Like Steamboat Rock
in the Grand Coulee, Horsethief Butte was created during Ice Age floods of biblical proportions, when all the surrounding dirt and softer rock was washed down the river. As a summit it is no great feat, but it is a very interesting and scenic place and well worth a stop if you are heading through this way. Many people also come here to practice rock climbing, as there are a number of good spots.
Horsethief Butte was considered a sacred place amongst the abundant native tribes along the Columbia, who would come here for spiritual rituals. The state park was once the site of a Native American village, and Lewis and Clark camped here on their famous expedition. Below near the lake native petroglyphs are on display as a reminder of this heritage. The village was later flooded to create the Dalles Dam. Many Native Americans still sell fireworks or salmon along Highway 14, so they apparently still persist in the area (perhaps from the Warm Springs or Yakama tribes).
Washington State Highway 14 (also called the Lewis & Clark Highway) parallels I-84 on the North side of the Columbia River from Vancouver, WA to a junction with I-82 south of the Tri-Cities. It is a very scenic drive.
Horsethief Lake State Park is just a bit upriver (east) of the Dalles, OR, on the Washington (North) side of the river. So from I-5 you would head east on WA14, or from I-82 or 97 from Yakima you would head west.
The trailhead for Horsethief Butte is just about 1.3 miles east of the entrance to the park (which is not real well marked but clearly descends down a road to the lake). A new parking lot has been built so you no larger park along the side of the busy highway (see red tape below).
turn left here
The trail starts at the south side of WA-14 (see above directions) and is well signed. One approaches directly to the almost sheer wall before a route (easy class 2) suddenly becomes apparent to the right.
Once atop the southern part of the Butte the high point of the summit is clear ahead, however to get there one must descend into a confusing maze of paths all leading to different summits, all lower than the main one. It’s not hard to see why Native Americans came here for vision quests or ceremonies. It's down here where people come to practice rock climbing. You may end up climbing 2 or 3 sub peaks before you find the true summit, which makes this otherwise easy scramble more challenging and fun.
Total distance varies with the path taken but probably averages 1-1.5 miles, with a few hundred feet elevation gain. There is ample room to wander and enjoy the scenery (but do keep an eye out for snakes!).
approaching the elusive summit
Rock climbing is allowed but certain areas are signed as off limits.
Indian petroglyphs near the lakeshore
Camping is available at campgrounds in the park only (see below link for details).
State Park Website:
A trip report:
Spring & Manning (hike #3):