McClellan Butte

McClellan Butte

Elev. Gain: 
3,530 ft.
High: 
5,170 ft.
Where:
North Bend, WA
Distance: 
10.00 miles (round trip)
Difficulty: 
Strenuous
Rating: 
4
Steep trail to an enjoyable final scramble and fantastic views.
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Features

Overview

Seen from I-90, McClellan Butte looks like a giant shark-fin sticking up out of the valley – sharp, scary, and not to be messed with. As it turns out, the peak is actually one heck of fun hike with a spine-tinging final scramble that leads to a wonderful 360-degree view atop a bare summit ledge. Sharp? Yes. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

From the official trailhead, begin a half-mile trek through second growth forest and electrical towers to an intersection with an old logging road. Follow the sign and head right. At 0.90 miles the trail makes its first switchback and takes you up onto the Iron Horse Trail (aka John Wayne Pioneer Trail).

Follow signs across this old railroad grade and continue switching back through forest for another mile until you are deposited out onto a graveled Forest Service Road. You may see cars parked here and wonder if this is some sort of makeshift parking lot for hikers who want to trim nearly four miles roundtrip off the trail to the summit. Yes it is, and yes, that's lame. Moving on.  

After crossing the service road, the trail begins to steepen and the rest of the hike will be a nice leg-burning workout. At 2.5 miles, zig-zag up through a wide talus field and continue in a southeast direction through thin forest interrupted by several more rockslide chutes. A word of caution here: These chutes present significant avalanche risk, so if snow is present (especially in shoulder seasons), exercise good judgement on whether to cross or head back down.

At about four miles, the trail makes a wide turn around the south side of the mountain, offering nice views of Mount Rainier and Chester Morse Lake in the distance. Now heading northeast to the summit block, the trail flattens out a bit, making for an enjoyable final mile. Cross through a wide meadow and get your first glimpse of the rocky summit just one-quarter mile away.

4.90 miles in and 5,000 ft' up, the trail ends at an obvious lookout ledge near the base of the Class 3 summit scramble. The view here is fantastic – and a bit nerve-racking when you look down and consider the steep cliffs beneath you. For most hikers, this will be the turn-around point. Soak up those views of Mt. Rainer to the south, nearby I-90 peaks to the north and east, and perhaps even the Olympic Mountains to the west if the weather is clear enough. 

For those who decide to continue on, the scramble route follows the left (west) edge of the exposed slab of rock up about 100 ft to the crest. From high on this knife-like edge, the rest of the route is revealed – a somewhat flat (and much safer) path to the true summit at 5,170 ft. Check out our video and photos for the correct route. Once at the summit, enjoy the unobstructed views in every direction and be mindful of the sheer drop down the north side of the peak.

The final scramble is very exposed and should only be attempted by experienced climbers and hikers. Do not attempt if wet. Make good choices out there.

Permits & Tips

Northwest Forest Pass required. Toilet available at trailhead, but no water. We recommend this hike when the trail is snow-free, usually July–October. No fires allowed. Stay on trail to avoid accidentally entering the Cedar River Watershed (Seattle's water source – public access is prohibited). Only experienced climbers should attempt the final scramble.

>>Google Directions

How to get there

Head east on I-90 to Exit 42 for Tinkham Road.
Turn right at the end of the off-ramp onto Tinkham Road (FR 55).
Drive 0.25 miles and turn right onto a gravel road.
The road ends at the parking loop and trailhead 0.20 miles further.