What’s a flatlander? Well, until this Canyonland’s adventure, we’d never heard the term before. According to the urban dictionary it’s “a name given to people from low-lands by those who live in the highlands, usually with a negative connotation.” Normally that would be offensive but we realized we were in territory that we truly weren’t familiar with, but very soon would be.
Elephant Hill Road is located in Canyonlands National Park in the southeast area of Utah. It requires high clearance and a 4×4. It consists of rock climbs, cliff edges, slick rock, sand, dirt, sharp rocks, steep climbs, and little to no traffic.
We started our adventure from the Chesler Park hiking trailhead parking lot. No problem so far until we laid eyes on the initial ascent up Elephant Hill. Maybe the idea of driving this was a mistake. It was steep and tight to the first landing, which then required us to go back and forth a few times to turn around only to go up an even tighter section to the top. We all decided to get out of the jeep and risk only one life.
The road is known for several menacing sections such as SOB Hill, Devils Pocket, Devils Lane, Silver Stairs and DuPont Narrows.
Once at the top of Elephant Hill, we quickly found out we had to go back down the other side which was even steeper and appeared more dangerous. In fact, this was the only area that had a small sign showing a picture of a Jeep and an arrow down. We parked and decided to walk it first. It was steep, rocky, narrow and had a 75′ dropoff that would surely destroy a vehicle. Great!
This section of road is already testing our nerve but halfway down a second sign appears stating “Pull In – Back Down”. What? We have to drive backwards?
Next up, we turned onto the one-way road Devils Pocket. The scenery out here is stunning! It’s hard to really describe. I think we’ll have to put together one blog with no words, only photos.
Coming up next is a very challenging and scary sight – DuPont Narrows. I’m sure this has ruined many rental cars. It is extremely narrow and requires slow and precise driving. The ranger told us many people scrap the sides here. Our jeep is already wide but the tires stick out an extra few inches on each side. Our success wasn’t certain.
We came unbelievably close to scraping the left side. Mirrors were in and we were moving slow. Our tires were scraping the sides and then our right tire started climbing up the wall which was tipping the Jeep to the left and closer to the wall. It got within 3 inches of making contact. As we exited the Narrows, the right tire went back down and saved us from damage to the left side of the Jeep. Good news!!
A few minutes more and we arrived at our first campsite at Devil’s Kitchen. Perfect timing because we all want out of the Jeep.
The next morning we are heading through SOB Hill. The ranger warned us of this section. We were simply told that the road was in its usual terrible condition and do not attempt to drive through it in a single turn but to drive in, go back and forth until you reduce the angle, then drive out.
We are now upon SOB Hill and we again decided to get out and investigate. Looks easy enough to drive straight through but we could clearly see paint and scratches on the rocks where people have tried and failed. We took the rangers advice and made it through slowly but perfectly.
It took time but we survived without damage.
Our second night was spent at Bobby Jo campground. This place felt even more remote and quiet. Loved the open space and huge rock that we climbed and took in all the scenery.
Today we are heading back to Devil’s Kitchen campground for our third night camping and unfortunately we have to face SOB Hill again. This time we have much more experience. Up next is another one-way road, Devils Lane.
Then more rock climbing.
We are nearing the parking lot which means we have to go back up the steep backside of Elephant Hill and drive backwards again.
The final descent toward the parking lot requires navigating the switchbacks again. We’ve hiked switchbacks many times but never driven them.
Parking lot is in view! So close to safety yet so far away.
Safety at last! We are so happy to be out safely and with no vehicle damage but sad it’s over. This was an incredible, intense, scenic, peaceful and stressful trip. Adventures like this are what make us feel alive. Can’t wait for the next trip!
More Area Information
Just a few useful notes
• Lower Tire Pressure for Better Traction (Advice from a non-flatlander)
• High Clearance Vehicle with 4×4
• Bring Water since None in Backcountry
• Bring “human waste bags” – Nothing More to Say
• Get Backcountry 4WD Overnight Permit