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Barrel Butte

Barrel Butte

Barrel Butte

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Nebraska, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 42.66032°N / 103.24711°W

Object Title: Barrel Butte

County: Dawes

Activities: Hiking, Scrambling

Elevation: 4450 ft / 1356 m


Page By: panhandletrails

Created/Edited: Jul 11, 2012 / Mar 18, 2013

Object ID: 799869

Hits: 1560 

Page Score: 77.48%  - 8 Votes 

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View to west from Barrel Butte
Looking west from the west slope of Barrel Butte
For many people, their only image of Nebraska derives from driving across the state on I-80, in the very flat Platte River valley. They would be very surprised then, were they to see Barrel Butte and the West Ash Creek canyon. Barrel Butte stands in stark contrast to Nebraska’s high point, Panorama Point.

Barrel Butte is part of a ridge system that lies roughly on a north-south axis, with the west side on national forest land, and the east side as part of the Bighorn Wildlife Management Area. As the state’s third steepest publicly accessible summit, and in a remote area of the Pine Ridge, it provides an excellent opportunity for hiking and scrambling. There are two main rocky buttresses that are the distinguishing characteristics of the butte.   According to officials with the state's wildlife management areas, a plane crash many years ago left wreckage in the forest toward the southern end of Barrel Butte.

The west side of Barrel Butte has very steep slopes up to a sheer wall that runs the full length from the north end to where the butte fans out on the south end, with several tree-covered ridges both west and east. The east side also has very steep slopes up to the buttresses, and is almost as sheer, though each buttress has a steeply-sloped break that allows a scramble to the summit. State game department officials maintain that the best access to the southern buttress ridge is to scramble up the southern slopes and hike north along the ridgeline.  To view a great off-site aerial photo that shows more of the east side, click here: Barrel Butte Aerial.  Certainly, this is perfect habitat for bighorn sheep.

Limited technical climbing might be possible on Barrel Butte, where trees or firm boulders are available for anchors. But, like so many of the buttes, rocks, and small peaks in Nebraska, the rock and soil composition is a combination of sandstone, siltstone, chalky limestone, and volcanic ash. If I were a technical climber, I would hate to have my life depend on an anchor in such “rock”. Of course, this also makes me quite cautious on using small protruding rocks for hand or footholds when scrambling. Caution is definitely warranted here.

UPDATE: Very serious forest fires in September, 2012, have made access to Barrel Butte more dangerous, due to burned tree hazards. Enter this area at your own risk! It will probably take until sometime in the summer of 2013 before tree-clearing and re-growth of grasses will make the area less hazardous.

Getting There

Barrel Butte south fence line
Forest land south boundary at the fence
From Chadron, travel west on Highway 20, just over 17 miles, then turn south on Hartman Road. If you are traveling east from Crawford, go about 7 miles east on Highway 20, then turn south on Hartman Road. Once you are on Hartman Road, go south 3 ½ miles, then turn east on West Ash Road and follow it for about 2.8 miles (it will curve to the south). You should be just to the west of Barrel Butte. If you brought your forest service map, it will show you the fence line that will keep you from trespassing if you go too far north. If you follow that fence line (south side, or course), you will eventually arrive on the north end of Barrel Butte – probably the best place to begin your exploration of the butte.

Red Tape

Both sides of the butte are under different jurisdictions. However, illegal campfires are probably the greatest concern to both. Some local hikers carry firearms because of the growing mountain lion population in this remote area of the Pine Ridge. This is legal, BUT if you choose to carry one, be aware of the hunting seasons and how game wardens see things. For example, carrying a .308 rifle into the wilderness during deer season will likely get you a severe fine if you do not also have a deer hunting license. On the other hand, carrying a .22 mag revolver would not be of concern to any warden.

Camping and Information Resources

Fort Robinson State Park (308) 665-2900

Crawford Chamber of Commerce (308) 665-1817

Chadron State Park (308) 432-6167

Chadron Chamber of Commerce (308) 432-4401

Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area (308) 665-5055 (for questions on the Bighorn WMA)

National Forest Service Office in Chadron (308) 432-0300

Panhandle Trails – western Nebraska Trails & Summits website


Barrel ButteBarrel Butte south fence lineTelephoto view of Barrel ButteView to west from Barrel Butte