There are all kinds of Columbia Gorge wildflower hikes to check off you “must-summit” list, and once you’ve ticked off some of the usual suspects (i.e. Hamilton Mountain and Dog Mountain) take a wander up Bald Butte next.
This hike definitely does not live up to its name, as it is rich with all manner of Pacific Northwest flora. Not only that, but it’s a unique ecological transition zone, sitting right in the crosshairs of gusts of moist ocean air from the west and dry continental wind from the east. The result is an abundance of diverse wildflowers and plants that flourish in the odd muddling of conditions.
The Bald Butte hike itself is a moderately traffic out-and-back hike that’s slightly over 8 miles roundtrip. To make the full trip you’ll traverse two trails: the Oak Ridge Trail and the Surveyors Ridge Trail. The trails are all-season, but late winter hikes require snowshoes.
Start at the Oak Ridge Trail and enjoy a shady walk under ponderosa pines and oaks. The path soon turns into switchbacks through the woods, interspersed with flat strolls through meadows populated with balsamroot, lupine, and Columbia desert parsley. You’ll encounter a wooden gate and fence line, climb five more switchbacks, and then enter a forest of Douglas-fir and grand fir. Once you’ve crossed the 640 spur road you’ll find the Surveyors Ridge junction.
Take this trail as it slopes gently downhill, pass an area of clearcuts, and then swing past an overlook down onto rocky palisades and a view of the Mount Hood valley. The path continues to lead downhill into a saddle, and then rises up through a rocky track. You may encounter ATVs in this section of the hike, as they are permitted here.
Walk up the hillside through shady Douglas-fir woods, dip down through one last saddle, and then just past a meadow will be the final rise to the top of Bald Butte. From up here you can see the nearby Mount Hood, but also of Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. In the late spring and early summer the meadow here at the summit is a great place to flop down and picnic as you rest up from the hike.