Return to Gold Butte

Type: L-4 ground cabin
Status: Summer rental
Elevation: 4,618 feet
Visited: July 5-7, 2016

Greg and I first stayed at Gold Butte almost three years ago, in September 2013. The weather was bad and we had almost no views, so we hoped that we’d have better luck this time, and we did.

Lookout with a view

We got a VERY late start leaving Portland on Tuesday. After navigating the rough access road (which has gotten a lot worse in the last three years), we turned onto the spur road for the lookout and unlocked the gate:


We arrived at the trailhead around 5:00 and we packed up and started hiking. We learned our lesson about overpacking last time. We treated this like a short backpacking trip and tried to fit everything into our backpacking packs. Since there is no water at the top we tried hauling our water jug in a little wheeled luggage cart.

Luggage cart

The road was too rocky, though, and we had to ditch the cart. Greg carried it the rest of the way.

Carrying the jug

Hiking to the lookout

We made it! Gold Butte is my happy place. 🙂

Gold Butte Lookout

Inside the lookout

We were immediately treated to far better views than we had last time.

Admiring the view

Mt. Jefferson:

Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Hood:

Mt. Hood

Three Fingered Jack and the Three Sisters:

Gold Butte view

We sat on the front steps enjoying a pre-dinner appetizer of crackers and good cheese, and of course the view.

Gold Butte panorama

This golden-mantled ground squirrel REALLY wanted some of our food. You can tell that he’s been fed by past renters, which is no good. Now he’ll be a nuisance to all future renters. A cute little guy, but a nuisance nonetheless.

Ground squirrel

I always enjoy reading the visitor log when we rent lookouts.

Lookout logbook

The current log started with the 2015 rental season and I was dismayed to read the first few entries. May 13, 2015 from USFS Recreation Manager Josh Weathers: “It appears that someone stayed here at least once this winter based on the condition of the interior. The previous visitor record had also been shot as well as the outhouse. The outhouse will need some extensive repair work done to it.”

Disgusting. What is wrong with people? Why would you come all the way up here to shoot up an outhouse? The 2013-2014 visitor log, which we wrote it last time we were here, was removed, because someone used it for target practice. Who the hell shoots up a notebook???

Visitor log

The following week, Memorial Day Weekend: “Sand Mountain Society volunteers Don Allen & Bruce Hake here at Gold Butte to do repairs to the outhouse after recent vandalism. The outhouse was blasted by shotgun and 22 rifle ammunition.”

Thank you Don and Bruce! I also noticed several vandalized spots on the railing where it appeared someone had started trying to saw through it.


Since we had to hike in and didn’t want to haul a lot of food and cooking supplies, we didn’t get too fancy with our dinners. We did it backpacking-style with the good old Jetboil and some delicious Mary Jane dinners.


Lookout dinner

The days are very long this time of year, but eventually we were treated to a nice sunset:


Mt. Jefferson sunset

After sunset we started a fire and played a round of Iota:


Then went outside to enjoy the stars. WOW!

Stars over Gold Butte

Milky Way over Gold Butte

Morning dawned crisp and clear and beautiful. We had kept the fire going most of the night, but let it go out before sunrise.

Beautiful morning

Gold Butte Lookout

Looking south:

Southern view


Looking north:

Gold Butte view

Gold Butte panorama

A view of Battle Ax Mountain, which we would be hiking up that day:

Battle Ax

Clouds started forming pretty quickly as the morning went along.

Mt. Jefferson

By the time we started hiking down to the car I could tell it was going to be a mostly cloudy day.


Hiking back to the car:

Road 453

Road 453

We drove over to Elk Lake and did the loop hike up to Battle Ax Mountain and back. It was a very nice hike (read more about it here) and fortunately clouds didn’t completely obscure our view (by the way, that’s Gold Butte above Greg’s head in the picture below):

Greg on Battle Ax

Back at the lookout the clouds had started to break up a bit and we lazed about for the rest of the afternoon. Ah, what a life.

Lazy afternoon

Another lovely evening:


And another beautiful starry night. You can just make out Mt. Jefferson left of center.

Starry skies

Sunrise on Thursday morning:

Gold Butte sunrise

Gold Butte sunrise

It was pretty cloudy at first.

Morning clouds

But the clouds lifted a bit later on.

Mt. Jefferson

Morning at Gold Butte

The ground squirrel made another appearance in a last-ditch effort to get some food out of us.

Ground squirrel

It was sad to pack up and go, but I feel fortunate that we not only snagged a reservation (very difficult) but had pretty good weather. The day after we left the weather turned overcast and rainy, so we lucked out. After renting six lookouts in Oregon, Gold Butte remains my favorite. Part of it is the scenic setting and part of it is the excellent condition of the cabin. The Sand Mountain Society did an EXCELLENT job in restoring this cabin, and they continue to do an amazing job on upkeep and maintenance. The attention to detail throughout the cabin is not something I’ve encountered at other lookouts.

Happy at Gold Butte

If you go:

  • Road access: Road 4697 is a very rough road. It doesn’t have the ruts and trenches that some forest roads have, so you don’t necessarily need high clearance, but it’s quite rocky. Make sure your tires are in good shape, and drive slowly.
  • The hike in: For unknown reasons, the Forest Service doesn’t let renters drive to the end of Road 453. After you unlock and drive through the first gate, you have to park at a second gate and walk the rest of the way. We measured the distance from the parking spot to the lookout at 0.85 miles.
  • Cooking: Unlike other lookout rentals there is no range at Gold Butte. However there is a camp stove and a supply of propane. We chose to bring our JetBoil and eat backpacking meals rather than lug up ingredients and cooking supplies.
  • Bed: The bed at this lookout is only a single. Fold-up cots are provided (they’re stored under the bed) but I saw numerous mentions in the visitor log about how difficult the cots are to set up, so for additional people you are probably better off bringing a camping mattress to put on the floor.
  • Firewood: Firewood is provided on site. Most of it was in good-sized pieces during our visit, but not all of it, and there was no axe or hatchet available.
  • Cell signal: We had a full Verizon signal at the summit.
  • UPDATE: I’ve created a Fans of Gold Butte Lookout page on Facebook. Check it out!