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Baty Butte via Thunder Mountain Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
Pansy, Silver King, and Whetstone Mountains to Three Sisters from Baty Butte (bobcat)
View from the Thunder Mountain summit to Fish Creek Mountain, with Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood in the background (bobcat)
Skookum Lake from the north shore (bobcat)
Penstemon and paintbrush, FR 5420-400, Baty Butte Trail (bobcat)
View to Mt. Hood, FR 5420-400, Baty Butte Trail (bobcat)
Baty Butte from FR 5420-350, Baty Butte Trail (bobcat)
The route to Baty Butte via Thunder Mountain; continuing Baty Butte Trail in orange (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: Thunder Mountain TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Baty Butte
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 10.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3115 feet
  • High Point: 5,186 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

In the far western reaches of the Clackamas River Ranger District of the Mt. Hood National Forest, the trail system around Thunder Mountain is a treat for hikers who want to get away from the more popular destinations. This hike takes you by large old growth conifers, lush meadows, and springs to two mountain peaks with spectacular views as well as a secluded lake that sees few visitors. Part of the Baty Butte Trail portion of the route runs along decommissioned forest roads that have repurposed themselves as wildflower meadows. The area is remote, so make sure you are properly equipped and have good maps.

Note that the Thunder Mountain and Skookum Lake Trails do see some maintenance, but you can still expect a lot of brushiness and some downed trees. The trail route on the Baty Butte section of this hike is maintained by volunteers and is in decent condition most of the way. Late spring/early summer is the best time to come here (for the wildflowers), but be advised that it is also mosquito season!

Walk to the left of a large berm, and pass some new signs for the Thunder Mountain Trail #542 and Skookum Lake Trail #543 (This is the only official signage you’ll see on this hike). Plunge through a thimbleberry thicket, and hike up along a brushy slope, the trail bordered by boxwood and vine maple. Switchback past an empty signboard to traverse up another thimbleberry slope, getting a view to Olallie Butte. Enter an old growth montane forest of mountain hemlock, silver fir, noble fir, western hemlock, and Douglas-fir with an understory of rhododendrons that bloom in late June. Pass two small springs next to the trail – the second has its own faucet! Hike through a lush meadow where a large noble fir has fallen along the trail. Then rise in silver fir forest to make a switchback and long traverse up. Make another switchback and traverse through bear-grass and huckleberries under mountain hemlocks. Make a fifth switchback at a clifftop viewpoint that looks south to Battle Ax, Olallie Butte, and Mount Jefferson. Switchback again to the ridge crest and come to the unsigned Thunder Mountain-Skookum Lake Trail Junction.

Go right here up the spine of the ridge and swishing through bear-grass until you make two short switchbacks up to the summit of Thunder Mountain. This was an old lookout site and some of the foundation remains. On a good day, the views are spectacular. You will be looking north up the Fish Creek valley to Fish Creek Mountain with Camelback to your left. On the northern horizon are Mount Hood and, left to right, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams. Looking south, the view extends to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters. Creamy stonecrop, bear-grass, and woolly sunflower are some of the blooms on the peak.

Return to the Thunder Mountain-Skookum Lake Trail Junction, and bear right to traverse down a slope. A few years ago a fire damaged some of the trees on this slope, and trail crews did some selective cutting to reduce the chances of deadfall on the trail. You’ll make ten switchbacks down get views of the Camelback ridge on the north side of the Fish Creek drainage. Hike down a shallow bear-grass gully before switchbacking off a ridge. Traverse down among bear-grass, rhododendrons, and huckleberries, and make two switchbacks to reach a mossy atmospheric depression composed of Old Cascades columnar basalt. From here, you can see the rugged pinnacles on Thunder Mountain’s north ridge. Now make nine more switchbacks, passing a scree slope, and hike down a couple of bear-grass benches under the shady forest canopy. Descend along a trickling stream and then the east side of a lush meadow. Before the trail bends right, you’ll pass the Baty Butte-Skookum Lake Trail Junction , which does not look obvious at all: look left across the meadow – some faded flagging indicates where the trail picks up after disappearing in the meadow.

Continue on the Skookum Lake Trail, dropping through old growth forest and a lush devil’s club/salmonberry thicket. Walk up over a low ridge, and descend gradually through bear-grass and rhododendrons. Reach the forested shoreline of Skookum Lake. A meadow at its west end blooms with shooting stars in early summer; fallen trees lie in the lake’s shallows and, while there are trout here, it is reported that most are rather small. High above the lake are the dark crags of Thunder Mountain’s north ridge. The trail continues to a picnic table and an area of campsites, now little-used since the access road (FR 5420-350), seen down the slope, has been shut off since the February 1996 storms caused massive washouts in the Fish Creek drainage.

Return to the meadow and the Baty Butte-Skookum Lake Trail Junction . Walk straight across the meadow (There should be flagging to guide you), and pick up a vestige of a trail as you swish through thimbleberries and pass across a bog of shooting stars, marsh-marigolds, and mertensia. The foot trail becomes more obvious under old growth noble firs, but sometimes windfall obscures the tread. Cross a boggy patch, and head up a bear-grass slope. Traverse the warren of a busy mountain beaver, and reach a road bed at the Baty Butte Trail-FR 5420-400 Road Junction. Looking back, you’ll see a downed tree with TRAIL carved on it.

Keep straight here (Going left is a dead end), and hike along a carpet of lupine, paintbrush, and bear-grass. There’s an excellent view to Mount Hood off to your right. Gradually descend this decommissioned road, which is a carpet of wildflowers in late spring/early summer, to pass through a Sitka alder thicket and reach the FR 5420-400-FR 5420-350 Road Junction.

Go left here: FR 5420-350 is another decommissioned road that has been plowed so that vegetation can easily establish itself, and sun-loving wildflowers such as paintbrush, woolly sunflower, penstemon, and scarlet gilia have taken over with a vengeance. The road bed rises and offers views back to Mount Hood and Fish Creek Mountain. Then drop towards a saddle, getting a view to Thunder Mountain on your left and Baty Butte straight ahead. A fin of rock on the left side of the road hosts a colony of pikas. The road rises a little and, where it curves to the left, see the Baty Butte Trail-FR 5420-350 Road Junction at a former trailhead pullout that now displays a carpet of lupine.

Pass through a dense growth of young mountain hemlocks on a good tread that soon enters an old growth slope forest of lichen-draped hemlocks with an understory of huckleberry bushes. At the nose of the ridge, you’ll leave the trail to your right and begin the steep off-trail ascent along the vestige of a tread. Come to the base of the craggy summit ridge, and begin to pick your along the rocky prominences vegetated with Alaska yellow-cedar, pinemat manzanita, and matted saxifrage. At some point, you may need to shed your pack to do battle with the cedars. At the actual summit of Baty Butte, there’s an ammunition box with a summit register inside. You can see north to Mount Hood and the Washington volcanoes, but the views south are even more spectacular. All of the peaks of the Bull of the Woods Wilderness, including Whetstone Mountain, Silver King Mountain, and Pansy Mountain, are before you, backed by Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, and the Three Sisters. Take a while to digest the scene before heading down and back the way you came.


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Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Off the Beaten Trail by Matt Reeder
  • 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region by Matt Reeder

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Page 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.