Talk about the absolutely unexpected…..
To view Black Butte from along I-5 you would concluded that it is 1) an incredibly steep hike, 2) an incredibly boring hike, and 3) not something that, if you decided not to do it, you’d feel like you were missing out. After spending a day on the 6,368 foot peak, none of these assumptions could be further from the truth!
Our hike to the top of Black Butte surprised us from the moment we arrive at the trailhead. After an easy off road jaunt to the base of the mountain from the Everitt Memorial Highway, we were surprised that the trailhead was actually in dense forest as opposed to the barren pile of rocks were were expecting. Jumping on the trail, we were pleased that while the incline was moderate, it wasn’t as steep as we were expecting, and that the trail almost immediately rewards you with some spectacular views.
The hike to the summit can be divided into three segments, all defined by switchbacks. The first segment would be what I would call a traditional “trail” hike. You are literally proceeding around the north face of Black Butte on a clearly defined trail while steadily gaining elevation. You are also treated to some great views of Mt. Shasta and the valley to her west as you move along.
After a steady counter-clockwise climb, the trail suddenly switches back and immediately changes into more of a rocky scramble. There is still a trail, but you’re no stepping from rock to rock as opposed to walking on a dirt path. Our biggest surprise during this segment was a hidden canyon that is hard top perceive when viewing the mountain from below. This was not the “boring” hike we had been expecting at all! This segment continues through the canyon and beyond, continuing a steady elevation gain. It eventually switches back yet again, wrapping back around the northwestern face of the Butte.
The final (and shortest) segment begins at the fourth switchback where the hike becomes more of a gentle scramble, weaving back and forth to the top of the Butte. It is actually a relief to be off of the rock path at this point and your ankles are ready for the break as you attack the summit. Once on the top, make your way along a slender ridge line to the foundation of the old fire lookout tower where you can hop in and enjoy the panoramic views.
Even though we knew there would be a tremendous view once we reached the top, we were completely surprised by the scenic nature of the route up the mountain. This, combined with a steady yet moderate incline made for an enjoyable day of hiking.
Coming down seemed to take longer than the ascent, especially through the middle segment on the rocks. While the hike is not hard (I’d compare it to the Castle Dome hike) it is perilous in spots where an inopportune slip or fall could send you down a steep rocky face. We would strongly recommend shoes with great ankle support, and please remember that patience is a virtue as you descend.
All in all it took us just over 4 hours to complete the hike, not counting a 30 minute stay up top. We’re just sorry that we put it off for so long as it was truly an amazing experince. I’d say kids over the age of 12 would be fine on this hike, with younger hikers considered on a case by case basis. The incline isn’t that bad, but the rocks can be tricky for little legs. We did have good cell coverage during the entire trip.
Learn more and plan your own ascent by visiting the Hike Mt. Shasta site and reviewing their post on the Black Butte ascent.