Black Butte Trail Near Mount Shasta

by John Soares on October 2, 2009

The Black Butte Trail climbs steeply up volcanic Black Butte just west of Mount Shasta.

Black Butte is practically in my backyard. I live maybe 10 crow miles from it and I see its steep volcanic flanks frequently. I also love to climb it. It’s one of the first real hikes Stephanie and I do in May as soon as the snow melts off the north side. (And, according to long-time Mount Shasta locals, that’s when you should plant your garden.)

The trail to Black Butte’s summit is an excellent hike any time there’s no snow or it’s not too hot. Call the Mount Shasta Ranger Station at 530-926-4511 for the current trail conditions.

The Black Butte Trail is Hike 45 from 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California, third edition. I discuss the same route in Hike 63 of 75 Hikes in California’s Mount Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park Regions, revised edition.

Black Butte from the slopes of Mount Shasta

Black Butte from the west slope of Mount Shasta. (Photo by John Soares)

Black Butte Trail

Length: 5.2 miles round-trip

Hiking time: 4 hours

High point: 6,358 feet

Total elevation gain: 1,850 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Season: mid-May through mid-November

Water: none; bring plenty

Map: USGS 7.5′ City of Mount Shasta

Information: Mount Shasta Ranger Station, Shasta-Trinity National Forest

To those traveling Interstate 5 in far Northern California, Black Butte looms as a dark, impossibly steep visage rising 2,400 feet right beside the freeway. Surprisingly, a moderately graded trail can take you to the summit of this young volcano, where spectacular views await.

Take the Central Mount Shasta exit off I-5, head east through town for 0.7 mile on Lake Street, and curve left onto Everitt Memorial Highway. Drive 2.2 miles and turn left opposite the sign for Spring Hill Plantation onto Forest Road 41N18, an improved road surfaced with recycled asphalt grindings. Turn right after 0.1 mile, drive 1 mile, and swing 90 degrees to head straight for Black Butte. Go right (north) at a road fork 0.3 mile farther. After another 1.2 miles, turn left at a powerline undercrossing and continue the final 0.7 mile on a gravel and dirt road (41N18A) to the trailhead, which is a small turnaround in the road.

The path initially travels through a forest of Douglas fir, white fir, incense cedar, and ponderosa pine. Common trailside shrubs include bush chinquapin, huckleberry oak, and tobacco brush. As you continue the steady climb across talus slopes, the first of several sweeping vistas opens up to the north, where you’ll see Shasta Valley and the town of Weed directly below and southern Oregon’s Mount McLoughlin, a Cascade sibling of Mount Shasta. At 1.1 miles the path swings southwest, allowing views of Mount Eddy (Hike 52: Mount Eddy and the Deadfall Lakes) and the Klamath Mountains to the west and Castle Dome (Hike 49) and the rest of Castle Crags to the south.

At 1.6 miles the trail heads east, offering you the entrancing image of Mount Shasta, and eventually swings southeast past western white pine, mountain hemlock, and red fir. This is a good spot to search the far southeast horizon for Magee Peak and Lassen Peak, which lie near the Cascades’ southern boundary.

Climb northwest and then southeast again before switchbacking up the last stretch to Black Butte’s summit at 2.6 miles, where all the previously encountered views come together in a 360-degree panorama. Mount Shasta will certainly demand most of your attention. This majestic peak, elevation 14,162 feet, is a stratovolcano formed by massive eruptions that began about one million years ago. Black Butte, a plug dome, formed from thick pasty lava extruded in four different eruptions about ten thousand years ago, making it quite young by geological standards.

Close-up of the summit of Black Butte

Summit of Black Butte. (Photo by John Soares)


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Gambolin Man October 4, 2009 at 9:36 am

John, sounds like a very cool hike with spectacular views – and to think this beautiful wild place is within a stone’s throw of your back yard! Man, I’m jealous! I’ll have to come up just for this hike!

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John Soares October 5, 2009 at 12:17 pm

It’s a good one. And Black Butte is one of the major landmarks of the area. On foggy/cloudy days, some travelers actually think it’s Mount Shasta.

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Opticalfx October 9, 2009 at 1:52 am

Did this hike on the 3rd(Oct). Biting winds coming down from Oregon made for a rough hike. By the time my group and I got to the top we were frozen. Ended up hunkering down in the old foundation to eat lunch. But the views are always nice. Time before this that I hiked was a night hike on summer solstice four years ago. Truely Awesome then…the stars were so close you could grab them and Mt. Shasta, Weed and I5 were all lit up. Day OR night are good….if the wind is being nice.

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John Soares October 9, 2009 at 6:49 am

Glad you all made it to the top, despite the rough weather. I’m hoping to climb it one more time before winter.

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frank October 12, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Thank you very much for this nice article!
Im a hiker myself, I love to hike and and travel around the world, I will put a linkback to this article on my site
5/5 – review by http://www.travelmastery.com
I love the pics btw!

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Harry January 30, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I went skiing at the skipark Jan 27, 2010 and enjoyed the view of Black Butte covered with snow like a big, beautiful snow cone. I have 85 miles to drive from Cottonwood, but it is worth it.

Harry

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John Soares January 31, 2010 at 8:01 am

Harry, I’m glad you made the trip up from Cottonwood. I’ll hike Black Butte in late spring once the snow melts.

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Jen May 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hi John –
Thanks for the info. This looks like a fun hike. I’m thinking about bringing my dogs. Are dogs allowed on the trail?
Thanks,
Jen

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John Soares May 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Hello Jen.

Dogs are allowed on the trail. Just be aware that the last mile or so is very rocky, so your dogs should be agile and in good condition.

And be careful with them at the top; there is a cliff there.

Have fun!
.-= John Soares´s last blog ..Beat Parkinson’s Law — Get More Done More Quickly =-.

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Deanna July 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

John; are you still following these posts? Black Butte was the last hike my father made before he died. He was 69 when he hiked it…, he said it was extremely difficult for him; windy and cold. He said he went on a bad day.., but he knew his time was short and he really wanted to go up there. He didn’t make that last rocky mile, but he still felt so good about how far he got and said it was beautiful. He believed the trail had not been maintained. He wanted to try it the next season but he didn’t get the chance. He described it as steep and said that the trail was not kept up and there were parts to be very cautious on; parts he thought were not real safe due to danger of sliding and/or falling down hill. Before my father died I promised him I’d lose weight and get in shape to safegaurd my own health. As a tribute to him I’d like to hike Black Butte. I’m wondering if it’s moderately difficult for a marathon runner or moderately difficult for a 40 year old mom? I’ve lost some weight and done some hiking around my area.., but that’s mostly been small, easy trail cliffs and mostly level terrain. The most I’ve done in one stent (so far) is about 3 miles on parks trails where I climbed some rocks that were about as tall as I am and had steps in them… and I’ve and been fine, but I’ve done nothing that continued to go up the whole time. As you can tell, BB is more than a hike to me, and it would mean a lot to get to the top. I’m going to bring dad’s ashes with me… and yes I know I can’t scatter them up there.., but he’d still be at the top with me. I really don’t want to show up and only make it 1/2 way.., or fall and kill myself trying to pay tribute to my dad. (He really wouldn’t like that!) Any advice/information about this trail you have would be great. Any other comparable trails I could try first so I’d know how close I am to being able to make it? And have you been up there lately and do you know if the trail is still being maintained? Please feel free to post response and/or e-mail me. Thank you for your time. Deanna.

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John Soares July 24, 2010 at 6:39 am

Deanna, I’m glad you’re thinking about climbing Black Butte as a tribute to your father.

I don’t know the specifics of your weight and your health, so I don’t know if you can make it to the top, or half-way up.

I climbed to the top of Black Butte about three weeks ago, and the trail is in good shape. It is steep, and it is on the side of a steep mountain. And the last half is very rocky, which makes it easy to twist your ankle.

If you live in the area, start hiking the new Spring Hill Trail on the north side of the town of Mount Shasta just across North Mount Shasta Boulevard from the city park. When you can get to the top of that (say 500 feet elevation over 1.3 miles), you should be able to get at least part way up Black Butte.

And yes, the law probably says you can’t scatter your dad’s ashes on Black Butte, but…

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Deanna August 4, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Thank you for your reply.., that’s great information and encouraging.

I don’t think I can do it yet, but I believe I will be able to if I keep working on it.

I will be staying at a family home in McCloud at the end of this month. My family and I were planning on hiking to McCloud Falls, which I hear is an easy hike. I think I would like to find the Spring Hill Trail and see how that goes.., it may give me some perspective. Thanks for the local advice. I’ll post again as to my progress. This is a great site, I appreciate it.

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John Soares August 5, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Deanna, McCloud Falls is a fantastic hike, and it’s mostly level. Spring Hill, on the north side of the town of Mount Shasta just across from the city park, climbs gently and is a good way to get into shape for Black Butte.

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Deanna August 22, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Friday, Aug. 20th was my birthday, and it was also a good day for a hike. My family and I made it up Spring Hill. I did stop often along the way…, pausing in the shady spots to drink water and catch my breath. Going at my own comfortable pace it took about one hour to get to the top and about forty-five minutes to get back down. Saturday and Sunday we explored McCloud Three-Falls and my daughter took her turn jumping into that icy water. You were right, it is a beautiful hike. I live about three hours south and I only get up to the Mt. Shasta area two or three times each year. My goal is still Black Butte. Would you guess Spring Hill to be 50% of the effort it would take to get up Black Butte? 30%? Or more? Or Less? I’ve been reading a lot about hiking…, everything from excerpts regarding “senior trails” to renditions of strenuous, multi-day destinations. I find it amazing that one person’s Everest is another’s Mt. Shasta.., and it’s someone else’s Mt. Lassen, and yet someone else’s McCloud Falls. Black Butte is my Everest.

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John Soares August 23, 2010 at 7:05 am

Deanna, congratulations on climbing Spring Hill and doing the McCloud waterfalls.

I’d say Spring Hill is about 20% of the effort to climb Black Butte, mostly because of Black Butte’s greater elevation gain, but also because the last third or so of the Black Butte trail is rocky and requires a lot of attention to walk on.

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Nikki August 9, 2011 at 11:20 am

Hello John, I am planning on hiking Blacke Butte on Aug 22. We are planning on starting at 3:30 so as to not be in the heat of the mid day. Do you think this leavea enough time to get up and back before dark?

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John Soares August 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Yes, if you’re strong hikers. The last half is quite rocky, which slows you down a bit.

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Michael November 13, 2011 at 1:37 am

Hi John,
I’m headed to SF from Oregon in a few days and I’m wondering if the trailhead is still accessible. Are there any snow-closed roads or gates? Any area snow/weather condition info you can share would be REALLY helpful for planning, as I’m also considering an ascent of Eddy on the way down and this one on the return. I’ll be bringing climbing snowshoes, Ice-ax & crampons, though I’m crossing the fingers and hoping I won’t need to use them…
Just so you know I’m not completely unaware of the challenges of November hiking/climbing – I’ve got a lot of back-country snow experience, and mountaineering ascents as well. I’m actually pretty excited that there’s a possibility of a trailed route on the peak, as I originally figured I’d be starting from the shoulder of I-5! ; )

Thanks for any input!

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John Soares November 14, 2011 at 9:11 am

Michael, I think getting to the Black Butte trailhead right now is not a problem since there’s no snow on the road to the trailhead, and very little snow on Black Butte itself.

Mount Eddy will definitely have snow. I suggest you call the Mount Shasta Ranger District at 530-926-4511 for latest updates.

Have fun and be safe!

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Skylar March 27, 2014 at 11:12 am

John,

Do people hike this during the late winter / early spring? I’d like to summit it this weekend.

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John Soares March 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Skylar, this weekend the Mount Shasta area will likely have some precipitation. May not be the best time to climb Black Butte. It’s been snow-free for much of this dry and warm winter, but it may have snow on it now.

Call the Mount Shasta Ranger Station at 530-926-4511 for up-to-date info.

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Annette December 1, 2015 at 11:48 pm

John, thanks for describing this hike, and also how to get to the trailhead. We went to the top of Black Butte today, there were great hiking conditions. There was some snow, but only 4-6 inches at most. The trail was easy to follow, and the view was great at the top. Me and my boyfriend are here on vacation from Norway, and it was a nice hike that was easily accessible from I-5. But we were glad that our rental car was relatively high, as the roads in were a bit bumpy. Thanks again for the description:-)

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John Soares December 2, 2015 at 9:32 am

Annette, I’m glad you enjoyed Black Butte. I once hitchhiked up the length of Norway all the way to Narvik.

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