Thunder Butte is a prominent peak in the Pike National Forest, situated between the Kenosha Mountains the Rampart Range, 24 miles north of Pikes Peak. Although it is less than 10,000' high, the Thunder Butte summit offers nice views in all directions.
Thunder Butte is notable as a county high point. Douglas County is one of the most populated counties in Colorado, and one of the fastest growing counties in the United States, but Thunder Butte is far removed from population centers. Situated in the southwest corner of the county, it is a place of desolate solitude. It offers an early season warm-up climb while waiting for the snow to melt in the higher mountains.
For many years to come, Thunder Butte will be thought of, and possibly avoided, in connection with the Hayman forest fire. In 2008, there were about 25 entries on the summit register.
The Hayman Fire
Two years later
Thunder Butte may no longer be called a scenic mountain. The devastating forest fire of 2002 scorched Thunder Butte's sides all the way to the summit, leaving a forest of black sticks. However, this may increase the value of the peak on your climbing list for other reasons. Since Thunder Butte is situated in the middle of the Hayman Fire restoration area, it offers a close up view, as well as a high vantage point to observe the effects of the Hayman fire. From the summit, one can see the results of the enormous fire for many miles, to the south, the west, and the north.
The Hayman fire was Colorado's largest and most intense forest fire ever. It took 40 days to bring the fire under control, at a cost to taxpayers of $39,100,000. A big portion of the Pike National Forest is undergoing restoration by the Hayman Restoration Team, with office in Colorado Springs. The U.S. Forest Service Hayman Fire Incident Information web site has some interesting information for further reading, including a Burn Severity map showing the perimeter of the fire.
A Forest Begins to Heal
The Thunder Butte photos on the left were taken in 2004, two years after the Hayman Fire. On the right, are similar photos taken five years later, in 2009.
Lower slopes, 2004
Lower slopes, 2009
Upper slopes, 2004
Upper slopes, 2009
Near summit, 2004
Near summit, 2009
South of TB, 2004
South of TB, 2009
A local landmark
Follow Highway 285 to Pine Junction, some 30 miles southwest of Denver. Turn south onto State Highway 126 and follow this road to Deckers. Cross the river at Deckers, and continue on Douglas County Road 67. Drive about 9 miles mostly south to Westcreek, which consists of just a few buildings.
At Westcreek, drive 0.2 miles down the hill and turn left. Go 0.6 miles to the Volunteer Fire Department. Turn right there, onto County Road 68. Drive about 2 miles west, passing Sheep Nose on your right, and then turn right on 9-J "Nine-J" Road. 500 feet up this road is a small, forest service parking area. The road may be closed beyond this point, or it may be possible to drive 1.5 miles farther up the road, to the parking point described on the Southwest Slope route page.
Various 4WD roads surrounding Thunder Butte are marked on the USGS topo maps. However, each of these is a private driveway and most are gated. There seems to be no other feasible route than the one described here.
All visitors and users of the National Forests are subject to Federal Regulations which address camping, vehicles, camp fires, pets, and several other issues. Read Forest safety regulations. Special hazards of the burned area, and additional rules are posted along the road. In the Pike National Forest, roads and trails that were open before the fire are now closed, or gone.
Mountain Conditions / When To Climb
The forest fire added several major hazards to be aware of in this area. These are posted on signs along the roads and include: falling trees, flash flooding and debris flow. In a flash flood, climb to safety. Current, local conditions are maintained by the Forest Service at their newly updated web site. Besides the current weather, they publish campground status, road conditions, trail status, and closures. You may also call the Forest Service office at 719-553-1400.
May and October are popular months to climb Thunder Butte. You are by no means assured of safe conditions on any day of the year, of course. Keep in mind how this peak, Thunder Butte, got its name. Lightning and thunder are possibilities to plan for and contend with in Colorado mountains, especially on summer afternoons. As always, use good judgment, and check the National Weather Service forecast before you go.
Also keep in mind that the area may be open for hunting from late August through mid November. Wear bright colors and be cautious.
There are no open campgrounds in the immediate vicinity because the forest fire fairly well torched them all. You wouldn't want to camp there anyway. Various campgrounds within 5 miles of Thunder Butte are permanently closed. Visit the official Forest Service web site for camping information and campground closures. Thunder Butte is located in the Pike National Forest, where there are numerous other recreational opportunities.
Views from Thunder Butte
West from TB
Pikes Peak from TB
One of the best reasons to climb Thunder Butte is to enjoy the views for a few hours, far removed from the city.