This Mother’s Day weekend, I again spent it with Mother Nature and Mama Boots. However, this time we were joined by my Aunt for a flower-filled hike in Chelan!
Weather was expected to be hot, with a high that day of 91*. I was adamant that we get an early start to beat the heat. We got to the trailhead close to 7am, a little later than I would have liked, and set off. After my last encounter with a rattlesnake, I was terrified of seeing another. I spent so much of the hike with my head down, scanning the sides of the trail for movement. There were a few other people on the trail as well, which actually starts as an off-road trek in the first quarter-mile.
We had read trip reports saying the purple wildflower lupine was in peak form, with the yellow arrowleaf balsamroot maybe a few days past peak, and they were right. While the hills weren’t quite as carpeted as peak Dog Mountain, it was still a breathtaking landscape of color, with my aunt marveling she felt like we were in the Wizard of Oz. I actually liked the mix of purple and yellow, instead of being 90% balsamroot like some other hikes. The view certainly helped distract from our burning quads as we zig-zagged up the hillside. We took a few breaks for water and to catch our breath, noticing magpies getting more active as the day got warmer.
This hike has two options: at just under two miles up, there is a spur that will take you left, towards Elephant Head, or right, to finish the Butte. We had decided to make it a game-time decision if we were doing just the head (around 4 miles RT) or the full butte (nearly 7.5 RT), depending on heat and how we were all feeling. I was still petrified of rattlers or a wicked sunburn, but my mom and aunt were having a great time, so we decided to continue. Hikers who had started around the same time as us clearly had done Elephant Head, so it certainly is a great choice if you don’t have time or the strength for the full Butte hike. While we re-applied SPF here, we saw a bird that my aunt identified as a quail, something I don’t think I’ve seen from a hike before.
From the spur to Elephant Head, the hike seemed to get much steeper. It felt almost taunting for not choosing to stop at Elephant Head! However, the flowers seemed to get more beautiful as well, teasing us to continue. We started taking tons of tiny breaks, and I personally prefer few long breaks, so the hike started to feel like a slog, especially with the sun in full force. Even with hats and layers, the need for some shade grew. You gain over 1100 feet in mile three, the same amount you had gained in the previous two miles together, so you will be feeling the burn. Mama Boots decided she would stop, and I was ready to stop with her but my aunt was a total cheerleader who encouraged me to continue.
From my mom’s stopping point, it was a massive uphill. There were loose rocks everywhere (which made for plenty of fun coming down–bring poles if you have them!). However, as my aunt and I climbed, the view of Lake Chelan kept growing as our vantage point got higher. With the top of the Butte being mostly radio towers, the real attraction here is the lake views (and, in the right time of year, the stunning wildflowers.) My aunt and I went about 0.75 miles further from where we left my mom, and stopped for a breather. We looked and saw more climbing to get to the radio towers, a good half-mile or more to go still, and with the sun beating down, decided to call it a day. From the top, along with 360 views there is potential to see paragliders take off!
If you’re in Chelan, this hike can be done as a snowshoe as well as a spring or fall hike. In summer, heat (and rattlers!) might be too much for someone not acclimated to the area. Get an early start and wear boots!
Distance: Around 4.0 miles RT for Elephant Head, 7.5 RT for the top of the Butte
Elevation: Around 1000 feet for Elephant Head, 2500 for Chelan Butte
Parking: No pass required
Bathrooms: No bathrooms
Best Beer Bet: While Chelan is famous for their wineries, there is a brewery right in town–Stormy Mountain Brewing!