Gray Butte is not particularly rugged nor jagged. The soft-shouldered butte is home to a cluster of antennas and a utility road the climbs there. But this 13.3 mile out-and-back route begins and ends in beautiful Smith Rock State Park, taking you down across the Crooked River before climbing out of the park, across a private land easement, and into the Crooked River National Grassland where Gray Butte stands tall over Central Oregon.
This trail is considered strenuous mainly for the net vertical gain and the distance, but the climb itself is moderate, with no overly steep or gnarly sections.
Getting to the Trailhead
We began at the Smith Rock State Park visitor center in Terrebonne, Oregon (get driving directions here). The parking at this popular park fills up early, especially on nice weekends. In late December, we had plenty of parking, although it was full by the time we returned to our car in the afternoon. If you don’t have an annual Oregon State Parks pass, there is a self-serve fee station where you can purchase a day pass to put on your dashboard. At the time of writing, it cost $5 to park for the day, a one-year Oregon Park State Pass was $30 and a two-year pass $50. Annual passes are available for sale in the Visitor Center when it’s open.
Hiking to Gray Butte
Beginning at the Visitor Center, head about 0.2 miles north on the Rim Rock Trail (parallel to the road), then turn left (northwest) on the Valley Trail. This begins as a paved trail and is a magnet for tourists as it’s the main route down to the river. There is a pit toilet just before the bridge should you need it. The views of the canyon from the bridge never fail to amaze.
Once you cross the bridge, turn right and follow the Wolf Tree Trail.
This trail winds along beside the Crooked River for about 1.25 miles before connecting with the Burma Road Trail. Now the climbing begins.
The trail exits Smith Rock State Park and follows Burma Road alongside a canal that actually tunnels through the mountain. You climb two switchbacks on this double-track utility road, with the views opening up as you climb higher. From here you get an incredible view of not only Smith Rock State Park, but the Cascade Range to the west.
Look closely at this photo and check out the “wave”-like clouds in the distance. I had never seen anything like them before.
At roughly 2.25 miles in you reach the junction with the Summit Trail (which descends to the left and you do not take) and the Gray Butte Trail to the right. The next three miles are relatively flat as the trail winds long the north-face of Eagle’s Nest to the Gray Butte Saddle Junction.
From the junction, you have two options. There is a trail that winds around the north side of Gray Butte, or you can take the double-track utility road up the south side. We opted to turn left on the dirt double-track and follow that to the summit, since there had been some snow recently and the north side was certain to hold more of it.
This winds its way up to the summit where there is a small cluster of antennas. This rounded summit of Gray Butte is 5,108′ high with 1,908′ of prominence, making it a great spot for 360-degree views of much of Central Oregon.
The summit is a great place to take a break and refuel. You have hiked half the total distance. The trip back is mostly downhill, with a climb out of the canyon from Smith Rock at the very end. This is also where Ben and agreed this would be a fun mountain bike trek, and in fact, mountain bikes and horses are allowed.
We hiked this in late December and once we headed uphill, only saw two people on the way. On our way back, we began to see more and more people, especially as we got back to Smith Rock State Park.
This trail was a great way to get a good overview of Smith Rock State Park, but kept away from the crowds for 99% of the route.
Gray Butte Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Additional Gray Butte Tips and Resources
- Smith Rock State Park – official website
- Crooked River National Grassland – official website
- Carry the 10 essentials
- Learn more about the Central Oregon Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge
Smith Rock State Park Weather Forecast
[forecast width=”100%” location=”97760″]
Originally hiked on December 27, 2019. Special thanks to my friend Ben for joining me!