The druids didn’t build Druid Arch like they (maybe) did Stonehenge. The man-made structure in England is puny compared to the marvels carved out by millions of years worth of wind, sand, and water of the southwest. I couldn’t find an origin for the name “Druid Arch.” It’s an origin as mysterious as the Celtic priests themselves.
My Rating System
Before we get started, this is the first of hopefully many in the “Trail Tales” series. I’ll take you through the whole experience in the video posted above and provide extra details in the writeup here. I’ll also include pictures, maps, and a “ratings system” for each trail (explained below).
- Location: Park, forest, or wilderness home to the trail.
- Distance: Total roundtrip miles.
- Elevation Gain: Cumulative elevation gain (not just total net).
- Difficulty: Scored on a 1-10 system. 1 being a stroll through Central Park and 10 being a 14’er in Colorado.
- Cautions: What to look out for to be safe.
- Highlights: Instagram-y things you get to see.
- Nearby Campground: Closest place to camp with relative ease (no/low fees or complicated permits).
- PTO Days Required: Number of vacation days required to do the hike, assuming it requires a one-day road trip (read more about maximizing your PTO days).
- Nearest City/Town: Closest place to eat, drink, buy cool stuff.
- TOTAL SCORE: A meaningless number based on nothing, because you get a whole article and video to decide for yourself.
Getting to Canyonlands
Canyonlands National Park is the biggest in Utah and getting there requires a little road hopping. There are two major entrances to the park—north and south. The former is crowded with hoards of tourists waiting to see Island in the Sky and Mesa Arch. The latter enjoys exponentially more seclusion and maybe had five cars total parked at the visitors center. Just outside the park is plenty of BLM land for free camping, which is where Hamburger Rock Campground is located.
Finding Elephant Hill Trail
Check with the rangers at the visitors center if there’s an overcast (like there was for us) for any flash flood warnings—a lot of this hike is through canyons with high walls. Drive a few miles past the entrance and follow the signs for “Elephant Hill.” You’ll have to drive down an unpaved road but any car should be fine if you take it slow. There are two lots at the trailhead and a 4×4 trail at the closer lot (if you have a modded Jeep, I’m told this trail is gnarly). Park wherever you can, gear up, and find the sign for Elephant Hill Trail at the front. This is your way to Druid Arch.
The hike starts with a quick scramble up roughly 500 feet. You’ll be amazed how fast you shot up above the parking lot. The beginning is steep but levels out with an incredible view of The Needles and all the red rock surrounding the trail. Keep following the path and trust the cairns (small stacks of rocks) to guide you all the way down to the wash. You’ll reach a point where you walk through a narrow alley surrounded by rock walls and eventually climb back down to the dry riverbed (you’ll see a backcountry campground on the way down).
Trek Through the Canyon
The majority of the hike is through the canyon wash with a slight gradient that feels flat. The sand in the wash is soft and each step takes the effort of two or three, but various rocks and side trails will offer a few breaks. Follow this wash and the trails weaving in and out (guided by the cairns) until you eventually reach the steep rock. There’s a moment in the hike where a steel ladder gets you up and over a large boulder. You’re almost there. Keep scrambling up the now extremely steep rock until you reach the top.
Arriving at Druid Arch
I did a double take when I reached the top because Druid Arch seemed to just shoot out of the ground in front of me, so trust me when I say you will not miss it. The area opens up once you reach the arch and there is plenty of room to kick back, crack open a beer if you brought one like me, and get some food before your hike back. The arch is massive. Much bigger than anything I saw at Arches National Park up north. Plus, we saw maybe 15 other hikers throughout the trip. The trail was very secluded.
The Hike Back
Remember that rangers are not wizards and even though she told us it would not rain, it rained. Wind, rain, thunder, and lightning loomed over us as we went heads down on the way back to the trailhead, which I don’t recommend under any conditions. When you go heads down, which just means hiking really fast without paying attention, you miss trail markers telling you where to go. We hiked 1-2 miles out of the way and had to backtrack out of the wash and back up to the beginning of the hike. A minor inconvenience, but one you want to avoid in bad weather. The sky eventually cleared up and we cruised our way back to the car after a total 5.5 hours on the trail.
Druid Arch in Summary
This is a gorgeous hike that is not very difficult despite the length, but a hot day would make this a real challenge. I wouldn’t recommend this one on the summer, but any other time of year, this is an arch worth the distance.
- Location: Canyonlands National Park, Utah
- Distance: 11 Miles (Round Trip)
- Elevation Gain: 2076 Feet
- Difficulty: 6/10
- Cautions: Cairns, Soft Sand
- Highlights: Needles, Canyons, Backcountry Camp Grounds, Really Big Arch
- Nearby Campground: Hamburger Rock Campground
- PTO Days Required: 1
- Nearest City/Town: Moab, Utah
- TOTAL SCORE: 4 out of 5 SUH DUDES
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons