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Elephant Butte – Arches National Park
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Overview
Location

Arches National Park (Garden of Eden parking lot), Moab Utah

Sights

Elephant Butte, Arches National Park, Garden of Eden

Distance

About 1.30 miles round trip

Parking Lot Elevation

5141 ft

Summit Elevation

5580 ft

Elevation Gain/Loss

439 ft

Time Required

2-3 hours depending on the size and skill level of your group.

Pets

Not allowed

Fees

Entrance fees are required. You won't need to pay for a permit fee but you should register for a permit at the Visitor Center

Water Info

Bring 1-2 liters of water

Best Season

Spring, Summer, Fall

Hours

Open year round

Restrooms

At the Visitor Center

Visitor Center

Yes. Located near park entrance

Camping

Not in this area

Food

Bring meals and snacks as needed

Equipment

200 ft of rope, harnesses, carabiners, belay devices, slings, chain reactors, shoes with good grip, sunglasses, flashlights (for just in case purposes), helmets, gloves, bag for food, gear and water.

GPS Coordinates:

Trailhead: 38.69808, -109.55004
Canyon Entrance: 38.69571, -109.54797
Sand Dune Area: 38.69713, -109.54299
First Rappel: 38.69674, -109.54241
Second Rappel: 38.696, -109.54333

Trail Map

Driving Directions

The Trail:

Elephant Butte is a fun and relatively short canyoneering experience.  The route features two rappels and lots of areas for general canyoneering fun such as bouldering, hiking on sandstone and hiking up cracks and crevices.

The trail begins at the Elephant Butte/Garden of Eden parking lot.

Elephant Butte Elephant Butte

We followed a dirt trail south for about 1/4 mile until we came to the canyon entrance.  The only way we knew this was the right canyon was because my brother had done this canyon before – so it might be wise to use the GPS coordinates above to figure out which canyon is the correct entrance.

The trail winds around all these large boulders

The trail winds around all these large boulders

Looking back towards the outside of the canyon

Looking back towards the outside of the canyon

At the entrance of the canyon we were scurrying up and  down large boulders and eventually we came to where the canyon got extremely narrow and this is where all the rock crawling began.

The canyon gets more and more narrow the farther you go in

The canyon gets more and more narrow the farther you go

Here is where the rock crawling will begin (about :21 of the video above).  Many of us required help from each other and since Canyoneering, in my opinion, is a team experience, just make sure you are helping each other out.

Elephant Butte

This is a cool photo I took looking back towards the outside of the canyon.

Elephant Butte

You manage this part to go directly above where you will come to a small grassy meadow area where there is a clear cut trail for a little ways until  you come to a steeply slanted rock face which you will need to climb up (0:52 in the video above).  We found a trickle of water coming down it.

Elephant Butte

Above this area you will come to where a sand dune is located (0:56 in the video above).  This area is shaped like a bowl.  Hike to the back of the bowl where you will see that the canyon splits – take the right fork and keep climbing up.  This area is steep and tricky at parts so make sure everyone is safe.

Looking up where you will need to go - You can see other hikers in the background

Looking up where you will need to go – You can see other hikers in the background

Looking down in the little bowl area

Looking down in the little bowl area

It got a little steep so we used a handline to help each other up (1:01 in the video above).

Elephant Butte

On the other side of this tricky area, there is a small 5 foot drop which you can stem down and then it opens up to another canyon where the first rappel is located.

Elephant Butte

First Rappel

(1:15 in the video above)

The first rappel is about 45 feet and has four anchors already in place with some webbing.  Please make sure you test the anchors before you trust them.  And always make sure you bring your own anchors, webbing and other canyoneering gear before you embark on any canyoneering/climbing trip.

The first rappel was really cool! It offered an overlook to your next destination and it was on a very exposed ledge which is why we were all using slings and chain reactors so none of us trip and fall down.

We set up our own rope and by the time we were all down it was just about completely dark.

Elephant Butte Elephant Butte

Once at the bottom of the rappel (1:42 in the video above), there is a steep down climb of about 20 feet or so.  If you are uncomfortable, just stay hooked into the rope and keep rappelling down.  In the video below, they rappelled off the opposite side making this rappel about 75 feet.

At the bottom you will need to make a U-Turn to head back up the adjacent canyon.  This is where you will basically climb to the top of Elephant Butte but not to the very tip top.  We hiked to just about the top ridge, found a cairn then cut back down the next canyon.

Here is the cairn at the crux near the top of the Butte

Here is the cairn at the crux near the top of the Butte

Story Time

By the time we got to the first rappel we found four other people who were climbing to the top of the butte.  We didn’t think much of it at the time but we quickly realized that they seemed to not know the way out.  We saw them all climb back down to the bottom of the canyon and attempt to find a different exit.  This obviously didn’t work for them and they came back and started climbing up the butte again.

When we were all at the bottom of the first rappel one of us asked them “are you guys lost?”  They responded that they didn’t know where the exit was located and it was their second time climbing to the top of the butte trying to get out.  They looked tired and desperate so we conversed for a second about how to get out.  My brother was the only one in both our groups that had done this canyon so he was confident about the trail directions.

We all together climbed up to the top of the ridge where we found the cairn (which is the picture in the paragraph above) and then used our flashlights to spot the correct canyon to exit.  The climb down is somewhat steep but just take your time and be careful as you descend.

The group in front of us didn’t really say much.  There was only one girl in the group who was interested in conversation and she was pleasant to speak with.  The other three guys in the group were arrogant and didn’t say a word to us.

The canyon eventually slims down to a narrow point again to where the final rappel is located.

Waiting for the group in front of us to descend the last rappel

Waiting for the group in front of us to descend the last rappel.  Still smiling despite it being cold!

The four people in the other group quickly ran ahead of us and rappelled down,not saying another word.  They didn’t even thank us or especially thank my brother for guiding them out of the canyon.  They seemed to know the ins-and-outs of canyoneering but they were arrogant and ungrateful for the help.

It is incredibly annoying and rude when you offer help and direction to a lost group, that you don’t even bother to say a simple “thanks”.  The Trek Planner emphasizes skill learning , exploring and respect for nature and all people.  Please always be respectful to nature and people in all circumstances and not just when it is convenient.  Do not emulate the behavior of that group.

Second (last) Rappel

(about 2:05 in the video above)

This rappel is about 50 feet give-or-take and features a free hang.  There are several anchors with lots of twisted webbing already in place.  We straightened some of the webbing out and used it.

Last rappel

Last rappel

This rappel is also exposed so we used our slings again to keep us safe until we were on the rope.  I apologize I do not have pictures of this last rappel in the light but I tried to capture it in the video.

Looking up from the last rappel

Looking up from the last rappel

Elephant Butte

The Return:

Once all safe and sound at the bottom of the last rappel, we followed the canyon out until we were completely outside of it.  Then we followed a few vague trails back to the parking lot.

Elephant Butte

Personal Thoughts:

The canyoneering in Elephant Butte was really fun!  I especially enjoyed all the rock crawling we had to do to navigate through the canyon.  I would do it again!

Trek Planner Logo

Here is my friend’s video (in the daylight).  It gives you an even better idea of what to expect from Elephant Butte:

Ratings (out of 10)
Trek Planner Rating
User Rating
Rate Here
Difficulty
4.0
4.0
Technicality
4.5
5.0
Enjoyment
8.0
8.5
The Bottom Line

Difficulty is basically the length, duration and stress of the Trek. If the Trek is really long then it will receive a higher rating. If the Trek is short then it won't receive that high of a rating. However, difficulty rating also includes how tired we were at the end of the Trek.

Technicality is how strenuous the Trek is. If there is lots of bouldering or if there is bushwhacking involved then the rating will be higher. Technicality also includes if there are steep inclines or the need for ropes and other equipment.

Enjoyment is strictly how much fun we had doing the Trek. Regardless of how tired and exhausted we were, if we had a ton of fun doing the Trek then it will receive a higher rating.

8.2
Trek Planner Rating
5.8
User Rating
1 rating
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About The Author
Jeff Johnson
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you! JeffTJohnson@ymail.com

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