In a world where there are so many playgrounds at arm’s reach, the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington are so often overlooked. They’re not as tall as the surrounding mountain ranges – the highest point is just shy of 6400 feet. There are no natural lakes, and the valleys are actually canyons carved into an uplifted basalt lava flow. But while they may not have the grandeur of the nearby glaciated Wallowas, the Blue Mountains are quite beautiful and offer some great hiking experiences. A large portion of the Blue Mountains is protected under the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area, and a network of trails takes hikers from the scenic ridge tops to the raging rivers for a plethora of panoramic viewpoints and wildlife viewing opportunities.
At 6387 feet, Oregon Butte is the highest point in Washington’s Blue Mountains. That puts it on par with other local peaks such as Grandmother Mountain. Temperatures are often 20-30 degrees cooler than the surrounding cities which makes this hike a great place to escape the summer heat. The Blue Mountains are drier than some of the other mountains of comparable height, and that can be reflected in the vegetation. However, there are plenty of reliable springs with great tasting water. While the official government warning states to treat all water in the backcountry, these springs feature pipes coming directly out of the ground and are generally safe for direct consumption.
The hike to Oregon Butte is an easy 3-miles from the Teepee trailhead (see map below). You’ll gain about 900 feet in elevation while walking through lush ridge-top forests and mountain meadows. In late spring-early summer, this area is carpeted in wildflowers. In late summer, it’s nice to see that there is still green left on the hills when everything else has turned brown. There are still wildflowers blooming. The fields contain an abundance of western aster, paintbrush, goldenrods, and other late-summer flowers. The huckleberries are also ripe, though not nearly as abundant as they are at Freezeout.
The view on Oregon Butte is nothing short of amazing. On Saturday, I could see 90 miles to the Seven devils. The Wallowas were quite visible as were the Elkhorn Mountains and Moscow Mountain. According to some, that constitutes a clear day. However on a really good day, the view extends to over 200 miles. Spokane Mountain becomes visible to the north, and during the twilight hours, the shadows of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood are all visible to the west. That’s not bad for a small mountain range. Of course, in the middle of the summer fire season, visibility might also be limited to just a few miles, so plan your trip accordingly.