Trip Report    

Oregon Butte Backpack

A delightful eastside backpack for our five-person group without crowds in early summer. We observed surprising abundance and variety of wildflowers, birds, insects and magnificent canyon scenery along series of connecting trails extending from Teepee Trailhead to Oregon Butte Lookout, Indian Corral and Panjab Creek in area quickly recovering after recent 2021 fire in SE WA Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

  • Fri, Jun 30, 2023 — Sun, Jul 2, 2023
  • Oregon Butte
  • Backpacking
  • Successful
  • Road rough but passable
  • Snowfree trails were recently maintained and cleared mid/late June of downed trees, except for Oregon Butte to Indian Corral section and upper steep 1 mile section of Turkey Creek trail (between Panjab Creek and Teepee TH).  We opted to skip the Turkey Creek trail due to trail conditions, and included a couple side trips to the lookout and near Indian Corral.  Panjab Creek bridge indefinitely removed due to debris flows, but newly placed logs and rocks allowed dry stream crossing in early July.

    On leader's mid-June survey trip, pre-Mountaineers backpack, from Teepee TH to Indian Corral, dozens of  downed trees (mostly from post-fire effects) required careful stepping over or detouring around, while lower portions of Panjab and Turkey Creek were already cleared.  Fording of Panjab Creek, for access to Panjab and Turkey Creek trails, was necessary as bridge was temporarily removed.  Lower Turkey Creek trail, near its junction with Panjab trail, was a dry crossing.

    Prior to visiting area, suggest phoning Pomeroy Ranger District (Umatilla NF) early to late-June for current trail maintenance status and snowfree road condition/access to higher trailheads ~5000'+ (Teepee and Diamond Pt). Lower elevation trailhead at Panjab Creek (~3200') provides earlier access, mid-May to early/mid-June, although snowy higher elevation sections of trail may be encountered.  Panjab Creek bridge/stream crossing status was posted on forest website. 

    During late May to late June/early July, be prepared for up to mid-calf stream fords at Panjab Creek trailhead and Turkey Creek trail. 

    If moderate winds (25-35 mph) forecasted or may unexpectedly occur during unstable weather in SE WA Blue Mountains' canyon/ridge terrain, be careful with tent placement away from hazard burned trees, use strong stakes and including guye lines.  Leader experienced an unexpected challenging 30-35+ mph night during survey trip, without guye lines.  See online resources for tenting in windy conditions.


Drive time/road access/parking - Approx 4-5+ hours drive time from Puget Sound/Olympia/Portland areas to Dayton.  Mostly paved roads south from US 12 (Dayton) to Tucannon CG, then either 5-10 minutes gravel/dirt roads to Panjab TH or 1+ hr gravel/dirt road (short rocky rough section) to Teepee TH.  Diamond Point road is reportedly rough near trailhead.  Moderately high clearance vehicles advised to Teepee or Diamond Point THs.  Plenty of TH parking.

Nearby front-country camps:  Forest Service, state wildlife camps, disbursed camping, and rental cabins available pre/post backpack or hikes. 

Backcountry camps (3-4+ tents) recommended near springs (just beyond sharp switchback above Oregon Butte Spring, near Emergency Spring, either side of Dunlap Spring, or several springs along Diamond Pt trail east of Indian Corral).   Camping along trail circuit THs available, with 3-4 tables and pit toilet at Teepee TH (no spring found) or Panjab Creek.  Also noticed several inviting camp locations (bring water) on ridges with big views along Oregon Butte to Indian Corral trail. 

We backpacked from Teepee TH to Oregon Butte spring, side trip to Oregon Butte Lookout (a must & great dinner/evening spot) with 360 degree views, to Indian Corral/Dunlap Spring with short side trips to long rolling ridge, Panjab trail to Panjab TH.  Lots of options to extend and vary trips - circuits, one-way, out and back, with car shuttle for extending options - easy to moderate multi-night moderate to high mileage backpack explorations, one-day long hikes, naturalist or photo hike/backpacks.  Advise avoiding late summer/fall hunting season or wear orange item, when many hunters and stock travel through the wilderness area.

Permits required (on each vehicle) at THs:  Northwest Forest Pass , America the Beautiful or comparable federal pass. 

Weather - mild to warm day temps and cool/mild nights experienced.  Late spring/early summer recommended (for abundant quickly changing wildflower blooms), with very high summer temps likely after early July. 

Wildlife - many birds seen and heard, especially several woodpecker species and hermit thrushes throughout backpack, several mountain bluebirds and western tanangers, and many other more common birds.  Black bears and cougars range in the wilderness area, with their  signs more likely than sightings. Wide variety of insects, small to large common to unusual, many bumblebees and butterflies especially in June between Oregon Butte and Panjab TH.

Wildflowers and other plants - over 170 observed.

A special experience enjoyed by the group - eerie and mezmerizing, siren-like sounds with varied pitches from the interplay of occasional winds and concentrated burnt fire-sculpted trees on upper slopes of at least two deep saddles along the Oregon Butte - Indian Corral trail section.  

Bearproof food storage advised - ursack, hang bag from tree, or canister (optional).

Discover the special wonders of the Oregon Butte area trails and Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, witness an exceptional post-fire recovery area with increasing plants and wildlife each year, enjoy solitude and escape the westside crowds.   Best enjoyed when most of trails are maintained, and cleared of downed trees.  Go earlier, if  you don't mind a near full body workout.

The Oregon Butte Lookout is staffed and interior is open to day visitors, from early July through the summer.   Consult Pomeroy RD for expected start of annual lookout staffing, which can vary.

Selected comments/quotes from participants: 

"We really enjoyed the trip and the incredible diversity of the plants and wonderful birds. After a wet winter and in the bright sunshine of a charred forest, the subalpine wildflowers were simply stunning. The Hermit Thrush call was nearly constant in the evening and morning, providing a combination of melancholy..."

"Here is our bird list: Hermit Thrush, Slate-colored Junco, Western Tanager, Mountain Bluebird, Pacific Wren, Chipping Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Am. Robin, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Cassin’s Finch, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Common Raven. My favorite birds of the trip are bolded. The Black-backed Woodpecker and Williamson’s Sapsucker are particularly associated with burnt areas."

"..counted at least 170 plant species. I was particularly impressed with the numbers of each of the flowers, expansive beds of so many colors. The burnt forest floors were green with fireweed to bloom later."

Photos below, courtesy of Lee Rentz (copyright Lee Rentz):
OB-Rentz Oregon Butte LO evening light and backpacker.jpg
OB-Rentz 2 backpackers.jpg
OB-Rentz lupine on ridge.jpg
OB-Rentz flower 2.jpg
OB-Rentz Clarkia.jpg
OR-Rentz arnica with trunk.jpg
OB-Rentz ladyslipper.jpg
OB-Rentz blue flowers and burnt trunk.jpgOB-Rentz red white and blue flowers on ridge.jpg
OB-Rentz-Lorquins Admiral butterflies.jpg
OB-Rentz swallowtails.jpg

Photos below, courtesy of Linda Moore (copyright Linda Moore): 

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