Elephant Tusk is a peak that commands respect from many hikers and motorists that drive the backcountry roads of Big Bend, yet very few get to know it's grandness in a more personal encounter. Being 4.5 miles from the nearest road or campsite, a trek to the Elephant Tusk makes for a long hot day, no matter the season. Elephant Tusk is a large volcanic plug that formed around 30 million years ago during the most active period in Big Bend's volcanic past. Hot magma rose from deep in the crust, and reached a impermeable layer of country rock, which gave the peak it's distinctive shape. It is made of the same unstable Riebeckite Rhyolite that makes up many of Big Bend's lofty Chisos Peaks, including Lost Mine Peak, Crown Mountain, the South Rim, and the Northwest Rim. Though a trail passes within a quarter of a mile of the base, no trails or development exist on this remote peak.
To get to Elephant Tusk requires a 4wd/high clearance vehicle, and many times the high clearance will be sufficient. To access the peak from the Elephant Tusk trailhead, head south from Panther Junction on the park road towards the Rio Grande Village, and turn left onto Glen Springs Road after 5 miles. From here, continue 9.3 miles down this road until you reach the Black Gap Road. This road is not maintained, and in 2 or 3 spots, high clearance, and depending on your vehicle's capability, 4wd may be required. After a little more than 5 miles on this road, you will see a small sign to you right marking the trail, and a small parking spot to your left in front of the Elephant Tusk backcountry site. If you don't have an offroad capable vehicle, there are still ways to access this remote peak. This route would make the trip a multiple day affair. Travel into the Basin and take the Pinnacles or Laguna Medow Trail to the Juniper Canyon Trail, then follow the Dodson Loop until you reach the upper end of the Elephant Tusk trail. Many gallons of water would be needed to complete this hike, so try and hitch a ride down to the trailhead. Just make sure you have someone to pick you up when your day is over.
No permit is required to climb, though if you are staying the night at the Elephant Tusk site, a free backcountry permit is required. This permit can be obtained at the Panther Junction visitor center. Even on the busiest weekends the ET site is usually open. Also required is the $15 park entrance fee.
When To Climb
The only resonable season to climb Elephant Tusk and any other peak in the southern Chisos is late fall and winter. Any other time of year the sun and heat would make quick work of any hiker. There is NO shade the entire 4.5 mile hike, and water sources are non-existant. Temperatures in winter can even climb into the 90's, so excercise caution when attempting this climb.
The nearest backcountry site is Elephant Tusk 1, which is located at the southern end of the trail. The free permit is required to camp though. The sites are on a first-come first-serve basis, so if possible, make reservations through reserveamerica.com. Developed sites are availble in the Basin and Rio Grande Village.
For up to date conditions, call Big Bend National Park at (915) 447-2251.