Marble Butte


Forest Service Trail #312

Why? Views and a great entry into the west side of the Gospel Hump

Season: Late June through October.

Ease: Difficult, with 1,500 feet up and 1,200 feet down over 6+ miles.

The trail from Moore’s Guard Station to Marble Butte and beyond is particularly pleasing, at least once the first mile is hiked. That’s when you’ll be past the section that’s an old jeep trail that circles the remains of a huge camp at the trail’s first crossing of Anchor Creek. Then you can concentrate on enjoying the meadows and the views.

Anchor Meadow is a lovely, grassy open area along the creek of the same name. It’s below the trail and often visible as you hike above it and then down to a second crossing of Anchor Creek.

A second meadow lies on the saddle below Sheep Mountain. It’s a fine break spot, a place to sit under whitebark pines and have a snack. A short downhill brings a third, wet meadow with a thoroughfare through the worst spots. I found a frog in it, plus two dark blue flowers I rarely see: monkshood and gentian. Then, it’s a long haul up to just behind Plummer Point and a long, open couple miles of saddle that, because it was burned out in several places during the 1987 Porcupine Fire, offers some particularly nice views.

To the east, there’s the long string of high, rocky peaks running from the North Pole and Buffalo Hump through Oregon Butte to Elk Butte (hike 59). To the north, there’s Bear Grass Ridge that connects Moore’s and Square Mountain to the Buffalo Hump. (hike 58) To the northwest, there’s Gospel Peak and Hill, Roundtop and Little Roundtop and Umbrella Butte. Looking into the Anchor Creek and Wind River drainages, you see more of the area that burned in 1987. And to the south, there’s the rocky and open hillside of Marble Butte.

Directions: From Grangeville, turn right just after driving through Grangeville on Road 221, then stay straight on the same road about 1 mile later at the drive-in-movie screen. Stay on 221 for 31.2 miles, turning left before milepost 30 into the Gospel Hump on Road 444. The Moore’s Guard Station Trailhead is on the right 11.9 miles up that road.

Information: Nez Perce National Forest in Grangeville, (208) 983-1950.

Maps: Marble Butte and Hanover Mountain, Idaho; Forest Service Gospel Hump Wilderness map.

Connections: This is yet another hike that extends well into a backpack all the way to the Salmon River at the Wind River Packbridge. In fact, although this hike and that are treated separately, they are in fact the same trail, Forest Service #312.

There are a couple of fine, wet meadows below the trail as it passes around Marble Butte. Beyond them there also are outstanding rocks, both on the cliffs and on the ground. Big, rounded, granite-type boulders were strewn about as if they weighed nothing. On the ground, they could be solitary, in groups, or in arrangements that it was hard to imagine happened naturally. The peak just before Black Butte but in its ridge has a rather fine and huge rocky top.

The trail was easy to follow the entire way except for in one spot in the vicinity of Black Butte, where the most distinct trail heads off into an obviously well used campsite.

From Black Butte, there’s a quick downhill of 1,200 feet into Chittam Creek. Then it’s around the corner and into and around the Vinegar Creek drainage before dropping farther into the Wind River drainage.

Water and flat areas don’t occur together at evenly spaced intervals along this trail. Anchor Meadows is good, and there’s the wet meadow before Plummer Point. There are two levels of wet meadow below Marble Butte to the west, and Porcupine Meadow would work. There’s a campsite off the trail between Porcupine and Sweet Anise Spring, and there are a couple campsites where the trail parallels one of the small tributaries of Wind River, northeast of Black Butte. After that, there is water in both the Chittam and Vinegar Creek drainages, but precious little flat ground except for one spot along the former. There’s a small camping spot right at the Wind River crossing, as well as at the trail’s end, before the packbridge.

On the other hand, the shuttle between the two trailheads is relatively easy, especially if you take the 221 Road at Allison Creek from the Salmon River Road, and drive it up until it intersects with the road into the Gospel Hump. It’s a surprisingly good road.