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Elephant Head - South Approach, AZ

431 46 2
Guide 46 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Tucson > Tucson S
4.5 of 5 by 13
Warning! Technical climbing skills required. Risks include serious injury to death.  Risks are not eliminated by skill.
Climb Consensus (37) → View
Difficulty 3rd
Climb I G Boulder
Rock Unknown Unknown
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 6.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,588 feet
Elevation Gain 1,053 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,343 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 17.92
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall, Seasonal Creek & Peak
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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12  2017-05-14 trekkin_gecko
8  2017-05-14 JuanJaimeiii
12  2017-05-14 johnlp
6  2017-02-13 Pivo
6  2017-01-06 fearnestiv
11  2017-01-06 rvcarter
13  2015-12-19 JuanJaimeiii
13  2015-11-28
Elephant Head Trail
Page 1,  2,  3
Author fricknaley
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 383
Photos 3,724
Trips 2,746 map ( 18,187 miles )
Age 44 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn
Sun  6:12am - 6:21pm
Official Route
5 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
An Elephant (and your knees) never forgets
by fricknaley

Overview: There are some famous peaks in the Santa Ritas, south of Tucson...Wrightson, Hopkins. None have the mystique of Elephant Head. The almost impossibly steep monolith crashing out of the western Santa Ritas into the desert seems to defy logic. Was this a place of sacrifice or violent deaths? Nobody knows for sure. But with old names including Picacho del Diablo and Cerro de los Muertos, one must wonder.

It turns out there is a way to the top requiring some trail hiking and class 3 scrambling with a very short class 4 move right before the summit. The exposure (mostly) feels worse than it is. The views from the top are worth every drop of blood and sweat.

Hike: The first part of this trail utilizes the Elephant Head Bike trail and the Quantrell Mine trail, described here on HAZ by Jeff MacE. Check that out to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land and trails you will use. The hike begins on the Elephant Head Bike trail which takes off just across the street from the pullout where you can park for this hike. The trail is a narrow single track cutting through the desert and initially heading northwest, then north up to a little saddle at the south end of the ridgeline leading out to the impressive Peak 5139. From this saddle (about 0.6 miles in) the trail drops down into Chino Basin with great views. At about 0.9 miles you come to the signed intersection with the Quantrell Mine to your right and Elephant Head continuation to your left. Take a right onto the Quantrell Mine Trail and circle the eastern and northern end of the beautiful Chino Canyon as you head up to the first of the mines. The trail resumes a gradual climb the rest of the way to your takeoff for the scramble to Elephant Head.

All the while Elephant is coming more and more into your view. You reach the takeoff point for your scramble at about 1.9 miles from the car. A steep drainage into Chino Canyon falls off to your left and a distinct (and likely cairned) route will break off and down to your left and head straight down into it. This is not a formal trail, but hikers with experience will have no trouble following the route down. It is steep and the footing is pretty bad. You will drop about 500 feet in less than a quarter mile to the canyon bottom, which offers a nice riparian surprise. During the right time there will be water and possibly small falls in here. Pick up the route leading up the north wall of the side canyon and continue your quad burning ascent up to the ridgeline running west to Elephant Head. Again the route is faint, but you should have no real issues following it up. The footing is worse on this a zillion little marbles. Once you hit the ridgeline, take a breather and catch your jaw as it tries to fall off as you take in the majestic views east of the Santa Rita highcountry.

The route to Elephant head now heads west along the ridgeline, skirting over and often north(right) of the smaller peaks and high points until the base of Elephant Head is achieved. From here on out it is basically a class 3 scramble to the top. The route is generally worn enough and/or cairned to make your way. There is no formal correct way, but often enough a several hundred foot vertical drop will keep you heading in the correct direction. For the most part, the correct route hugs the northern edge of the formation and when it doesn't you are often in cracks and crevices of the ridge heading up. There IS exposure, but often not as bad as it seems. If you feel like you are tightrope walking and playing with death, you are likely off route. Near the base of the final short section to the summit is a short maybe 10 foot class 4 wall you must scramble up. If there's an easier way, I could not find it. This is the only real tricky part, but there's a little tree at the base of it willing to catch you should you fall, and hopefully keep you from a several hundred foot plunge. Once up here, it's maybe a hundred feet or so up a shallow crack in the middle of the steep ridgeline to the summit. On top the most incredible views of Hopkins, Pete Mountain, Wrightson and the Crest await you to the east. Little Elephant Head and Peak 5139 to the south. North all the way to the Catalinas. People have left all kinds of little elephant decorations and toys at the top over the years.

Please be as careful, if not more so, on your way down. Though the exposure is often not as bad as it feels, there are definitely sections on this climb where a fall could lead to serious injury or death. This is not a hike to be taken lightly but it is an enchanting experience.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2009-11-07 fricknaley
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent of 17 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This hike is short but it packs a punch. Great terrain and scenery. We hiked to Elephant Head first, then hit Little Elephant Head on the way back. Both recommended. Some scrambling involved. No worse than Battleship in the Superstitions. Saw what appeared to be a golden eagle!

    Temps were moderate, topping out at 83 degrees. With the breeze and sometimes high winds it never felt hot.

    JJ made it through the ocotillo gauntlet unscathed! Last time he picked up a souvenir in his finger that didn't work it's way out for about two years. :o

    Wonderful day and company. Thanks for driving JJ. :)
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    last minute suggestion from johnlp to hike elephant head today
    this one has been on my list for a couple years now, and conditions seemed favorable
    john invited jj along and we were off
    set out a little after 8:00
    followed a trail, then an old mining road
    the hardest part of the hike was dropping down into chino canyon
    it was steep and loose
    up the other side was an easier grade with better footing
    great views of elephant head at the ridgeline
    the ridge leads to the base of the peak
    a great scramble up the granite - just pure fun
    one class four move toward the top
    i didn't feel any exposure, except for the gusty winds blowing me off course occasionally
    nice views from the summit of santa rita peaks and baboquivari
    a lot of elephant debris within a circle of rocks
    not in keeping with leave no trace, but neither is a summit register
    kind of fun to look at what people have left
    we didn't stay long, as we wanted to hit little elephant head on the return
    a couple of downclimbs, but good footing on the descent
    a 480 foot grind up from chino canyon, then back on the mining road to the little elephant head cutoff
    surprisingly good trail on this one; thought it would be less traveled
    an easier hike to the summit, also with good views and more wind gusts
    had a quick snack and headed back
    temps were fine, helped by a strong breeze and a little cloud cover at times
    lp and jj have been up here before, and it was nice of them to be willing to do it again
    stopped at bk tacos on the way home - yum
    just a great day, and this combo is one i would certainly do again
    in fact, at least four southern arizona peaks have now made my top 15 list, including rincon two weeks ago
    wrightson and ajo are the other two
    really like the sky island terrain
    thanks for the hike, guys, and to jj for driving
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    First time to combine Little with Big Elephant Head. One suggestion is to do Little first. Most groups will avoid Little if done after the pretty strenous climb up to Big. We had a fantastic day and a very good group for this all day outing. It's a 2 hour drive from where we live, but well worth the trip. Spectacular views from both Little and Big. The scramble up to top of Big never fails to deliver, but be aware it's not for everyone, especially those with some fear of heights.

    The trail to Little was unexpectedly easy to follow. It's obvious a lot of people go up there. A good amount of water flowing in the canyon below Big. The road is in unbelieveably good shape. Last time up a couple of years back, I had to park short of the TH parking lot. This time was no problem.
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Elephant Head! Finally made it up here. I always stare at this peak any time I'm remotely in the area. Such a magnificent looking peak that doesn't look like it can be scrambled up to. The last bit of rock to get to the summit wasn't actually that bad. I have a mild fear of heights and was able to do this solo. The "class 4" maneuver really didn't feel that bad. In all honestly, I think the western approach up Cat Mountain was more difficult than this. That being said, this was a very fun, and rewarding hike. Didn't bring an elephant to add unfortunately... Great views west, and east looking back at Hopkins at Wrightson. Trip back is little tough because you have to get up the area that you went down into by the wash. Great weather and a great day on Elephant head.
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Note: this triplog was first posted under the Elephant Head / North Face description, but has been reposted here to assist the reader in finding it.

    This is one heck of a hike/climb. Got the idea reading bknorby's triplog. It has lots of exposure and tricky climbing but is not technical. I'm also posting a gps route from I-19 to the parking spot, 12.9 miles in.

    First, I wouldn't recommend either our way in or out, but there is no good way. Just don't go any higher than we did to the ridge that you need to get to to find the route across the face. The route across the north face is not marked but there is some disturbance at key points. You will see from our track that we got off too high and had to retreat down a few hundred feet to get on the right track. My GPS track has lots of spurious points, but I cleaned it up and posted it just the same. It might help someone, but recognize that that the points along the north crevasse are all over the place because of satellite reception. Let me know if you want to see a .kmz of my track and SPOT points.

    Second, once you get to the saddle where you start across the face, look up and you'll see two possible routes. Do not take the upper one, as we did. Take the lower one, which looks really narrow but is really plenty wide, across the face. There is some tricky climbing but doable for most people with some boulder scrambling or climbing experience. A 20 foot rope may come in handy for the final segment (see pic).

    We didn't want to go back down the way we came up, so chose the loop back to the car from the saddle part way down the normal route. Good luck. Even tho the numbers aren't impressive, the difficulty is real. See my pics for some more insight. Excellent, exciting fun.
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    What a great climb.
    Route-finding was generally no problem. The cairn and boot tracks marking the drop-off point from Quatrell Mine Road is hard to miss. At the stream crossing a bit of inspection is necessary to find the main route going up to the elephant's "back". Likewise, the way down from the elephant's back to the stream would be fairly easy to miss.
    I found no more than Class 3 climbing the whole way up. Wild exposure is certainly a possibility, but mainly should serve as an indicator that you're off route.
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Elephant Head with Little Elephant
    Fun hike that's a good workout too. I didn't think the exposure was any worse than the Cave Trail in the Supes. :M2C: We saw one other group on the hike that were making pretty good time up and down as well. The trails to both peaks are pretty easy to follow and include some fun scrambling at the top.

    After the hike at the local slurpeeville, I helped a blind homeless guy out of a construction zone and back onto solid ground. Gave him a few bucks for food, and he promptly asked for directions to the nearby smoke shop. ](*,) He could of at least bought beer!

    Too bad tricky Nicky got sicky and didn't make it. Fun day. Thanks John for driving and lunch!! :)
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Most of a day. Ginger the dog summited with us. Really fabulous views of the Baboquivaries, plenty of class 3 scrambling. Didn't find any class 4 nessesary, there were always class 3 options if you look around. We had no harnesses or gear. I don't think most experienced scramblers would find this hike frighteningly exposed. No serious navigation challenges. Fun!
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Great to get out with Dave again on one of my local favorites. Boy this route has really grown over since my last trip out here...mostly with catclaw :o

    Always a blast climbing up the ol elephant. Great weather. Great day :y:
    Elephant Head - South Approach
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Great first go up Elephant Head. Lots of catclaw and grasses overgrowing parts of the trail (particularly after the turnoff from Quantrell Mine Trail), but worth it!!! Nice views...nice elephant collection up top ;)

    Permit $$

    Coronado Forest
    MVUMs are rarely necessary to review unless mentioned in the description or directions
    Coronado Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs)

    Map Drive
    High Clearance possible when dry

    To hike & climb trip
    From anywhere in Tucson, head south to I-19. Take I-19 south to exit 56 (Canoa). Take the east Frontage road south for three miles to Elephant Head road. Follow Elephant Head for about one and a half miles and turn right onto Mount Hopkins road. Take Mt. Hopkins road for 5.5 miles and turn north onto FSR 183, which is marked by the standard vertical FS road marker. Follow FSR for about two and a half miles until it approaches the basin of Agua Caliente stream. A large sign to the right of the road states "Dead End 2 Miles." Park here under the plentiful trees. Walk back down FSR 183 in the direction you just came for about 100 meters until you encounter the junction with FSR 930 - The Elephant Head trail.

    2014-03-03 andrewbares writes: Another rougher 4x4 entrance exists, on FR 4073. Same as above, exit 56 from I-19 and turn left on Elephant Head Rd. However, continue on Elephant Head Road and simply keep straight (turns into Hawk Way). Eventually it'll turn into a dirt road that heads southeast. Continue on that dirt road. You'll reach a gate on your left, but continue straight (goes directly south now). Finally, you'll reach another gate at the end of a big open parking area, and you'll go left through that gate. Very soon after, you'll come to a 4-way intersection... turn right onto FR 4073, which has a marker a little ways down the turnoff. This is where the road starts getting rougher. You'll cross through the wash and continue heading south for the rest of the drive. Stock 3rd generation 4Runners (1996-2002) will be perfectly fine. No rear lockers needed. I recommend 9.5" of ground clearance. Low gears aren't even needed. It's just a rocky trail. At the very end, it will get quite narrow (and eventually turns into an ATV trail) so park where you feel comfortable.

    2015-12-20 philmacduff writes: High clearance vehicles recommended on FSR 183. The road becomes impassable to cars with less than 9" clearance (even when dry) approximately 200m from the trailhead. Up until this point, with careful driving, it is doable with a decent 2WD car. You should be able to find a spot to park on the side of the road somewhere prior to this point. Be prepared to back down the dirt road if needed. Also note that FSR 183 is not marked well from Mt Hopkins Rd as FSR 183. There is a small sign about 40 yards down the dirt road, but nothing else was visible from Mt Hopkins Rd.
    page created by fricknaley on Nov 07 2009 8:49 pm
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