Even people who live in Arizona sometimes need reminding that the state has more to offer than canyons and deserts. Find one wake-up call next to Tucson and just a few hours south of Phoenix, in the Santa Rita Mountains. There, the hulking peak known as Elephant Head rises high above the cactus-covered lowlands. It demarcates the west end of the range, with steep granite walls guarding its summit on three sides. Scramble up the East Ridge to reach views of the rugged and bone dry Santa Ritas and Baboquivari Mountains.
DO IT From the Trail 930 trailhead, hike north .7 mile to a saddle at 4,700 feet, and continue north across the head of Chino Basin, where you’ll pick up the old roadbed leading to the Quantrell Mine, an early 1900s old gold and silver mine. As the Quantrell Mine Trail begins to circle to the east, then south, look for an unmaintained trail to Elephant Head on the left; it drops steeply into the high desert of upper Chino Canyon before climbing to a saddle east of the summit. In April and May, catch the ocotillo forest in fiery red-orange bloom. It’s a 600-vertical-foot scramble to the top.
CLIMBING MAGAZINE RECOMMENDS If you like the sound of a full 1,000 feet of desert mountaineering, head for Elephant Head’s West Gully, a 5.6R romp to the summit.
GET THERE From Phoenix, take I-19 south past Tucson to the Canoa Rd. exit, turning south onto the frontage road on the east side of the freeway. Drive three miles to a left on Elephant Head Rd. Go 1.5 miles to a right onto Mt. Hopkins Rd., then 5.5 miles to FR 183. Turn left and go 2.3 miles to parking.
MAP USGS quad Mount Hopkins
CONTACT (520) 281-2296; fs.fed.us/r3/coronado
TRIP DATA backpacker.com/hikes/elephanthead
ELEVATION 5,607 feet
GAIN 2,700 feet
ROUTE East Ridge Trail
DRIVE 2 hours, 30 minutes