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Bonney Butte via Bonney Meadows Trail Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Red-tailed hawk after banding, Bonney Butte (pdxgene)
Fall colors on Bonney Meadows Trail (bobcat)
Bonney Meadows from Bonney Butte (bobcat)
Mt. Hood from Bonney Butte (pdxgene)
Raptor counters at the top of Bonney Butte (bobcat)
Sketch of route to Bonney Butte (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Wamic Road TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Bonney Butte
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2070 feet
  • High Point: 5,580 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer through Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

The best time to do this hike is during the months of September and October when HawkWatch International has volunteers at the top of Bonney Butte doing raptor counts and banding during the fall migration. This route gives you access using a trail from a paved road although you could also reach the Butte by driving awful FR 4891 via the Terrible Traverse (high clearance recommended) or the good gravel road to the Boulder Lake Trailhead.

Take the Bonney Meadows Trail #471 up from FR 48, the Wamic Road. The trail switchbacks and then parallels the road north for a little while in woods of Douglas-fir, grand fir, western hemlock, western red-cedar, mountain hemlock, silver fir, western white pine, and western larch, with a varied understory of chinquapin, snow brush, vanilla leaf, bracken, vine maple, Oregon grape, and twin flower. The path heads up and then comes below paved FR 4890 before joining it. You walk 110 yards up this road to a four-way junction. Turn left at the junction with a spur road and go 30 yards before picking up the trail as it heads uphill. Pass a new wilderness board and switchback up. At a second switchback, there’s a Badger Creek Wilderness sign (The Bonney Butte west slope was added to the Wilderness in 2009). Before 2009, cattle were allowed to run in these woods, and hikers would be surprised by the large, clumsy beasts thundering off into the undergrowth. There’s a third switchback and then a long traverse up. Note the sign for the Buck Burn nailed to a tree. A small metal plate tells of two burns in c.1900 and c.1930. There are a few larger Douglas-firs that survived these fires, but most of the forest is regenerated mountain hemlock, noble fir and silver fir. Bear-grass is now the carpet. You can see Bonney Butte looming through the trees. Engelmann spruce enters the mix and grouseberry and huckleberry bushes begin to dominate the understory. Cross the dry gully of Buck Draw and listen for the sound of Bonney Creek below. Exit the wilderness and reach the notorious FR 4891.

The trail crosses this road and heads into mountain hemlock/Engelmann spruce forest. Golden meadows appear to the left. Pass the Bonney Meadows-Hidden Meadows Trail Junction. There are two ponds in the meadow here. Also, there are old fence posts and wire girdles on trees from when the meadow was fenced to keep the cattle out. Keep circling Bonney Meadows on the Hidden Meadow Trail, and pass the Hidden Meadows-Forest Creek Trail Junction. Less than a quarter mile after this, come to the Boulder Lake-Hidden Meadows Trail Junction. Go left and cross Bonney Creek. The trail enters Bonney Meadows Forest Camp. Head out the campground road, crossing a cattle grid, and turn right on FR 4891. You will walk up through lodgepole pines and mountain hemlocks and reach the wide Bonney Butte Trailhead parking on the right.

Go left on the road up to the old lookout site, passing around a closed green gate with a Road Closed sign on it. There’s a junction: go right to a restroom and the volunteer campground; keep straight for the Observation and Birding Site. There are views back to Badger Butte and, at an opening, down a kinnikinnick slope to the White River valley, Mount Jefferson, Broken Top, and the Three Sisters. Up near the crest of the ridge, there are lodgepole pines, subalpine firs, and western white pines. The road bends right and reaches the old lookout site. On September and October weekends, master birders will be plying their craft. You can look at the tally sheets and the HawkWatch information signs. A range of raptors, from golden eagles, vultures, and red-tailed hawks to smaller Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks may be taking advantage of ridgetop updrafts to wind their way south using the long ridgelines to the east of Mount Hood as a pathway. A plastic owl sits in a tree as a lure. The banding of raptors who come down to live pigeon lures is done from a hide up and over a hump in the ridge. They are caught using mist nets and sometimes a naturalist will bring back a bird that has been banded for observers at the lookout site to examine. As the raptors keep coming, the birders call out their IDs "Juvenile female sharpie at 11 o'clock!", sometimes accompanied by the alarm calls of the local ground squirrels, who are both stressed and intensely conflicted at this time - their desire for handouts from the humans who crowd their summit about equally matched with their fears of being snatched up by a major predator. In addition to the bird identification signs here, there is a panel detailing the history of the Bonney Butte Lookout (deactivated 1964).

On the return, if you don't want to circle around Bonney Meadows again, head straight down FR 4891 to pick up the Bonney Meadows Trail where it crosses the road.

There are two other routes to Bonney Butte:

1. The short way (walking) and long and awful way (driving) is to crawl in along the Bennett Pass Road to the Bonney Butte Trailhead. This short walk is described in the Bonney Butte Hike.

2. You can also begin at the Boulder Lake Trailhead (longer drive, gravel road, but very scenic approach hike) and head up from there to Bonney Meadows and then the Butte. This route is part of the Boulder Lakes Hike and Bonney Meadows to Boulder Lakes Hike.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Keep dogs tied up at the raptor watching site

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Bonney Meadows Trail #471 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt. Wilson, OR #494 and Mt. Hood, OR #462
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Barlow Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • Adventure Maps: Hood River, Oregon, Trail Map

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 62 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don and Roberta Lowe
  • Hiking Mount Hood National Forest by Marcia Sinclair

More Links


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.