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Elephant Head / Chino Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains

Summary: Elephant Head is a moderately sized rocky peak in the northwestern part of the Santa Rita Mountains. This report describes a route to the summit and optional descent of Chino Canyon. Note: Chino canyon is a rugged off trail hike which involves climbing and possibly rappelling. This route should only be attempted by experienced hikers. I'd also recommend carrying 120 feet of rope and descending gear.
Directions: From Tucson drive south on I-10 to I-19. Take I-19 south to Exit #56 for Canoa Road (zero your odometer here). Turn left at the bottom of the exit ramp and drive under the highway. At the stop sign turn right onto the Frontage Road which parallels the highway south. After 3.2 miles turn left onto Elephant Head Road and follow it for 4.2 miles (passing roads on the right named for birds) and turn right onto Hawk Road. Follow Hawk to its end 2.2 miles later and go straight over the cattle guard on a somewhat rougher dirt road. Follow the dirt road for 1.7 miles to a gate on the left (there is no 'no trespassing sign' on this one). Go through the gate and follow this rougher dirt road towards the prominent peak of Elephants Head. After 0.4 miles turn right onto Forest Road 4073 which drops down and crosses a dry wash and passes through another gate. After 1.2 miles you'll reach a sign for Madera and Chino Canyons, stay straight heading towards Chino. Pick a place to park under the looming face of the Elephant (there is no defined parking here, just pick a place to pull over). Be aware that the road only gets worse the further you go.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle - if you take it slow
Navigation: Moderate - one tricky intersection
Length: ~8 miles
Date Hiked: February, 2003
Weather Conditions: Sunny & windy
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From wherever you decided to park, continue following the road south through Chino Canyon. After a bit of hiking, the road bends to the southeast and begins climbing more moderately to a metal sign indicating the location of an old mill. The road continues climbing to a point below a radio tower located high on the hill above you, shortly thereafter, it turns north and becomes more trail-like in the process. The path climbs moderately as it travels around an unnamed peak. As you come around the other side of the hill, you'll have views across the Chino Canyon drainage to the Elephant Head on the other side. As the path begins to bend more easterly, keep your eyes open for a somewhat less traveled use trail on the left marked by a stick and small cairn. Follow this trail down to the left (watch your footing on the loose gravel) into Chino Canyon, then up the other side to the Elephant Head ridgeline. The path then bends left and traverses the ridge to the base of the peak where you'll find the route to the summit marked by cairns at frequent intervals. The climb to the summit is steep in places, but does not have any significant exposure. At the top you'll find a little shrine to the elephant and great views into the valley below and into the higher reaches of the Santa Rita Range to the south and east. When ready, return the way you came. Experienced and well prepared hikers with good climbing skills may wish to descend Chino Canyon for the return route. To do this, retrace your steps from the Elephant Head summit to the point where the path crosses the Chino drainage. Leave the trail and head down canyon. Chino Canyon features some nice scenery as well as several pools and down climbs (on polished stone) that must be negotiated. There are usually multiple ways down each drop off and routes around the pools. Take your time at each drop to scout out the easiest route. Be sure to carry a rope and harness through this section just in case you get stuck. After an hour or so of climbing, the canyon becomes wider and flatter until you reach the road you hiked in on earlier. Follow the road back to your vehicle.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author has completed this hike as a group of 10 in about 6 hours. About half the group performed a 40 foot rappel in the descent of Chino, the other half down climbed the entire canyon.
Maps: A map of the route can be found here.
Books: None
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
The goal of the hike. Climbing.

Just below the summit.

Elephant shrine.

Chino Canyon descent.