Elephant Tusk Trail is a 18.6 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Big Bend National Park, Texas that offers scenic views. The trail is rated as difficult and primarily used for hiking.
Backpacked a portion of Elephant Tusk trail over the Thanksgving holidays. From the Panther Junction ranger station, it is approximately a two-hour drive, over dirt roads, to the trailhead. From there, we hiked another two hours to the base of Elephant Tusk and made camp just above the springs. The following day we hiked up the scree slope (approx 1600 foot elevation gain) to the cliff base of ET. Without ropes or rappelling gear, we didn't feel confident enough to continue, so hiked back down to base camp. The hike down was equally as long as the hike up, even though we were going downhill. Spent another night camped out below ET, the hiked out the next morning.
The first part of the trail is marked, initially with a combination of metal fence posts and cairns, which later gives way to cairns only. The cairns are spaced pretty close together, but it is possible to miss one in the undergrowth. A few times we missed a few cairns, but were able to backtrack and pick up the trail again.
On our hike out, we were headed toward the Tusk, which is a prominent landmark. At one point we opted to cut across country rather than follow the cairns. This became an issue on our return trip. We had assumed we would be able to pick up the cairns easily, but we ended up crossing the trail without realizing it. Fortunately, we had picked out landmarks on our outbound leg to guide us back and were not really in any danger of getting lost. We knew if we headed towards our landmarks, we would eventually hit the road we came in on and be able to follow that to the car. On our last water break, we noticed some other hikers about 100 yards to our west (we had crossed the trail) and were able to adjust our course. Fifteen minutes later we were at our car.
Weather for our trip was clear (desert stars are incredible!). Temps in the high 30s/low 40s at night, but we were snug in our tent and bags.
Ready to do it again!