Located southeast of Portland about 55 miles as the crow flies near the town of Detroit, Oregon (and just slightly southwest of the Bull of the Woods Wilderness) is an area with some of the 192 known rock pillars in Oregon. The pillars mostly surround a small lake named Tumble Lake which is lined with smaller peaks in the Old Cascades. One of these pillars is Elephant Rock It resides just southeast of Tumble Lake near Tumble Rock slightly lower on that same east-west ridge. The rock is this area can be characterized as slightly less than quality. No wait, it can be described as junk. Nevertheless, the closeness to decent roads, Detroit Lake and great views of rock formations and Cascade volcanoes make this an area that is enjoyed by many.
There are actually 5 Elephant Rocks in Oregon, the most well-known is a large seastack on the southern Oregon coast. From the west though, it is easy to see how this one got its name with a rounded "head", eye formation and large "shoulder" on which is the summit. The rock is chossy, flaky, loose and nasty so it probably does not get many ascents. In fact, we found no evidence anyone had ever climbed it before although I would tend to think it has to have been climbed since this is a fairly well-known area. It is more akin to Smith Rock-like welded tuff in appearance than typical Cascade basalt although if it is tuff, it is not as solid as Smith or has not been eroded down to the hard stuff yet. The rock breaks off easily by hand in most areas and shatters when dropped. The cracks are moss-covered and dirty affording little protection. In short, this is adventure climbing.
There is a rudimentary trail about 3/4 of the way there (to Tumble Rock) and then it is 1/4 to 1/2 mile of viewless bushwhacking down and then up to get there. The only route we could scout out ascends what could be described as the left side of the Elephant's neck up mossy ledges, then loose vertical rock into a dirty groveling chimney. There may be more routes possible in the cracks on the left "flank" of the Elephant though. The right side of the Elephant (if viewed from above with the head at top) is a steep slab with moss over pebbles with no likely routes. Be careful if you go to climb this one, it is typical Oregon junk quality rock but it is a neat formation with great views only about two hours drivetime from Portland.
Note: The elevation on this is an estimate as I could find no record of the elevation being documented (further possible proof of a first ascent?? Anyone have any info about this being climbed before?) and it is a guess based on topo lines from maps so maybe this is within about 50 feet of being accurate?
From the west, take I-5 to Salem, Oregon where you will pick up Highway 22 (Santiam Highway) and take that east into the Cascades about 50 miles or so until Detroit Lake. Just before arriving in Detroit (before crossing the bridge over Breitenbush River and entering town), turn left on French Creek Road. Go about 4 miles until a fork in the road. Go left at the fork and stay on the main road (take no turnoffs) about 4.5 miles until reaching Knutson Saddle where you can see the pillars in this area. Continue on 1.7 miles where there is a left curve in the road and a small area to pull out on the right to park. The "trail" comes to the road from the left here and is hard to spot. There is no sign. This is what the trailhead looks like.
If you were coming from the east (Bend area) you would take highway 20 to 126 to 22 and turn right just after going through Detroit and crossing the bridge.
Red TapeFortunately, there is no pass or fees required in this area at this time.
CampingNearest campground is just west of Detroit, OR called Detroit Lake State Recreation Area. (Handy name, eh?)
You can also camp at Tumble Lake. There is a trail there you will pass before reaching Knutson Saddle. Information Here (This link leads to a site where other area campground can be linked from under the "Close To" section.)
There are various places one could camp along the trail as well. Beware though, this is black bear and cougar country.
Mountain ConditionsDetroit Ranger Station