Like most Southern Utah trail names, Elephant Arch is named after exactly what it is – an arch that looks like an elephant. This 4.4-mile out and back hike is rated as moderate, due to the sand, and offers some pretty fantastic sandstone rock formations.
Let’s talk about the sand, shall we? Yes, it’s the desert, I get it. But note that the entire hike you will find yourself wading through it. Imagine an angelic beach scene where the wind is in your hair and the sound of the ocean is off in the distance. Then take out the ocean, the mild temperatures, and the magical vibes and insert desert sand, no shade, and heat. On a sarcastic plus side: If you walk far enough, you may start picturing a mirage of said ocean experience.
If I haven’t scared you off yet, I should probably add that the rock formations and the actual elephant arch are really neat. It’s worth the desert trek. I just would NOT do this in the heat of the summer. We went on February 1st, where it was 60 degrees. (Our very small window where hiking with no shade is actually acceptable.)
I had the pleasure of doing this trek with my dad! I’m generally known for taking my parents on a hike and getting us lost, but I’m proud to say that we didn’t get lost even once on this one. Score.
bone wash trail - veer right
You’ll walk down this old dirt road until you come to a fork where you can either go straight, left, or right. You’ll go right. I’m pretty sure if you go straight you’ll just be wandering on a dirt road that goes nowhere.
You’ll see the Bone Wash trailhead sign, that’s the path you want to take.
Along the route, you’ll see signs for Bone Wash pretty frequently. Very obvious trail-markers, making it easy to find your way on the trail.
elephant arch trailhead - veer right again
Hike a half-mile to the point where the wash splits right and left. From this point, you will notice a well-traveled trail to your right up a long sandhill. You’ll see rock formations popping up over the hill. We actually almost missed it. I only went to see what the view looked like, it turns out that’s the actual trail! Don’t miss this turn-off. Follow this trail for about 0.4 miles to the arch. This section of the trail has some steep sand rises making the hike a bit difficult. It’s a real calf-burner!
The plus side is that you’ll start to see more and more neat rock formations along the route, as opposed to the wide-open desert landscape. But alas, still sand. So. Much. Sand.
Since this is the desert, you’ll find lots of sandstone formations and cactus. I happen to think that cactus is pretty beautiful in itself, but some may find that strange. Desert problems.
As you start to see more and more towering rock formations, you’ll know you’re very close to Elephant Arch. Keep winding your way along the path.
Keep your eye on the right side as you come across the different formations. The clouds that don’t exist often in the desert will part, the doves will fly, and BOOM, there it is. Elephant Arch, in all its glory.
From all the photos I had seen online, I thought this arch was just sitting along a dirt trail, right in front of you. No. Not even close. In order to actually see the arch up close, you have to scramble. A lot.
Scramble up the rocks to see Elephant Arch up-close and personal
And when I say scramble, I mean it. There is no trail. It wouldn’t even matter if there was, honestly. The sandstone is VERY slippery, then Mother Nature adds loose sand on top of it and makes for one hell of a sketchy climb. As per usual, my mentality was that I came this far, so I had to go to the actual arch. My dad is deathly afraid of heights, so he opted to stay at the bottom while I climbed alone. I don’t recommend that, by the way. I also wouldn’t recommend taking children up this climb. But what do I know?
...But did you die?
No, I didn’t. I also didn’t get a lot of photos on my way up because my focus was more on not falling to my death. It seemed more important at the time. Do I sound dramatic? That was the goal. I will say, it is much steeper and sketchier than the photos make it appear.
Triumph! There’s always something amazing about reaching the destination of a hike. Also, a cellphone selfie-timer for the win! It’s the best I could do since I was alone. Photos or it didn’t happen, ammmirite?
Shout-out to the rock that held my phone. You really did me a solid. See what I did there. Also, to the people at the bottom who watched me run back and forth like an idiot to get these shots – my apologies for looking like a crazy person.
When all the sand is said and done, this hike is totally worth the trek and the climb! I definitely recommend checking it out for yourself. I had a blast doing this one with my dad, too. Elephant Arch for the win.
Ahhh family bonding time – with one you actually like. Can’t beat it.
Best. Compliment. Ever.
I also wanted to add, when I reached the bottom, a random stranger told me that I hike like a mountain goat. Have you ever seen what mountain goats can do? Hands-down best hiking compliment ever received. And while it’s really not true at all and I’m more of a clumsy, awkward mountain goat, it felt good to hear.