Fish Butte


Forest Service Trail #2230

Why? Great views south across the Lochsa River

Season: June through October.

Ease: Strenuous. It’s 4.4 miles to the #483 road, with 2,300 feet of elevation gain, all after you’ve hiked a level mile or so on the Lochsa Historical Trail.

While there are several hikes that head uphill on the north side of the Lochsa River, none give you better views south into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness as that up Fish Butte. That a few of them come early in the hike is a bonus, but one you pay for. The trail is serious about heading uphill once it takes off from the Lochsa Historical Trail about ¼ mile in.

The heavily treed slopes on the south side of the Lochsa come into view first, soon to be topped by one of my favorite places, Coolwater Ridge. Coolwater Ridge sits above the Selway and is recognizable, in part, by the old lookout that tops Coolwater Mountain. I’ve done a backpack from up there and a couple of dayhikes (hike xxx).

It takes a bunch more hiking up Fish Butte, however, to get the views of Chimney Peak and the Selway Crags, rocky and snowy above the trees even as late as June most years. In between, you can check out the high area of the Boulder Creek Drainage above Wilderness Gateway.

One of my favorite spots along the trail is most of the way up, a huge rock that sits in the middle of the top of the drainage of one of the tributaries of Otter Slide Creek. The first couple times I hiked the Butte, there were vultures on it, and given the work involved in hiking up this trail, I wondered if perhaps they were hoping I might falter.

The trail tops out first on a wooded saddle, then skirts the upper drainage of another Otter Slide Creek tributary before reaching a junction with the #229 trail down to Fish Creek and the #483 road from Canyon Junction via Frenchman Butte.

But whatever you do, hike this trail early or late in the season, not when it’s hot. Because much of the trail passes through brush fields that resulted from the 1934 Pete King burn, it’s in the open and exposed, full of caenothus and other short vegetation.

Note: In 2002, you also could still drive the #483 road up to the top of Fish Butte. It was entertaining for me, to say the least. It was hot the day I did it, and I drove the brushy road with windows open so that the car wouldn’t be overheated by air conditioner use. When I got to the bottom, I had to stop and remove the myriad of caterpillars and ticks that had been flung into my car off various branches.

Directions: The Fish Butte trail takes off from the Lochsa Historical trail about 1 mile west of the bridge over Fish Creek. The latter is off the road up Fish Creek between mile markers 120 and 121 on Highway 12.

Information: Lochsa Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 935 2513

Maps: USGS Huckleberry Butte and McLendon Butte, Idaho. Older maps show this as trail #223.

Connections: If you hike the #229 trail down to Fish Creek, cross the creek and turn right, you can hike to and over Hungry Creek and down Fish Creek back to its trailhead for a fine circle hike of maybe 12 miles, maybe more if you go by the figures in the Clearwater Trail Guide.