Every Lookout in Oregon

Gold Butte

Type: L-4 ground cabin
Status: Summer rental
Elevation: 4,618 feet
Visited: September 20-22, 2013

Back in March I made reservations to stay at Gold Butte for September. Usually late September is fairly reliable for decent weather, but not this year. We stuck to our plan, however, and hoped for the best.

After work on Friday Greg and I drove the very rough Road 4697 up to Road 453, the spur that goes most of the way to the lookout. 453 is gated but renters are given a combination for the first gate. Half a mile later is a second gate where renters have to park. The road keeps going but we would have to walk the rest of the way. The signboard on the left says it’s half a mile from this point to the lookout which is incorrect, as we shall see.

I had called the Detroit Ranger Station the week before and asked if there were any kind of wheelbarrows or carts on site to help haul our stuff up. I was told there were not. So imagine our surprise to find TWO wheelbarrows at the gate.

We loaded up and headed up the road a little after 7pm. By now it was dark and it was raining. And it quickly became apparent that we had overpacked. We had been lulled into bringing too much stuff by the short-sounding half-mile walk from the car to the lookout. Plus we discovered that the wheelbarrows themselves were so immensely heavy that they easily doubled the weight we were dealing with. We slowly struggled up the road, cursing the darkness and the rain. (It was too dark that night for pictures so these next few are from the next day.)

Half a mile later we were not at the lookout but at the end of the road. A sign told us that the lookout was still another third of a mile up a trail. This was an unwelcome surprise since we were already worn out from pushing those wheelbarrows up the road. At least the rain had stopped by this point.

The trail was well-graded for hiking, but not for pushing a heavy wheelbarrow.

Our hands, arms, shoulders, and backs were giving out so neither wheelbarrow made it to the summit. We made several trips back down the trail to the spots where we had abandoned them, carrying our gear up by hand the rest of the way. Tired, sore, and very sweaty we finally had all our gear in the lookout by 8:30. We settled in, lit some candles, and did some unpacking.

In the morning it was definitely cloudy but we weren’t socked-in. We didn’t get the far-reaching views that this lookout is famous for, but the clouds were beautiful in their own way.

For a short time we got a glimpse of some peaks. There’s Mt. Washington and part of the Three Sisters.

Mt. Jefferson trying to come out.

Breakfast was scones that I had baked at home and which we heated up on the stove. Yum!

The lookout on Gold Butte was built in 1934 and used up until the 1970s. It sat abandoned for several decades before the Sand Mountain Society got involved. The building was in terrible shape by then and full of holes from carpenter ants. The SMS spent about six or seven years rebuilding the lookout from the ground up. I think that the first season it was available for rent was 2006 or 2007. It is in GREAT shape and the SMS is to be commended for all their hard work (they provided 1,000 volunteer hours to restore the lookout!). You can see pictures from the restoration effort here. And you can read about the restoration here.

We found the rusty old trash pile from when this was an active lookout.

There’s a great little campfire spot near the cabin that would be awesome on a beautiful summer evening.

This little ground squirrel looked VERY healthy. He’s clearly been fed by past renters.

With a forecast that called for 100% chance of rain we were pretty shocked to see blue sky!

It was the last day of summer, but fall was already well underway up here.

We hiked back to the car for a short excursion in the area but spent the rest of the afternoon in the lookout chilling out and enjoying the warmth of the woodstove.

Reading in a cozy cabin surrounded by windows is not a bad way to spend a cloudy Saturday afternoon.

I had a lot of fun reading people’s entries in the visitor log. There were two more log books with entries dating back to 2010. We added our own thoughts before leaving the next day.

The rain started up again before dinner but shafts of sunlight were breaking through.

And then we got a rainbow! It was a complete arch, but I couldn’t get the whole thing in one frame so here is the most vivid part of it.

We ate dinner, played gin rummy, drank wine, and read our books.

We even got lucky for a brief time with a break in the clouds that revealed some stars!

It was rainy and windy all night and we awoke to very blustery conditions in the morning. We were totally socked-in.

With the wind pushing the clouds around we got occasional glimpses beyond the summit, but not much.

We lingered that morning, sad to be leaving. But finally we started packing up our gear and getting ready to head out into the wind and rain. Despite the less-than-ideal weather we still had a great time this weekend. We want to rent other lookouts and we’ll definitely come back to Gold Butte too.