Saw my first wildflower of the season on a southwest-facing slope of Chelan Butte earlier this week. It wasn’t a Yellow Bell, as those first bloomers so often are, but a Desert Buttercup.
My hike on Chelan Butte was quite interesting because of the diversity of travel it offered. From the end of the paved portion of Chelan Butte Road (1.2 miles up from Highway 97A), I followed the unplowed road for a half mile. Initially, the road had been plowed and foot travel was easy in the tire track, but soon the vehicle packing the road stalled out and I was sinking into calf-deep spring snow. I bemoaned not having my no-wax cross-country skis because the several-mile-long road leading to the top was completely covered with nice corn snow over a base snowmobiles had packed down. The snow will be sticking around for another week or two, so this will continue to provide some viable weekend trips for those who time the daily sun and temperatures properly (get going before things really thaw and time your descent for an hour when the snow is soft, but not too soft—late morning or early afternoon).
Disappointed to be skiless at a time when they were clearly needed, I branched off the road and bee-lined up the north-facing ridge system flanking the bottom portion of the road. By staying on the west side of the ridge crest I could avoid snow and make the journey to the top with only the occasional snow patch to break through. The slopes were open and the walking easy. At times the ground was quite soft but with a little care about foot placement, I made quick uphill progress without smearing the ground or damaging the plants along the way.
Views from the top of the butte were wonderful in all directions. All told it’s a good time to ski the Butte…or hike it. Or do both—carry the skis up the ridge and descend the road for an interesting, multi-modal trip.
Access: From the town of Chelan drive south on Highway 97A (Woodin Ave) about 1.25 miles and, at the Chelan Resorts and Lakeside Best Western, then turn left on Chelan Butte Road. If coming from the south, drive 1.7 miles north on 97A from the junction of highways 97A and 917. Follow the Chelan Butte Road 1.2 miles uphill from its start and park at the end of the pavement where the plowing ends. There’s a small turnaround where several cars can park.
Distance: 4 to 7 miles depending on route.
Elevation Gain: 2,000 vertical feet.
Instructions: If skiing, follow the snow-covered road up to the top. The road is about 3.5 miles long from where you parked and makes a variety of switchbacks as it climbs. The button of the road may have a few bare patches to walk around but it ascends north-facing slopes of the butte and is well shaded much of the day. This year (2008) was a heavier snow year with colder temperatures and we suspect the road will remain skiable until about mid March. Later in March, the road will sport intermittent patches of snow and you’ll be able to walk the road.
If hiking in early March. Walk about 0.5 miles from the end of the pavement and the leave the left side of the road walking east until reaching a north-trending ridgeline. This ridgeline takes you directly to the summit. There is no trail here but the terrain is open, the vegetation low. The hillsides are moderately steep but for cross-country travel, the walking is quite straight forward. Distance this way is about 2 miles (one-way) to the top.
Permits: None needed.
Map: View our topographic map of the options.
Leave It Better Than You Found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or may not know all the issues affecting a route. You are still completely responsible for your decisions, your actions, and your safety. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.