Columbia Hills Historical State Park: Horsethief Butte
Eastern Gorge, Washington
Sunrise over Horsethief Butte. (photographer: Jeremiah Leipold)
Hike Details
Type:
Out and back & loop (choice of either)
Distance:
2 miles round trip
Elevation Gain:
150 feet
Difficulty:
Easy
Trail Features
Family Friendly:
Yes
Restrooms:
Yes
Trailhead Pass:
Trail Details
WildflowersBeautiful ViewsCultural HistoryCultural HistoryIce Age FloodsIce Age Floods
COVID-19 advisory from our partner Ready, Set, GOrge! (readysetgorge.com): 

Increased visitation puts increased pressure on the Gorge’s limited resources.  If you’re planning a trip to our region, please help keep our communities safe by following CDC and local health guidelines and respecting the requests of individual businesses. Please plan before you go and always have a Plan B in case your destination is too crowded or closed. When recreating on trails, maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other hikers and bikers.
 



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On the Trail

The 3,300-acre Columbia Hills State Park is an ideal family destination. This easy, 1.5-to-2-mile hike at picturesque Horsethief Butte explores around and atop the butte and into its side canyons. Faint outlines of Native American petroglyphs can be seen on the rock face.

Permits & Pets

This area is managed by Washington State Parks. A Discover Pass is required to park. Purchase one in advance. Dogs are required to be leashed at all times.

Trail Notes

  • Horsethief Butte rises dramatically from the landscape; it’s composed of hexagonal columns of basalt flows, about 15 million years old. The butte withstood the fury of the Missoula Floods during the last Ice Age, which scoured this area bare of all soils, and sheared valleys into vertical cliffs. Rock climbers are common on the cliffs in spring, and so are wildflowers. Reputedly, the name was inspired by scenery from Hollywood Westerns, rather than from some real event.
  • From the parking lot, head west along the trail that begins at the and continue on the trail, staying right at all junctions. The left fork leads to a rocky climb. The well-marked trail leads across a flat area and will turn south and wrap around to the south side of Horsethief Butte for great views of Horsethief Lake and the Columbia River. You will pass a signed junction, where hikers can opt to scramble up into and on top of the butte inside a maze of narrow, rocky canyons. Beyond the junction, the Horsethief Butte Trail continues around the butte’s south side. The cliffs above are home to several colors of lichen. Enjoy views east of the river. The trail ends about half a mile from the trailhead at the top of a cliff. Return the way you came or loop back.
  • This is rattlesnake country, so be mindful of their presence. Poison oak is present, too. Summer temperatures reach into the 100s, and shade is absent; this is a great area to explore from fall to spring or early on summer days.
  • Please always stay on the trail and clean your boots before and after you hike. Hikers and their dogs are common vectors for spreading invasive seeds.
  • Restrooms are at the trailhead.

Post-Hike Explorations

In summer, rent sit-on-top kayaks at the park and paddle around Horsethief Lake. The park is open for boat rentals, camping, picnicking, and guided petroglyph tours from April 1 to late October.

Or combine a hike at this park with an overnight in nearby Goldendale. At the Goldendale Observatory State Park after dark, peer through powerful telescopes and learn from park rangers, on hand for interpretation of the night sky. It’s about 30 miles away, via SR 14 east to U.S. 97, and then north to Goldendale. The arid climate and lack of light pollution result in superb night-sky-viewing conditions.

Other Hikes at or Near This Trailhead



Directions & Travel Tips

Horsethief Butte Trailhead: From U.S. 197 and SR 14, drive 2.8 miles east on SR 14 and turn right into the trailhead parking area (near milepost 86). This area is open year-round.