This page groups two closely approximate mountains on the west boundary of the Gospel Hump Wilderness of north central Idaho that are only a little more than a half mile apart. Umbrella Butte and unnamed peak 7,953 are the twin high points on the high dividing ridge that separates Slate Creek and Little Slate Creek on the Nez Perce National Forest. The source of the former flows down the steep east and north slopes from a small wet meadow that is located at the base of the saddle between them. The west side is a more gentle terrain forming the headwaters of Little Boulder Creek, a principle tributary of Little Slate. The south side of Umbrella Butte rises above a large meadow wetland that is part of the headwaters of Wind River that flows south into the main Salmon River. The geographic location of these summits places them in position for expansive views south across the Salmon River to the Salmon River Mountains, east to the higher summits of the Gospel Hump Wilderness and west across the broad expanse of the Florence basin to the Southwest Butte, Nut Basin area and the Seven Devils beyond.
The area around the Slate Lakes gets a fair number of summer visitors due to the easy access to these beautiful water bodies. The road into the area has been barricaded back at the wilderness boundary along the 444 road; however people frequently move these enabling them to drive very close to the lakes at the old trailhead. During summer expect campers here complete with loud kids and dogs and whatever they can drive in with a 4wd or ATV. But don’t let this dissuade you from visiting the area because the mountains themselves are seldom visited. Just leave your dogs home because a large wolf pack patrols the area and will kill any other canine they come across.
Umbrella Butte is slightly the shorter of the two at 7,929 feet, but it has the name and the more interesting form. The summit cone is nearly perfect in shape but rises only about 300 feet from the general ridge it occupies. The north slopes is very steep and forested as it the relatively gentle west slope. The east side forms a steep boulder field that drops to a gentle ridge line that connects to the main trailhead used to access the area. Slate Lake and Upper Slate Lake are situated at the north base of this ridge. The most beautiful view of the mountain may be from the open wet meadows and bogs to the east that provide clear unobstructed views of the cone rising 800 feet from the trail passing through that area.
The upper reaches of Umbrella Butte are most free of the spindly subalpine fir and whitebark pine that occupy some of its slopes. These forests are mostly absent due to the dense rock fields and low soil development. Part of the north slope is interesting however in that it appears heavy, long lasting snow loads along with rocks prevents larger woody vegetation development and supports a flora that would be expected a bit higher in elevation. This almost false alpine community contains one of the most western occurrences of the beautiful Idaho Douglasia, which is a stunning hot pink phlox-like wildflower that was only described by botanists in the 1980s.
This is the higher, bulkier and more remote of these two close neighbors. Its shape is not as attention grabbing as Umbrella Butte, but the elongate summit area forms steeper, larger slopes on the easterly aspects. The west side is very gentle and offers an easy walkup from the trail that passes just a couple hundred feet below. This trail offers easy access to both mountains from the trailhead to the east, but Peak 7,953 is a bit further than its smaller pointy neighbor. The rest of the mountain is a difficult place that drops off into a very remote and seldom visited plateau and canyon to the north and northeast. Getting here from the 444 road across the canyon or from the trail below the Slate Lakes would require a difficult hike through extremely nasty brush and mixed, rugged terrain. Only the easy western slopes support some open subalpine forests, while the rest of the summit mass is composed of blocky rocks and stacked boulders that form cliffs and some serious scrambling slopes.
From Highway 95, turn east into Grangeville and continue a long mile on main street (Highway 13) to the east edge of town. Town ends abruptly at some large buildings that used to be the Forest Service office on the northeast corner of the intersection of Highway 13 and the Mt. Idaho Grade road. From this intersection go south (right) on the Mt. Idaho Grade road. After 7/10th of a mile, keep to the right (straight) where the main road curves left at the drive-in theater. The road is now called the Grangeville-Salmon Road. After about two miles, the road starts a climb onto the mountains south of town and after crossing the National Forest boundary, becomes road 221 at Fish Creek Campground. Continue on the paved road to the well-marked 444 road and turn left onto the gravel. This turn is just before mile marker 30 and is approximately 31 miles south of Grangeville.
Go approximately 12 miles on road 444 to the 313 road that turns off to the right and drops off into the Slate Lakes. The road used to go almost to the lakes, but more recently a barricade had been placed across the road a little more than a mile in. This is probably to reduce motorized vehicle damage near the lakes and prevent people from driving on the primitive track into the wilderness itself. There is very little room to park, but one or two vehicles can crowd the edge of the road at the barricade. At times locals remove the barricades to drive further in like they could in the past.
From the barricade it is about a mile walk on the old road to where the trailhead used to be. The lakes are through the trees to the right and a trail goes off to the left or south on a much older road surface. Some maps list this trail as 125, while the Forest Service visitor map labels it as 332. Whatever it is follow it for a little over one and a half miles to where the trail crosses a little rise. Here the trail splits with the 332 of the FS map heading west and the 195 trail of the same continuing south on the main north/south ridge. Take the turn to the west (right) on the 332 and follow it for over a half mile to where the road meets a ridge line. Here the 332 continues down the ridge to the south and the 310 trail hairpins back to the north on the west side of the ridge. Take the 310 right or to the north. This trail on the west aspect of the ridge passes through beautiful subalpine meadows with expansive views across the upper Slate Creek basin and across the Salmon Canyon to the Seven Devils. Follow the trail a little over a mile to the conical dome of Umbrella Butte. It’s a short easy hike of only a few minutes from the trail east to the summit. The total hike from the barricade on the 313 road is about four and a half miles.
There are a couple variations to reach the summit of Umbrella Butte that are more direct with more cross country travel. The first is to continue south on the trail from the old trailhead for about a mile until a small meadow on noted on the west side of the trail. Go past it about another tenth of a mile to a much larger meadow. Cut around the meadow (the north side is more direct) and head straight up the south side of the mountain. The summit is about 800 feet above the meadow.
A more rugged and direct route is to head straight west up the ridge from the old trailhead. The lower east end of the ridge is not well defined, but cross the forest bottoms and head across a broad open rock face. Continue straight up the slope and keep to the right until the ridge top forms. If you are finding yourself on difficult rocks with a north aspect or above Slate Lake, work to the south a little more. The ridge is gradual along the top until the base of the summit cone and depending on the line taken there will probably be some up and down hiking, but nothing significant. The total rise from the old trailhead is about 1,000 feet over a distance of about one and a half miles.
To reach the unnamed summit 7,953 just continue north on the 310 trail for approximately one half mile and hike up the south ridge or open southwest aspect. It is possible to continue on this trail a mile or two to the Round Top and Round Bottom Meadows vicinity, which are a couple miles south of the Rocky Bluff Campground and the 221 road.
The area is included in the Gospel Hump Wilderness and standard wilderness regulations apply. This wilderness is unusual however in that road 444 enters the northwest corner and quickly climbs into the high country on the main ridges before terminating at least one third of the way into the heart of the designated area. To allow this a thin stringer of non-wilderness is designated along the road corridor for its entire length. This odd arrangement allows one to drive vehicles into the wilderness area without technically being in it. The access is nice, but the obvious problem with this is the wilderness character near the road is compromised. Also people driving into the road have easy access with trucks and ATVs to drive onto the high meadows and open subalpine slopes off the road. This will get one a hefty citation if caught, but due to lack of law enforcement resources the guilty often can get away with it.
Good camping can be found at the lower Slate Lake, which is at the east end of the ridge running northwest from Umbrella Butte. This is also less than a mile a mile walk on the road from the official trailhead; though if the barricade has been moved one can drive almost to the lake (not recommended). There are also some nice road side camping areas along the main 444 road east of the turn off to the trailhead. There are no amenities other than a vault toilet at the larger trailhead near the end of the road and a few springs for water. These camps are in high, flat subalpine country with incredible views of the mountains and giant canyons of north central Idaho.
Given the often gentle terrain south and immediately west of the summits in the vicinity of the trail there are several nice meadows there are many places a back packer can camp along the trail on or immediately adjacent the summits. Water may be hard to find up high, but the lower bottoms usually have streams or springs nearby. Along the 221 road towards Grangeville there are also several obvious pullouts at unofficial camping locations. The only designated campground is found at Rocky Bluff, which is off the 221 road about a mile and a half south of the junction with road 444. There isn’t much there but a couple dispersed sites next to the beautiful cascading Slate Creek and a trailhead that can be used to enter the wilderness from the northwest.
When to Climb
This mountain is best climbed in the summer and fall after snow has left the slopes. It is a bit remote to offer good winter opportunities, but the slopes are gentle enough that a long range snow shoe slog could be successful if well planned. It is possible to snowmobile on the 221 road to the Rocky Bluff vicinity. Be certain to check with one of the Forest Service offices below for information on open snowmobile routes to that trailhead. The north and east aspects could potentially have avalanches. In the fall the area is hunted heavily so wear orange and be aware of hunters parked at the trailhead. Going with a partner during this season is also a good idea. Bring plenty of water in the summer and fall as some areas do not have a lot of water. Early in the summer there is adequate snow to provide for this need.
Mountain Conditions and Additional Information
While these are relatively safe mountains with easy terrain and access, be sure to go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. Weather and temperatures can vary dramatically between the canyons and the mountain. The arid lowlands will routinely be well above 100 degrees in the summer, while temperatures can be dramatically different near the summit. Also the mountains in the area often see nice clear skies early followed by sometimes severe thunderstorms in the afternoons.
For more information and current conditions contact the Nez Perce National Forest or the Slate Creek Ranger Station.
Nez Perce National Forest
104 Airport Road
Grangeville, ID 83530
Salmon River Ranger District
Slate Creek Ranger Station
HC 01, Box 70
Whitebird, ID 83554
Clearwater Ranger District
104 Airport Road
Grangeville, ID 83530