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Aldrich Butte Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking Eastward from the top of Aldrich Butte (Jeff Statt)
Gillette Lake and Hamilton Mountain (bobcat)
Table Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
Table Mountain, and Sacagawea and Pappose Rocks from Carpenter Lake (Jeff Statt)
The dirt road trail (Jeff Statt)
Remains of old lookout (Jeff Statt)
The route to Aldrich Butte from the Bonneville Trailhead (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Bonneville TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Aldrich Butte
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 13.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 2405 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All Season
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No
Nettles
Poison Oak
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

The popular hike to the top of Aldrich Butte on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge suddenly became a great deal lengthier in 2017 with the closure of the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and Spa, which hosted the former Dick Thomas Trailhead. With that site now under different ownership, the only legal access to Aldrich Butte involves a long approach via the Pacific Crest Trail over the forested, hummocky landscape of the Bonneville Landslide. The view from the summit of Aldrich Butte is beautiful, overlooking the Columbia River and the Bonneville Dam / Eagle Creek area. While not a classic 360-degree panorama, it's a worthy final destination, especially if you walk out onto the vertical meadow on the front (south) face.

Foundations Recovery Network (the new owners of the former Bonneville Hot Springs Resort) are sensitive to the recent and sudden changes and are partnering with Bonneville Trails Foundation to develop other trailhead access. However, those options are not available for the short term, so the Bonneville Trailhead is the only option for now.

The hike starts at the Bonneville Trailhead, on the Tamanous Trail. Ta-mah-no-ous is a Native American word translated roughly as "vision quest". Young men proved their readiness to be adults by going on a search for guardian spirits. From the parking lot, you start out on a gravel road, but quickly divert up a wooded path that starts straight uphill (Incidentally, if you continue down the gravel road another 100 yards, you'll see where the nearby train track enters a tunnel). It won't be long before you have a nice viewpoint to the south overlooking the river just east of the Bonneville Dam. There won't be much more in the way of views for a while. It is somewhere in this trail section where the route crosses over the top of the aforementioned tunnel...but you'll be hard-pressed to see where!

After a little more than half a mile from the trailhead, you'll come to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Turn left and you'll be heading toward Canada (even if you are heading more west than north). There are two ponds near this junction, both unnamed - the first is seasonal and you may not notice it during the warmer months; the other is farther up the trail just an 1/8 of a mile or so: watch downhill and you'll see it between the trees. Follow the trail closely in this section, and do not divert onto the overgrown forest roads that intertwine here.

In about a mile, you'll come to a clearcut as the trail turns sharply to the right. In fact, there are several clearcuts through this part of the hike; they are from different eras and in various stages of regrowth. While they are an eyesore to many, they represent a long history of forestry in this area and underscore the work of conservation groups that are responsible for the preservation of all the abundant forests that remain. Furthermore, they provide the only nearby views of Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak. The trail can be a bit faint through here, by Pacific Crest Trail standards, but it should be easy to follow as you wind your way across the terrain of the Bonneville Landslide. It is also a strange mix of public and private land through here. Property owners have allowed access for through hikers, but it is not recommended that you divert far from the trail.

As you approach Gillette Lake, the forest gets thick again. You head up the right hand side of a dried-up creek valley and begin to gain more elevation. The trail eventually empties out at a forest road. Actually, this is the access road for the powerlines that you'll notice buzzing nearby overhead. The lake is on the other side of the road, downhill and just out of view. Look for where the trail picks back up as it heads downhill quickly. You'll see Gillette Lake, a natural lake, on your left. Continue down the hill and look for a small spur to the left. It takes you to a nice lakeside campsite. The lake is stocked with golden trout, and there are often ducks as well, particularly in the winter. In addition, check around for signs of beaver activity; there's a beaver lodge at the far end of the lake. Deer are common around dusk, feeding in the clearcuts. Putting aside the powerlines overhead, it is a pleasant, tranquil location. The lake often has a green coloration that gives it some character. The distinct profile of Hamilton Mountain is in evidence to the west.

Back on the Crest Trail, cross the Gillette Creek Bridge and continue through logged areas above dark little Greenleaf Pond. From here, you'll cross Greenleaf Creek Bridge over rushing Greenleaf Creek (You'll hear a waterfall cascading below, but this is on private land). Now, you're officially in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as you head up an escarpment to the Greenleaf Viewpoint for a great view of the Columbia River Gorge. Farther on, you'll reach the abandoned road that today forms the Two Chiefs Trail. Turning right here would lead you to Greenleaf Falls. Make a left, however, to get to the target area of this hike.

The old track begins to descend a small valley that runs with trickling streams and harbors skunk-cabbage bogs. Below, you'll soon begin to recognize the grassy expanse of Carpenters Lake, a former beaver marsh now choked with vegetation. The trail now loops down the west side of the "lake". About 0.8 miles from the Pacific Crest Trail, you'll reach the Aldrich Butte-Two Chiefs Trail Junction. From the junction, you can walk to your left down to the verge of the marsh and get a great view of Table Mountain along with a clear perspective of Sacaquawea and Papoose Rocks. Locals say that there had always been an actual lake here until quite recently. The lake dried up when beaver activity diminished. Go right from the junction on what is known as the Aldrich Butte Road. As it begins to rise, the road makes one bend and then another, where you’ll arrive at a junction with a trail heading north. This road heads north toward Table Mountain and another junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. You are going to stay left on the main track which begins heading up the backside of Aldrich Butte.

At this point, you are gaining elevation steadily and traveling south toward the top of Aldrich Butte. Here, the road-like quality of the trail is most defined and runs nearly straight. Incidentally, this road was originally built in 1942 as an access to a gun emplacement at the summit of the Butte, the intention being to provide a defensive position for the Bonneville Dam in the late stages of World War II. About half way up this straight section, you might notice a junction on your right, just after a large rock outcropping. This is the Aldrich Butte-Cedar Falls Trail Junction (See the Aldrich Butte-Cedar Falls Loop Hike). Continue on the old road bed up to the summit area. There’s a nice clearing up there, with some great views of the entire Bonneville area. Looking north from the summit you get your first view of Cedar Mountain. However, your best views are toward the Gorge looking south. When you’re up there, be sure to take the light trail up to the true summit. It’s wooded, so it’s not quite so obvious. Here, you will see the remains of the old military position.

You'll return back the way you came unless you want to attempt the loop.

Loop hike for the more adventurous

Hike up on the old road to the top as described above. On the return trip, go back down this road for about 5-10 minutes and look for an obvious trail heading off to the left, the Aldrich Butte-Cedar Falls Trail Junction. Take this unofficial but pretty good trail. Down the slope you'll reach the Cedar Falls-Aldrich Butte Cutoff Trail Junction - ignore the trail to the right (It goes to Cedar Falls), and go straight. You'll go around the other side of Aldrich Butte and soon come to an old forest road. Go left (east) on this road. It goes along the powerline, but always under trees and some distance from powerline so you won't notice it a lot. Soon, you'll come to a junction with the Aldrich Butte Road. Go left here and head up the road track to Carpenters Lake, and head up the west side of Carpenters Lake to the Pacific Crest-Two Chiefs Trail Junction to turn right and enjoy the long return back to your vehicle.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

Maps

Note that these maps show only the general area, not the trail route:

  • Green Trails Maps: Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks

  • Note that these guidebooks detail only the former approaches, which were much shorter:
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Skamania 231: A Scrambler's Guide by Kelly Wagner

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.