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Stacker Butte Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Obscure buttercup (Ranunculus triternatus), Stacker Butte (bobcat)
Looking to Mt. Hood from Stacker Butte Road (bobcat)
Grass widows (Olysynium inflatum), Stacker Butte (bobcat)
FAA beacon, Stacker Butte (bobcat)
Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and High Prairie from the west side of Stacker Butte (bobcat)
The road hike to Stacker Butte and Oak Spring (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Stacker Butte TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Stacker Butte and/or Oak Spring and Stacker Saddle
  • Hike Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 5.1 miles with longer options
  • High point: 3,220 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1145 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Year round, but spring is best
  • Family Friendly: O.K. for older kids
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes, at prime bloom time on balmy spring weekends
Rattlesnakes
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

In 1993, Pat and Darlene Bleakney, owners of The Dalles Mountain Ranch, worked up an agreement with Washington State Parks and turned over their property to the state. The ranch was split in two, with the southern section joining the newly named Columbia Hills State Park, now merged with the already existent Horsethief Butte State Park (see the Horsethief Butte Hike). The northern section of the ranch, comprising the treeless hillsides at the crest of the Columbia Hills, became the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve and is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The trailhead is on a road that leads to the summit of Stacker Butte, and you must keep to the road as you ascend to the often windy (Patagonia-style) ridge that brims with communication towers. To extend the hike, you can also continue along the ridge past the last towers and descend to Stacker Saddle. An often neglected detour leads down to Oak Spring, in the past a water source for Native Americans and Euro-American homesteaders alike, nestled in an expansive grove of Oregon white oak. Again, because this is a botanical preserve, you need to keep to the road tracks, leave your dog at home, and not wander off to trample rare and endemic flora.

Distances:

  • 5.1 miles return (1145' elevation gain) to the FAA beacon at the top of Stacker Butte.
  • Add 3.1 miles return (420' elevation gain) to hike along the summit ridge past the last comm. tower down to Stacker Saddle
  • Add 1.6 miles return (200' elevation gain) for the Oak Spring spur and viewpoint.
  • 9.8 miles and 1,745 feet in elevation gain for everything!


Walk up the gravel road past the preserve sign. Up to the left are small oak copses under rimrock - the latter sheltering a rather large population of rattlesnakes. Grass widows bloom in profusion along the lower sections of the road in early spring, while balsamroot, lupine, and paintbrush take over in April. Switchback at a power pylon and then head up along a draw. This fescue grassland is usually cold and windy in the spring, but offers a much more bountiful supply of sunshine than points west. The road turns away from the draw and switchbacks. There are great views of Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, The Dalles, and the Columbia River. Switchback again at an access road to the powerlines. (This is the Stacker Butte-Oak Spring Trail Junction, an optional visit on your way back down.) Note the clumps of balsamroot and heart-leaf buckwheat. Higher up, pairs of horned larks warble and flit about the low bushes - the entire slope seems to a carefully delineated grid of horned lark territories. You will also probably hear the tinkling calls of meadowlarks. Walk past the first communication towers on your right and note a pond down to the left. Lots of obscure buttercups (Ranunculus triternatus) bloom just above here in early March - they are a major reason this area was declared a botanical preserve as the world population exists only in four counties in four different states! The road switchbacks up, offering a view east to the agricultural fields of the Centerville Valley and the windmills along the crest of the Columbia Hills as far as Haystack Butte. You'll come to the FAA air traffic control array, with its lingam-like beacon. A sign warns interlopers not to approach it within 150 feet. Pass through a gate below the FAA complex and head up to the ridge crest. There are stupendous views north to Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, Goat Rocks, the spread of High Prairie below and Swale Canyon. Looking northeast, you'll see Grayback Mountain above the Klickitat River Canyon at the west end of the Simcoe Hills. Far to the west, the jagged crown of Mount Saint Helens pokes above forested hills. To the south, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, the Three Sisters, The Dalles and the Columbia River Gorge can be admired. If you're doing the shortest option, this is your turnaround point.

Otherwise, if it's a sunny day, continue hiking the road west along the ridge crest. This section will be less populated, but the Patagonia-like winds may be a deterrent on some days. Three more communications complexes exist farther down the ridge. No Trespassing signs warn you not to poke around the facilities themselves. Clumps of buckwheat bloom late in spring, but earlier there are various desert parsleys and the rare Douglas' draba. Past the last communications tower, a grassy track leads down to a saddle. Grass widows are blooming along here through mid-March. The saddle is a quiet place where you can still get north and south views. You can continue along the ridge another 0.8 miles to the end of state land at a point just east of Peak 3045.

For the visit to Oak Spring, turn back and head down to the Stacker Butte-Oak Spring Trail Junction to take the track leading east under the powerlines to a faded sign saying “No Vehicular Traffic”. Go left past this sign and pick up the old track heading down into an oak woodland with a few ponderosa pines. The road descends and now, in the lee of the Stacker Butte summit, you can feel less harassed by the winds. Pass a fenced off area, but note that Oak Spring itself is actually below the enclosure. You can also continue out past the end of the oak woodland, where glacier lilies bloom in abundance, to a grassy hillside with a view of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, Goat Rocks, the wide expanse of High Prairie below, and Swale Canyon. This is a great lunch spot. Head back the way you came, now getting full-frontal views of Mount Hood.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - East #432S
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Stay on the roads: botanical preserve
  • Pets not permitted

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Best Desert Hikes: Washington by Alan L. Bauer & Dan A. Nelson
  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Hiking Washington's History by Judy Bentley
  • Dalles Mountain Ranch: A Museum of Natural and Cultural Heritage of the East Gorge by Darlene Highsmith Bleakney

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.