The Elephant Head Mountain Bike Route is a combination of little-traveled roads and remote trails designed especially for these versatile, muscle-powered vehicles. Winding across the scenic foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains in the shadow of the dramatic landmark for which it was named, the route was designed both to challenge a rider's skill and to provide a scenic, backcountry experience.
One end of the ride is at the mouth of Madera Canyon Recreation Area. The other is at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory Visitor Center on the road to the top of Mount Hopkins.
From the Madera Canyon trailhead, the ride follows old jeep tracks across the desert grasslands and mesquite flats to the base of Elephant Head Rock, where it turns into a single-track trail. As the trail curls around the Rock, it heads up Chino Canyon into Chino Basin along a steep old mining road.
At the top of the climb to Chino Basin, the ride turns south along a rugged mountain trail over a saddle then down a nice grade into Agua Caliente Canyon. After crossing Agua Caliente Creek, the route leads along a couple of little-used forest roads around a couple of foothills that mark the western limits of the Santa Rita Range. The ride ends at the Whipple Observatory Visitors Center where water and restrooms are available. Or you can just make a quick turn around in the parking lot and do it all over again in the opposite direction.
Equestrians and hikers also use this trail, and vehicles use the 4-wheel drive roads, so be alert for hazards.
Before visiting this trail, call the Nogales Ranger District for current trail conditions which can vary with season, weather and maintenance status. Always let someone know where you'll be hiking/riding and when you plan to return.