by Ray Birks
A ride I’ve always stared at in the Wenatchee Outdoors guidebook but never gotten around to riding was Chelan Butte. A summer day finally arrived when I found time and dragged two buddies along for the ride. We started at a cabin about three miles away from Chelan Butte Road so the GPS report may be a bit deceiving. There are a few places you could start this ride and know that eventually it will spit you out on the corner of Chelan Falls Road and E. Iowa Avenue where there is a gravel parking lot (see topo map below).
You could also park at Lakeside Park and cross the highway and hit Millard Avenue, which quickly turns into Chelan Butte Road. If you have a downhill mountain bike or do not like to climb, the dirt road to the top can be easily shuttled, as the road is nicely graded (a low-clearance vehicle can make it to the top).
This is a healthy climb. It’s nearly 5 miles of 9 percent average grade with some parts pushing higher into the double digits, so early morning is best because you’ll be sweating. To compare it to one of the hills around Wenatchee, I would say it’s similar to Burch Mountain, but without as many flat spots to rest as Burch. The ride up the road starts on pavement and, after about a mile, turns to dirt. The steepness doesn’t ramp up until about the third mile, but then it stays pretty consistent all the way to the top. The whole way up you can see the towers at the top beckoning you onward, almost teasing you as they never quite seem to get closer, as the road zigs and zags its way upward.
The views that unravel of the lake and surrounding peaks make this climb much more bearable and eventually you’ll come to a junction with a road to the right, about a mile from the top, and views of the lower valley, Columbia River, and Waterville Plateau appear down the other side of the butte. Going right here starts to descend and could be another route. If you wanted to climb from a different direction. You could start on Downey Road off of Highway 97a, about a mile past the tunnel, or down on Stayman Flats Road, climbing either Pear Orchard Road, or Chelan Butte Road. For now, you’ll stay left and continue up the last few switchbacks on what is now Butte Lookout Road.
Just before you reach the towers at the top, there is a spur to the right, with two porta potties, presumably for the paragliders who launch from the summit (this is a national caliber paragliding destination and the area has hosted the national championships on several occasions). Stay left until you hit the towers. The views are great but somewhat disrupted by the multitude of towers. As you ride uphill you’ll find the single track down the northeast ridge starts on the left side of the left tower (Waypoint 5). The top part of the trail is great for the first three-quarters of a mile, then the route gets steeper and rockier for a mile — it’s still all ridable. The views along the way are stunning and the ones I appreciated the most were looking back up the trail at the trees and sloping hills.
Eventually you’ll hit a saddle (Waypoint 4) and the trail will take a 90-degree turn to the left. From here it traverses gently but consistently downward for nearly two miles. Part way along this segment, the trail turns from single-track to double track. At Waypoint 3 the trails reaches a junction and there is a small homemade sign stating ‘Elephant Butte and Chelan Butte’. Turn left here and ride a slightly larger dirt road downhill for another 0.25 miles to reach the road and the parking lot noted on the map.
Mountain bikers who parked nearer to town or near Chelan Butte Road will want to turn left and follow Iowa to Sanders to Farnham to Webster to Highway 97A. See our map to make sense of this.
Details, Details: Chelan Butte Ridge Ride (and Hike)
- The trip report above describes a mountain bike ride but trail runners will enjoy this same circuit. Hikers can use the parking area along Iowa Street (Waypoint 2) and then walk up and down the route we descended on mountain bikes. This eliminates walking on paved or dirt roads being used by motorized vehicles. Walking up and down our descent route, makes for an 8-mile round trip hike. No permits are needed to park at the trailhead shown on the map.
- If you hike the route, start at Waypoint 2 and follow these directions. Walk uphill for 0.25 miles to Waypoint 3 and turn right. Hike another 1.9 miles uphill along a nicely graded road that turns to a trail to reach Waypoint 4 (the saddle). Turn right at the saddle and follow the trail along the ridge crest another 1.85 miles to reach the summit.
- Mountain bikers who like climbing challenges might try ascending the descent route described. Much of this trail is climbable although most riders will end up pushing the bike for about three-quarters of a mile along the upper ridge.
- GPS Report
- Mileage. Depending on where they park, mountain bikers will have a 11 to 13 mile ride. Hikers will have an 8-mile round trip walk.
- Elevation: about 2,600 feet of gain.
- Skill: Advanced intermediate (2+) for riders and hikers.
- Fitness. Advanced intermediate (2+)
- See a topo map of the route below.
Updates: This trip report was updated in July of 2013 and again in April of 2015.