Elephants Back (AKA: Elephant Mountain, The Elephant) is a conspicuous pile of volcanic rubble just south of Carson Pass. It is clearly visible from CA S.R. 88. It is typically overshadowed by its more majestic neighbors: Round Top
and The Sisters
. Nonetheless, it's a fun hike with great views of the Carson Pass area and much of the Mokelumne Wilderness.
The ascent is a straightforward Class 1 hike from either the Carson Pass or Woods Lake trailheads. The hike itself will only take 2-3 hours round trip, but a half day affords time to linger and enjoy the great views. This would be a good hike for able kids.
There are two trailheads: Carson Pass and Woods Lake. Carson Pass is the more popular of the two. Both are located along CA S.R. 88.
Carson Pass Trailhead
: Located on the south side of 88, about 5.5 miles past Kirkwood Ski Area (when traveling east).
Woods Lake Trailhead
: Also located on the south side of 88, the turn-off for Woods Lake is about 3.5 miles past Kirkwood Ski Area (when traveling east).
Elephants Back is located in the Carson Pass Management Area
of Mokelumne Wilderness
. So, there's a few layers of bureaucracy to deal with. There is a $5 per day fee to park at the Carson Pass trailhead. A Sno-Park Pass
is required during the winter (typically, October through May).
Wilderness Permits are required for overnight trips. During the summer, these permits are available at the Carson Pass Information Center (located at Carson Pass). All other times of the year, inquire at the Amador Ranger Station in Pioneer, CA.
There are some great camping options near Elephants Back. In the Carson Pass Management area, there are 3 sites at Winnemucca Lake, 6 sites at Round Top Lake, and 6 sites at Fourth of July Lake. Winnemucca is the closest in proximity to Elephants Back--sitting just to the southwest of the mountain. All of these sites require a Wilderness Permit.
If you're traveling in a small group (4 or less) there are ample stealth sites available if you're willing to risk getting scolded by a ranger.
Bob Burd's Carson Spur to Carson Pass traverse
Basic Route Information
The route is so straightforward it doesn't really deserve its own page. This description works equally well from either the Carson Pass or Woods Lake trailheads.
Find your way to the slopes just northeast of Lake Winnemucca. Pick a line up the loose volcanic rock until you reach the summit ridgeline. Proceed north to the highpoint. A small summit register can be found in a jar beneath a pile of rocks. Watch out for the steep east face of the mountain - especially if you're with kids.