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Cornell Butte

Eastern Washington


Eastern Washington -- Okanogan Highlands/Kettle River Range
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3.25 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 600 ft.
Highest Point: 5088 ft.


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This hike may seem virtually an informality after the arduous drive to its trailhead. However, if fire lookouts intrigue you, and the aesthetic of the rough Okanogan Highlands appeal to you, then this hike is for you. The beauty of the Okanogan may be common knowledge to many. But no matter how many times I visit, I'm amazed each time I delve deeper into its canyons, gorges, and hillsides. Driving the Aeneas Valley Road, outside of Tonasket, is both a step back in time, but also a refreshing reminder of how outstanding the American landscape can be. This bucolic valley is the epitome of rural America.

With reasonable care and a high clearance vehicle you may drive to within 300 yards of the summit, but if you want to hike to it, you can start from the last reasonable road, which makes for an outing with the data listed here: 3.25 miles roundtrip and 600 feet of elevation gain.

With either approach, your ascent is through a burned-over Ponderosa forest. The recent fire has made for better views from the summit. The forest of course, will heal itself over time.

The hike may be taken one of two ways. If you care to save your vehicle, park at the last, left-hand turn and walk the remaining 1.4 miles of rough forest service road. The views are good at times and the forest is grown in sufficiently to provide decent shade.

If you are interested in braving the drive, the end of the road leaves you just a few hundred yards from the lookout tower. From this approach, the grade is easy as the trail winds through exposed bedrock and second growth forest. The views from the summit are improved since fires thinned the trees recently.

WTA Pro Tip: If you want to make an interesting road trip loop, and are not opposed to some adventurous driving, try the following. After visiting the lookout retrace your steps down Forest Service Road 200, Forest Service Road 3120, and Coco Mountain Road.

When you get to the Aeneas Valley road turn left (east); NOT the way you came. This road turns into Forest Service Road 100, and then later the West Fork Sanpoil Road. Eventually this road returns to pavement on Highway 21.

Turn right (south) and follow this beautiful road about 30 miles south to the Columbia River. A free ferry (the 'Sanpoil' which holds about 10 cars) will take you for free across the river. A historical note here: when the US government built dams and flooded the Columbia River Basin they promised free ferry service in perpetuity for the area’s residents.

Be forewarned! The West Fork Sanpoil Road is remote, has at least one stream crossing, and goes through a burnt forest with potential for downed trees! With that in mind, venture forth with caution and a healthy dose of being self-sufficient (and a willingness to turn around).


Cornell Butte

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 48.5418, -118.8927 Open map in new window


Eastern Washington -- Okanogan Highlands/Kettle River Range

Colville National Forest

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Getting There

Drive east on Highway 20 from Tonasket for 12.7 miles. Turn right onto Aeneas Valley Road. Enjoy this sublime, ranching valley for 16.5 miles before turning left onto Coco Mountain Road. This road climbs steeply eventually turning into FS 3120.
After 3.5 miles (from Aeneas) turn right onto FS 200. After 1.2 miles there is an unsigned road on your left. Either park here and walk or drive the remaining 1.4 miles to the trail head and lookout.

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Cornell Butte

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