Potato Butte Hike
From Oregon Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Red Lake Trailhead
- End point: Potato Butte
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Hike Type: Out-and-back
- Distance: 7.2 miles
- High point: 5,280 feet
- Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Seasons: June-November
- Family Friendly: No
- Backpackable: Yes
- Crowded: No
If you're looking to get into the Olallie Lake Scenic Area without grinding along a dusty, washboarded road, then this hike is your best bet since it's less than a mile off the paved Clackamas River Highway. Convenience of access isn't the only asset of this outing: the hike combines much of what is best about the Scenic Area and is reminiscent of the Gifford Pinchot's Indian Heaven Wilderness: a series of picturesque lakes, old growth trees, views to Olallie Butte and Mount Jefferson, and bountiful huckleberries in late summer. There are campsites at each of the lakes and most are not frequently used, so this can be a peaceful overnight destination even on summer weekends.
From the trailhead, the trail starts climbing immediately, beginning with about 175 yards of regenerating clearcut but soon entering lovely old growth woods. You'll see a lot of massive Douglas-firs and western hemlocks as you continue up the slope. The trail crosses a powerline clearing 0.4 mile from the trailhead and joins a dirt road. Turn left on the road and then, after 30 yards, turn right on a spur road for accessing powerlines. Notice the old sign here which still references the Skyline Trail! Hike along for about 200 feet before finding the trail on your left by a rock cairn. Pass through the power line corridor, which is vegetated with a variety of shrubbery, including snowbrush, manzanita, vine maple, chinquapin, bracken, willow, and boxwood.
Reenter old growth forest on an eroded, rocky tread. Here, you'll pass under more towering Douglas-firs, but silver fir, noble fir, and mountain hemlock also enter the mix. After climbing for a mile, the trail takes off across a plateau. It suddenly feels a lot more open, with the understory dominated by huckleberries and beargrass. At 1.6 miles, the trail passes near Red Lake. Watch for a big stump on the right and a spur trail that will take you down to the lake. If you explore in either direction along the lakeshore, you will find plenty of places to camp. Mount Jefferson peeks above the tree-lined shore to the south.
Continuing along the trail in typical Olallie woodland with lots of lodgepole pine, you reach a short spur to 12-acre Averill Lake, the largest lake on this hike, on your right. From the shore, Olallie Butte, Potato Butte, and Double Peaks can be seen. There are campsites to the right at this first entry point. Back on the Red Lake Trail, pass another campsite and head up through a grouse berry carpet. Soon you're walking near the south shore of Wall Lake, with Potato Butte looming prominently behind. Wall Lake's main camping area is near its east end.
From Wall Lake, the Red Lake Trail rises a little and then drops to scenic Sheep Lake, with Olallie Butte forming the backdrop. A trail leads off to campsites above the lake. Continue along Sheep Lake's mountain hemlock-lined shore and soon reach the Red Lake-Potato Butte Trail Junction 2.9 miles from the trailhead. There's an old sign here for the Red Lake Trail, but no signage for the Potato Butte Trail #719A.
This 0.7-mile trail leads off to the left in lodgepole pine/mountain hemlock woodland and passes a small meadow on the right (Note that the trail is not regularly maintained and you may need to step over fallen trees). Hike up a low rise and then continue on the level with Potato Butte looming ahead. Pass around the edge of a much larger meadow which offers a view to Mount Jefferson: this meadow may be flooded into July and part of the trail tread could be drowned until then.
The final push to the summit of Potato Butte is steep, slippery, and crumbly. On the way up, you'll get views back to Double Peaks with Mount Jefferson behind their right shoulder. A rather obvious spur trail leads right to the best viewpoint, however (If you don't see it going up, it's about 180 yards down the trail from the summit sign). Here, you'll find a perch on a jumble of large boulders (the "potatoes" for which the hill is named) and get a clear view to Mount Jefferson, Double Peaks, Twin Peaks, and Olallie Butte. Fork Lake, Sheep Lake, Wall Lake, and Averill Lake are also visible as are the "Spud Lakes" near the large meadow/seasonal lake below.
You can continue on the short distance to the summit of this eroded cinder cone, which is marked by a post. This area is relatively viewless, but exploring north, you can see Sisi Butte and Mount Hood, with Olallie Butte to the east.
Return the way you came, taking care on the descent from the summit. A short bushwhack near the meadow will take you to the secluded Spud Lakes, which are near the big meadow (which also becomes a lake sometimes), but invisible from the trail. Little Spud Lake is to the left over a small rise. There are a couple of little-used campsites here. Big Spud Lake is down a draw slightly below the meadow. This lake is deeper than most of the surrounding lakes: there's actually a launching pad from shoreline boulders that takes you into deeper water - an ideal skinnydipping spot! There's also a campsite on the lake's east shore..
Fees, Regulations, etc.
- Maps: Hike Finder
- Red Lake Trail #719 (USFS)
- Potato Butte Trail # 719A (USFS)
- Green Trails Maps: Breitenbush, OR #525
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Olallie Scenic Area
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
- National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
- Search Trip Reports for Potato Butte Hike
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Potato Butte Hike
Guidebooks that cover this destination
- 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region by Matt Reeder
- 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
- The Olallie Scenic Area Guidebook by Tony George
- Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
- Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
- Best Hikes With Dogs: Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop
- Red Lake Trail #719 (USFS)
- Potato Butte Trail # 719A (USFS)
- Red Lake Trail 719 (Trail Advocates)
- Potato Butte Trail 719-A (Trail Advocates)
- Potato Butte via Red Lake Trailhead Hike (Northwest Hiker)
- Backpacking to Wall Lake and Hiking to Potato Butte (Loomis Adventures)
- Red Lake Trail (Linda's Lens)
- Red Lake Trail - Olallie Lake Scenic Area)
- Red Lake (Oregon Adventures)
- "Guide to hiking Oregon's Olallie Lakes backcountry" (Statesman Journal)
- Red Lake (Cascade Ramblings)
- Averill Lake (Cascade Ramblings)
- Wall Lake (Cascade Ramblings)
- Sheep Lake (Cascade Ramblings)