Gray Butte Hike: Wildflowers & Views

Scenic views all around

The hike to Gray Butte, located in the Crooked River National Grassland near Terrebonne, Oregon, is great to walk in the spring because of the wildflowers.  I went here in May and we saw quite a few colorful flowers. The habitat is sagebrush steppe with scattered western juniper trees.

View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail 9May2018

View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail

I have been here twice with Leslie Olson, one of my favorite guides with Bend Parks and Recreation. One time we went on Cole Loop Trail #854 and the other time we went on Gray Butte Trail #852. The roads to the trailheads have sections that are rough but passable. We did out-and-back hikes of around four to five miles total distance. They are listed as easy to moderate hikes. Here’s a map that shows both trails.

McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead 9May2018

McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead

A piece of history

My most recent hike began at Gray Butte trailhead, elevation 3,800 feet, near the McCoin Orchard. The orchard was originally planted by Julius and Sarah McCoin in 1886. The property was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930’s. At one time there were 100 fruit trees here – apple, pear, plum, etc. Grassland range specialists saved the surviving trees in the 1980’s. When I was there, the trees were in full bloom.

Gray Butte Peak 9May2018

Gray Butte Peak

Dramatic landscapes

Did I make it to the top of the butte yet? Nope, but we had fantastic views from the Gray Butte Trail. Gray Butte reaches an elevation of 5,108 feet. We stopped for lunch on a rocky overlook known as the Austin Creson Viewpoint, elevation 4,200 feet. Austin Creson was involved in the planning of this trail. The viewpoint is 1.9 miles from the trailhead and this was where we turned back.

The Austin Creson Viewpoint is on the northern edge of the Crooked River Caldera. This caldera is enormous. It encompasses 425 square miles. In fact, the volcanic eruption associated with this caldera was the sixth largest on earth. Woah! Right here in Central Oregon. That’s impressive.

From our lofty perch at the viewpoint we had great views of Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Black Butte. Yes, it was a bit cloudy but seeing the peaks peeking through is always thrilling.

Gray Butte American Oil Beetle 9May2018

American Oil Beetle

We saw and heard eagles, swifts, and sparrows on our hike. We also saw a weird beetle known as the American oil beetle. Nice to look at but don’t touch them because they will produce an oil that will irritate your skin.

Gray Butte wildflowers

Seeing the wildflowers on this hike made my day. They are so beautiful! I am including photos from my most recent hike and from my earlier hike a couple years ago. Enjoy!

For driving directions, see Gray Butte Trailhead. Note that if you stay on the trail for about 6.5 miles from the Gray Butte trailhead, you’ll end up at Smith Rock State Park. Please use applicable maps for this route.

Be prepared on any trips you make into the backcountry and help to preserve its beauty for the rest of us. Thanks!

Snowshoeing at Swampy Lakes

Swampy Lakes Short Snowshoe trail, Bend, Oregon 14Feb2017If you want to go snowshoeing close to Bend, check out the trail at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park. It’s a short ways away from the more popular Virginia Meissner Sno-Park and is tucked in the shadow of Mount Bachelor. There are plenty of parking spaces but make sure you purchase a Sno-Park Parking Permit before you go.

Both Virginia Meissner and Swampy Lakes Sno-Parks offer trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and fatbiking. Some of the other sno-parks in the area also have places for snowmobiling.

Swampy Lakes Short Snowshoe trail, Bend, Oregon 14Feb2017

Short Snowshoe Loop

We walked 1.75 miles on the easy Short Snowshoe Loop but there are a couple other trails  that are longer and more difficult. The more difficult Long Snowshoe Loop trail is 3.25 miles long. If you want to get some good views from Telemark Butte, you’ll have to go on the longer  Porcupine Snowshoe Loop. That loop is 4.1 miles long and it’s rated as more difficult. You can stop for a rest after 2 miles at the Swampy Shelter.

The Short Snowshoe Loop winds through beautiful pine forests and it has little elevation gain. The trailhead is at an elevation of 5,800 feet. You won’t get great mountain views but you may find the same solitude that we did last week. There were several cross-country skiers using the trails nearby but we didn’t see any other snowshoers. The trail was in great shape. We could see some fatbike tracks on our trail – they are not allowed on ski trails – so other people were out there recently. It was a nice quiet walk on a sunny winter day.

Make sure you bring the proper clothing and equipment for your trek. Go on a trail that fits your abilities – they are well-signed. There are directional signs but I would also bring a map and compass (and maybe a GPS). Here is a map: Swampy Sno-Park Trails

Fun Facts

Did you know that you can burn 450 calories an hour snowshoeing? If you run on snowshoes that increases your calorie burn to 1,000 calories per hour. Yes, people do run on special snowshoes designed for that purpose. According to Snowshoe Magazine, you burn 45% more calories snowshoeing than walking or running at the same speed due to exercising in the cold, having additional weight on your feet, and working against the resistance of snow.

Snowshoeing at Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor

Thinking about trying out snowshoeing? Last weekend I went out for the first time on Mt. Bachelor on a free guided tour. Knowledgeable volunteers take you out for a 90-minute walk in a forested area near the ski runs. The tours leave at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm. Snowshoes are provided (thanks to REI for donating them) or you can wear your own.

A snowy Mountain Hemlock forest

A snowy Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana,  forest

The volunteers will give you a quick talk on a few of the dangers associated with this sport such as tree wells. This is the area that forms in the snow close to a tree that people can fall into and sometimes not be able to get out of. I also learned that predators like to go into them in search of entrances to the burrows of small mammals. Kind of like a vending machine area for them.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

This particular tour can be very popular. On the day I went, there were 33 people on the tour. They said there can be 50-60 people sometimes. They stop in several places along the way so it is not a strenuous hike.

South Sister with Gray Jay

South Sister with Gray Jay

We learned about some of the wildlife in the area. The snowshoe hare, Lepus americanus, leaves distinct tracks and one of the volunteers demonstrated how their large hind paws hit the ground before the front paws. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trip but we did see common ravens, Corvus corax,  Clark’s nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana, and gray jays, Persoreus canadensis. As I have mentioned in a previous post, the jays always seem to be near me. See Jays .

Broken Top

Broken Top

The hike goes up a hill to a scenic outlook area. We were lucky to have pretty clear weather so we got a great view of some of the nearby peaks.

South Sister & Broken Top

South Sister & Broken Top

The volunteers also talk about some of the geology in the area and demonstrate how much water is collected after snow melts. The snowmelt here takes 10-30 years to reach the nearby river systems.

The hike is free but they suggest that you donate $5 or more to benefit the non-profit Discover Your Forest program.

Hey look! I took a selfie.

Hey look! I took a selfie.

This was a great experience and I will be doing more snowshoeing in the future.