Elkhorn Peak is the second highest mountain in the Bannock Range. It is connected to Wakley Peak by a long ridgeline to the north. They are part of a small sub-range called the Elkhorn Mountains which is 16 miles long and 6 miles wide. The range appears as an island that stands high above the surrounding valley. This is about 5 miles west of Malad Summit on I-15. The mountain can be climbed by a number of routes but usually from the south or north. The most interesting feature on the mountain is the five hundred foot limestone cliff on its east face.
The Bannock Range is located in Southeast Idaho with the southern end of the range extending into Northern Utah. The main crest of the range runs for 65 miles traveling in a north to south direction. It is an interesting mountain range that few climbers seem to know about. The majority of people who hike in these mountains are locals who live nearby. Summit routes generally require some off trail hiking and minor scrambling. Native Americans were the first people to climb in these mountains. This included the Bannock Indians whom the range was named after.
Mountain surveyors came in the 1870's. Henry Gannett climbed numerous peaks in Southeast Idaho, including Oxford Peak and Elkhorn Peak in the Bannock Range. He is most famous for climbing Gannett Peak in the Wind River Range, which now bears his name. Henry's climbing partner was Allen D. Wilson who was also a member of the Hayden Survey. Wilson Peak and Mount Wilson in Colorado were named after him. They built an eight foot cairn on the summit of Elkhorn Peak in 1878. The benchmark on the summit is labeled as South Elkhorn Peak. I found a total of four markers on the summit ridge. One was labeled as the Horn. The summit ridge extends for over four miles.
Oxford Peak is the highest mountain in the Bannock Range and is the highpoint of Oneida Country. This is why Elkhorn Peak isn't climbed much. Gannett and Wilson originally gave Elkhorn Peak the name of West Malade Peak because Oxford Peak was already known as East Malade Peak by many people. Thomas M. Bannon climbed nearby Wakley Peak and wanted to name it Elkhorn. That name would later be given to this mountain which was the highest on the ridge. It sits at the head of Kents Canyon and Indian Mill Canyon. Elkhorn Peak has one of the best views in the range because of its central location.
Elkhorn Peak Trailhead:
Drive on Interstate 15 north of Malad City. Take Devil Creek Reservoir (exit 22). Drive north past the reservoir which will be to the right. Continue down this paved road for 3.2 miles until you get to the overpass above I-15. Turn left at the sign for Summit Campground. This turns into forest dirt road #041. It is a little bumpy and wash boarded but a passenger car should be able to make it if you drive slowly. Drive for 1.5 miles and the road will bend north for 0.5 mile. It then goes back toward the west again. You will pass a side road that leads to the Wright Creek National Recreation Trail on the right. Keep driving and stay on the main road which becomes narrow. You will pass the entrance of Summit Campground on the left. It is a popular place on weekends. Stay on the main road and keep driving until you get to the end of the road. There will be a small trailhead and turnaround point where you can park. You should be able to see a creek on the left and a bridge with a trail sign nearby.
The mountain can also be accessed from the south and west. I have not done any of these routes but will mention them for anybody who is interested. The exit to Elkhorn Road is from Interstate 15 at Malad City and heads northwest. Several dirt roads branch off from Elkhorn Road. The other side of Kents Canyon is located on Forest Road 832. West Elkhorn Canyon is located at the end of Forest Road 842. The other side of Indian Mill Canyon is located near the town of Daniels. This is east of Daniels Reservoir on Forest Road 213.
The following routes start from the same trailhead and have 3,015 feet of elevation gain. A challenging route called the Elkhorn Mountains Traverse climbs up Wakley Peak from the Wright Creek Recreation Trail and then traverses over to Elkhorn Peak by its north ridge and then goes along its south ridge toward Kents Peak and then descends down Kents Canyon. This route requires a 1.5 mile walk along the road or a simple car shuttle.
This route goes through Kents Canyon and then climbs up the Southeast Ridge of Elkhorn Peak. When I was researching Elkhorn Peak, I found out that there wasn’t any detailed route information available. I learned what the names of the canyons were at the trailhead but didn’t know which one to choose. The route that I ended up taking looked like the most natural line I could see up the mountain. I recommend the Southeast Ridge for people looking for a more interesting route than the North Ridge. Distance is 6.5 miles round trip.
This route goes through Indian Mill Canyon and then follows the north ridge to the summit of Elkhorn Peak. There is a junction 0.5 mile from the trailhead. The trail to Indian Mill Canyon goes right. It follows the canyon and then goes up toward a small saddle that is located on the ridge. There are several switchbacks here. From the saddle, there is a 1,000 foot climb to the summit. This part is entirely off-trail but rather simple to traverse. This route is easier than the Southeast Ridge. Distance from the end of the road is about 8.5 miles round trip.
See Dean's Trip Report
The South Ridge route uses the same approach through Kents Canyon. Instead of climbing up the Southeast Ridge, it continues up the canyon. It reaches a pass on the ridge to where the trail descends down the other side of the range. From here, you must leave the trail and head west and then follow the South Ridge. I have not done this route because the canyon was still full of snow in early May. It is more shaded than the other canyons and travels below Kents Peak in the southern end of the Elkhorn Mountains. Distance is 9 miles round trip.
When to Climb
The best time to climb Elkhorn Peak is from May through October.
Snow conditions vary each year. I hiked the peak during a low snow year and Indian Mill Canyon was dry and the Southeast Ridge still had snow on the shaded side. Kents Canyon was still covered in snow. I imagine conditions to be much different during a normal snow year. There would probably be more snow in the higher elevations.
In winter, the safest route would be the North Ridge. I saw large cornices on the summit ridge in May. The dirt road to the trailhead is in a good condition but the last mile may get muddy with ruts if it is wet. It should be open to the trailhead for all vehicles by last spring. If snow is covering the road, a few miles of walking may be added to the hike.
There are two places to stay near Elkhorn Peak. They are both located in close proximity to Malad Summit and have similar names. There are also primitive places to camp throughout the area. The camping areas may be full during weekends.
Malad Summit Guard Station Campground
Malad Summit Guard Station is for people looking for lodging that is nicer than a campground. It has a cabin that cost $40 a night. This includes showers, kitchen, and bedroom. Malad Summit Guard Station is located about 14 miles north of Malad, Idaho on Malad Pass just off I-15. Take Devil Creek Reservoir (exit 22). Go north on Highway 191 for 3.2 miles, turn left and cross over the interstate on Forest Service Road #041 and go about two miles on a good graveled road, then turn left and go a few hundred feet to the guard station. It is located near the Mill Creek drainage.
Malad Summit Campground
The Malad Summit Campground is available by reservation and first come first serve. It is located by Forest Service Road #041 before you get to the trailhead for Elkhorn Peak. Single campsites are $10.00 and double campsites are $20.00 per night. There are tent pads, picnic tables, and vault toilets. The campground is open from May 14 to November 14.
SP member Dean comments about Summit Campground: We were surprised to find that this tiny campground (12 sites) was one where all of the campsites were already taken by a reservation system instead of a first come first served situation. We got a site on a friday morning (11:40 a.m.) only because the people who had it reserved withdrew their reservation a few minutes before we arrived. So, don't plan on getting an open camp spot on a weekend. Weekdays may be fine.
Backcountry Camping Regulations:
Backcountry camping is allowed in undeveloped sites. Camping is free in these areas as long as you select a site outside a developed campground. This must be 200 feet away from any road, trail, or water source. The camping limit in one spot is 16 days.
Elkhorn Peak is located in Caribou-Targhee National Forest
There are no fees for climbing Elkhorn Peak. Use caution from September through November. There will be hunters in the area. Many deer, elk, and moose live here. There were a large number of moose tracks seen during the approach in Kents Canyon.
The Malad Ranger District Office is located at 195 South 300 East in Malad, Idaho 83252. Phone: (208) 766-5900.
The Pocatello Ranger District Office is located at 4350 Cliffs Drive in Pocatello, Idaho 83204. Phone: (208) 236-7500.
1) Idaho: A Climbers Guide: Climbs, Scrambles, and Hikes
By Tom Lopez. There are a few pages on the Bannock Range is in this book. There is a short description of Elkhorn Peak.
2) Idaho Prominence Peaks List - This is a list of the most prominent peaks in Idaho.