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Van Patten Butte Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Little Alps and Antone Creek headwaters from the summit of Van Patten Butte (bobcat)
Milbert's tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti), Van Patten Lake (bobcat)
Van Patten Lake from the scramble gully, Van Patten Ridge (bobcat)
Porcupine lumbering, Van Patten Ridge (bobcat)
The route to Van Patten Butte; it's an off-trail scramble from the lake to the summit (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Little Alps Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Van Patten Butte
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2320 feet
  • High Point: 8,729 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The approach to Van Patten Butte is not the most prepossessing of endeavors as you follow a rutted four-wheel drive vehicle road and then a trail up to the 19th century reservoir of Van Patten Lake. From the lake, however, the route becomes a scramble, and off-trail experience is necessary even though the distances are short. You'll be clambering up to a ridge and then picking your way along it: this is mountain goat country and you will actually smell the creatures even if you don't see them! The prize is the jumbled summit of Van Patten Butte itself, at 8,729 feet the highest point in the Little Alps at the north end of the Elkhorn Range. Van Patten Butte is named after George Van Patten, an early settler who built the original dam at Van Patten Lake. He used the diverted water to operate a sawmill on Bulger Flat, southwest of North Powder, between about 1870 and 1890.

A shorter and easier hike is the simple hike as far as Van Patten Lake - only about three miles round-trip. Because of this, however, the lake is a popular party camp and swimming hole on summer weekends and there may be much rowdiness.

From where you park your vehicle at Little Alps, walk up a very rutted road that is often loosely strewn with large rocks. This is a shady woodland of Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, grand fir, lodgepole pine, and ponderosa pine. The forest has seen many infestations, however, and numerous trees are down. After about a mile, you'll reach the official trailhead and continue on up a trail. The path is maintained but navigates a gauntlet of blowdown that has been chainsawed off by diligent trail crews. This path rises rather steeply, but in about half a mile, you'll reach Van Patten Lake and its dam, which provided water to George Van Patten's sawmill on the flats to the east. You can see some of the piping below the dam.

Walk to your left along the dam wall to scout out your off-trail route to Van Patten Butte, which is not visible from here. Looking south along the lake, you'll see two prominences on Van Patten Ridge, one double-humped and one single-humped. The route to the ridge is a gully between the two. Hike along the west shore of the lake. You'll pass several campsites but also be stepping over blowdown. After you reach a beach at the south end of Van Patten Lake, head into boggy meadows along a creek, passing another campsite. Gentians will be blooming here in late summer. The route keeps to the meadows a little while, but then you have to strike uphill. There is a deer trail that helps you push through thickets of white rhododendron as you rise steeply. Soon, you realize you’re in the gully, a scenic jumble of white granodiorite boulders with views down to Van Patten Lake and the North Powder valley.

Scrambling up the gully, you may soon become aware of the scent of unwashed mountain goat, and you may even see some although they will disappear quickly. You'll pass several wallows and, just before reaching the saddle, begin angling to the right along the steep meadows below the cliffs of the single-humped prominence (Peak 8648). This is a fairly short and easy scramble, the steep slopes held together with heather, grouseberry and Hitchcock’s wood-rush. On a sunny summer day, fritillaries, checkerspots, blues, and tortoiseshells will be flitting about the blossoming slopes. Angle up to the shoulder of Peak 8648 and emerge on a whitebark pine bench. From this spot, it's an easy walk to the summit knoll of Van Patten Butte. The summit itself is a jumble of large blocks of dark granodiorite stacked up like dominoes over a sheer dropoff on the west side. There are views to Anthony Lake and Black Lake; around Anthony Lake are the Little Alps of Oregon - from the left: an unnamed peak, Angell Peak, Lees Peak, The Lakes Lookout, with Gunsight Mountain in the foreground. You can also see over to Dutch Flat Basin and right below are the meadows at the headwaters of Antone Creek.

Return the way you came or experiment with a different route: the ridge to the west of the lake is a possibility. Just make sure you know where Van Patten Lake is at all times!

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • none


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond

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.

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