long wheelbase (more than 115 inches), please.
The tall cliffs lining the rivers are similar to those seen near Moab. Most of the surface rock formations, however, are of the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, which produces the spectacular colors and forms that give the Needles area its world renown.
The ridge crossings are mainly rock ledges while the roads in the bottom of the grabens are mostly fine powder laced with a few rocks.
Elephant Hill itself has difficult climbs in both directions — even after cement was added to some ledges to obviate the need for chinking them with loose rocks. There are other ledges between grabens and a little slickrock at the Silver Stairs.