“Hike around and upon a beautiful butte in the Anza-Borrego desert.”
— Matthew Kidd
The Elephant Knees butte is named for its north side appearance. It is one of the magical places in the Anza-Borrego desert that every local hiker should visit at least once. The views, near and distant, are fantastic over the entire loop.
Need to Know
Take a jeep. You might get through Split Mountain with a high clearance vehicle but it's really a jeep road. Alternatively you can hike about two miles through the split, which is appealing on its own but will make for a longer day.
Split Mountain is a great area. Everything around it is magical: the early morning light, the clarity, the whimsical clouds, the mountains, buttes, washes, wind caves, and more. The easiest way to the start of this trail is via Split Mountain Rd to the east and then a drive through Split Mountain on the jeep trail. Park at the edge of the Fish Creek Wash.
This is a hike across the desert without a marked trail so you can mix it up a bit if you want. But the route shown is efficient because follows a major wash for 1.2 miles to the backside of the Elephant Knees with plenty of views that explain the name of the butte. Travel another 0.8 miles on the backside before beginning a steep ascent. It's work but the views south behind you are stunning. Then enjoy 360 degrees views from the Elephant Knees ridge for 0.1 miles.
The drop off the ridge is a bit of scramble into a lesser wash which peters out after 0.4 miles. From here generally head north another mile through washes or over mud hills as your preference dictates. If you don't want to navigate through the washes, you can make it an out-and-back.