Gold Butte Fire Lookout

Hiking up to a Fire Lookout in the Willamette National Forest

A day trip to Gold Butte Fire Lookout

I woke up very lazy that Sunday, and I let the first hours of the morning pass by. But it was a week before we had to change our clocks, and that thought terrified me! Days would get dark before I’d be able to leave work… No more trips during the week to catch the sunset until the spring!

So I decided to get up and go somewhere. Anywhere. I basically chose a random hike from my list of “hikes within 2–3 hours of Portland” that I have for these situations. And that hike happened to be Gold Butte Lookout.

It was a rainy day

I’d never been to a lookout before, and this one was supposed to have gorgeous views of the Cascades and the Willamette Forest. I knew the lookout was closed for the season, but I was not planning on spending the night there anyway.

There was only one problem though: it was 1:30pm and just the drive there was two and a half hours, plus the hike to the top of the butte. The descriptions I found talked about a short but steep hike, so I did the math and according to my estimations I should be at the top around 4:30pm, what would give me a full hour up there before the sunset.

The hike turned out to be not that steep and it took me just around 20–25 minutes from the gate to the lookout. But the drive was much worse than expected. The last 5 miles on that NF road were one of the worst I’ve driven so far, and just that last section took me an hour (yeah, that means an average speed of 5mph).

So I got to the lookout past 5pm, with barely half an hour to enjoy up there before heading back. The day was getting darker and more cloudy, and I missed the view of Mt Jefferson for just a few minutes (I could see it between the trees while I was hiking, but it was gone when I got to the top).

The view from Gold Butte. You can see the “snow line” on Mt Jefferson, which was hidden in the clouds.

I didn’t see any cars or people after leaving the main road. This is perfect if you want to be alone, not that good of a hike if you don’t like to be miles away from the nearest human being.

This is a copy&paste from my Instagram:

[…] while I was up there waiting for the sunset to happen, I heard a hawk (or an eagle, I’m no bird expert) in the distance. You know, that famous scream they make. 1 or 2 seconds later, something else started screaming like crazy, you could almost feel the pain. I guess the bird was hunting a rabbit, squirrel or something similar. It lasted for more than a minute, the only thing I could hear from the top of Gold Butte.

That made me think on my way back to the car, hiking in the darkness. If I had anything to fear in the middle of that forest it was other humans. Maybe a black bear or a cougar, but that would be more an accident than anything else. I guess this was pretty different hundreds of years ago, we got it good now.

And how different that forest is for other animals! Being a chipmunk, a squirrel, a rabbit, even a deer is no easy task!

I know, I know. I’m sure most of you have experienced something like that before (after all, I’ve seen eagles attacking ducks in the city) but this time it gave me goosebumps. There was something about being there alone and feel and hear the forest being a forest. Silence, all of a sudden screaming, silence again.

Anyway, the hike back was just fine, then I drove another hour on the NF road (this time was pretty dark and hard to see the rocks) and then another 2 hours to home.

It was a long day. A good day.

Driving in the dark. That’s the road I was talking about, but it was just fine where I took this photo. It gets much worse.

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