Gray Butte is one of Mount Shasta's quintet of peaks endowed with chromatic appellations. It juts up prominently on the south side of Mount Shasta, rising like an icy gray wall high above Panther Meadows. From the west, which is the angle the peak is most often viewed from, the butte has appearance akin to a submarine’s conning tower or perhaps to a great cleaver. Though most travelers do not know the peaks name, it is one of the most observed landmarks on Mount Shasta. Of the five colored buttes, it is the second most recognizable (after famous Black Butte) and also the second most climbed (again, second to Black Butte). The reason for the prominence in the public eye is threefold. First, it is low enough on Mount Shasta and far enough away from the summit of the great mountain that it is quite noticeable from many points in the Strawberry Valley, including along I-5 and from the banks of Lake Siskiyou, a popular location for photographers to shoot the mountain. Even though people may not know the peaks name, many have seen. Second, Gray Butte has an arresting presence above the higher portions of the Everitt Memorial Highway, the old paved road the climbs Mount Shasta. Whether one is around Bunny Flat or higher up at Panther Meadow or the Old Ski Bowl, Gray Butte is ubiquitous. Lastly, unlike any other point on Mount Shasta, Gray Butte has a maintained trail leading to its summit. Moreover, the trail departs from the popular Panther Meadow Campground and passes through the aforementioned meadow en route to the summit. These three attributes assure that the butte is a fixture landmark for those new to Mount Shasta as well as those who are familiar with northern California’s monarch volcano.
In truth, Gray Butte is part of a large spur which split off of Sargents Ridge, one of a trio of large ridges that extend down Mount Shasta’s southwestern side (the other two being Green Butte Ridge and Casaval Ridge). The upper portions of the spur separate the Old Ski Bowl from the further reaches of Mount Shasta’s southern side, particularly the Southgate area. Though the spur is broken up as it extends south of Gray Butte, other prominent points along its course are noteworthy, particularly Red Hill and Point 6,567, which host the Mount Shasta Ski Park. The top of Red Hill and some of the chair lifts and ski runs are visible from the summit of Gray Butte. The southern end of Gray Butte itself is home to a series of communication installations. A road climbs up the backside of the butte, switchbacking interminably up the final 1,500 feet of elevation to the communication towers. The towers are visible from the summit but fortunately are generally not obtrusive to the natural setting found at the top of the peak. The presence of the towers and the service road, as well as the proximity of the Ski Park and the facilities along Everitt Memorial Highway all contributes to Gray Butte’s exclusion from the Mount Shasta Wilderness. The boundary of the wilderness area lies only 0.3 miles east of the butte’s summit.
The summit of Gray Butte was dubbed Artist’s Point in the 19th century. The view of Mount Shasta from this point is simply astounding. The summit of the volcano, as well as notable points Thumb Rock, Shastarama Point and Green Butte are all prominently in view. In the distance Shastina peaks out from behind Casaval Ridge. Immediately below the summit, Panther Meadow and the trailhead at the Old Ski Bowl are readily apparent. Even the Konwakiton Glacier below Thumb Rock is partially visible. To the west is the grand view of the Trinity Divide, including Mount Eddy and the Castle Crags. Further west, the sawtooth summits of the Trinity Alps form a serrated horizon. To the south is Lassen Peak, the southernmost volcano in the Cascades.
RouteGray Butte is ascended via the Gray Butte Trail. A shorter route is possible by climbing the rocky ridge leading from the junction with the Squaw/Southgate Meadow Trail to the summit. A large rock pinnacle about 1/3 of the way to the summit offers good views (though inferior to the views from the summit). More information on the Gray Butte Trail can be found here.
Getting ThereFrom I-5, take the Central Mount Shasta exit. Merge onto Lake St. and head east for 1 mile, passing through the intersection with Mount Shasta Blvd. As the road bends to the north, continue onto Washington Street for 0.1 miles before continuing onto Everitt Memorial Highway. Once on this road, continue for about 10 miles to the Panther Meadow Campground for the Panther Meadow trailhead.
Gray Butte is located in Shasta-Trinity National Forest. However, it falls outside of the Mount Shasta Wilderness. Nonetheless, normal wilderness rules and ethics apply. For those considering an attempt on the summit of Mount Shasta after using Gray Butte as a brief warm up, Summit Passes are required for anyone climbing above 10,000 feet. A summit pass costs $20 per person, and is good for three days starting on the date of purchase. Self issue kiosks are available at the Mt. Shasta Ranger Station on Alma St. in Mt. Shasta city, the McCloud Ranger Station on Hwy 89 in McCloud and at all trailheads. Annual summit passes are $30.00 and are good for one year from the date of purchase. Annual passes are available only during regular business hours at the Mt. Shasta and McCloud Ranger Stations.
A permit is required for campfires.
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
3644 Avtech Parkway
Redding, CA 96002
Mount Shasta Ranger Station
204 West Alma
Mt. Shasta, CA 96067