The Hemlock Butte Cabin is one of those little gems that is perfect for a small to medium size group to use during a long weekend or holiday week. With an average of 600 inches of snow a year and only 4 miles from car to cabin, it is the perfect way to introduce friends to the backcountry in winter. Depending on the snow and weather, the trek into the cabin can be challenging but the route is one of the easier ones to follow and the terrain is approachable for even a beginner backcountry skier.
The cabin is pretty basic but it is an enclosed shelter that includes a wood stove and indoor privy. Compared to winter camping, it is quite luxurious. The surrounding area has plenty of terrain to explore and Hemlock Butte itself is just out the door and provides a stellar view for very little effort.
For serious skiers, Mt. Bailey and its stellar slopes are only a two mile trek to the northwest. When you get above tree line on Mt. Bailey, the surrounding views of Diamond Lake and Mt. Thielson are simply breathtaking. Bring your phone or camera, but keep it in an internal pocket as the cold and wind can be quite nippy.
GUIDEBOOKS & MAPS
- Three Lakes Sno-Park to Hemlock Butte Cabin Turn-Off
- Hemlock Butte and Mt. Bailey
- "Best Groomed Cross-Country Ski Trails in Oregon"
- Hemlock Butte Cabin's GPS Coordinates: 43.13247, -122.19449
Parking: Sno-Park permit required at Three Lakes Sno-Park
- Price and Capacity: Free, for now, with a maximum of 12 occupants. No pets.
- Website: Recreation.gov, spots open up 6 months beforehand.
November 1 through April 30.
Start at Three Lakes Sno-Park (Google Map).
From the Sno-Park, you take a right and head up Forest Road 3703; this road is shared with snowmobilers, who may be out at night, so if arriving late you may want to have a bike light on the back of your pack to increase your visibility.
After about two miles you reach the intersection with Road 300 (Bailey Connect Trail). You take a right and travel only 0.2 miles before off to your left will be Road 380 (Hemlock Butte Trail). You should see a sign visible in the woods and there is often a bit of ribbon marking the turn off.
You follow the Hemlock Butte Trail for 1.2 miles before you should see a spur trail off to your right. The turn off is easily missed at night or with heavy snow covering previous tracks, but the GPS coordinates for the turn-off are 43.133839, -122.198363. The route is marked by blue blazes and you only have 0.3 miles until you reach the cabin.
The Forest Service and Recreation.gov both have GPS coordinates for Hemlock Butte Cabin that are a bit off the mark—the Forest Service's by several hundred meters. Considering the cabin is usually buried in snow to the second floor and its roof is also covered with snow, you can easily miss it at night or in a snowstorm. The precise coordinates are 43.13247, -122.19449.
Winter Wonderland near Hemlock Butte
The cabin is two and a half stories tall, with a wood stove, privy, and cooking area on the main level with a second floor accessible by stairs and a small upper loft reachable via ladder. In winter, the main level's door may be inaccessible, so you may have to enter via the door on the second level. Make sure to use the broom to flick out any incoming snow to help with fully closing the door.
The Hemlock Butte Cabin is not normally stocked with much in the way of kitchen items besides a few pots for melting snow for water. Make sure to bring a stove, cooking equipment, utensils, and plenty of fuel for your stay. All trash should be carried out, including food waste so ensure you carry a couple gallon-sized Ziploc bags for that purpose.
There are no beds, so a winter sleeping bag and sleeping pad are absolute musts. The wood stove is the standard type you will find in cabins and lookouts around the Pacific Northwest. While it will be warm-ish near the stove, do not expect it to noticeably raise the ambient temperature on the main level, especially since the heat will rise to the upper loft area. One item that everyone agrees is well worth bringing are down booties.
Oh. The back room of the main level has the woodpile and indoor privy, where you may happen to see a mouse scurrying about on occasion. The mouse's name is Luke.
Summit Hemlock Butte.
It's right there. The summit is only about 250 feet in elevation gain and a quarter mile from the cabin. In that short amount of travel, you reach an elevation of 6300 feet with views of Mt. Bailey to the northwest, Diamond Lake to the northeast, and Mt. Thielsen to the east northeast. If you time it right, you can get there right at sunset and have the perfect light for photographs.
Mt. Thielsen in the Late Afternoon Sun from summit of Hemlock Butte
If you travel directly from the cabin to the summit as the crow flies, you hit a reasonably steep slope, so I suggest you head south from the cabin first and head up the hill until you hit a reasonably, open and flat area. From there you can then head towards the summit and meander through the trees as the snow and your gear requires. The summit will be obvious in good weather as the views to the northeast are breathtaking.
Summit Mount Bailey
For skiers, this is the whole reason you have come to Hemlock Butte Cabin and the backcountry. Imagine fresh, untouched slopes just for you. Depending on the snow conditions and the weather, mountaineers can even hike up via snowshoes and investigate the possibility of a summit attempt.
Thielsen from High Up on Mount Bailey with Ski Tracks in Glorious Powder
From the cabin, you first need to make your way to the Mount Bailey Trail. You can travel cross country northward until you hit it (around 200 meters), or you could also backtrack the 0.3 miles to where you left Road 380 (Hemlock Butte Trail), take a right, and then travel a quarter mile until you hit the trail junction with the Mount Bailey Trail.
The Mount Bailey Trail is a well known backcountry ski route [link, link, link], so I will not go into detail about the route and possible skiing areas. However. A word of caution. You are climbing to around 8000' in winter and you have to be very mindful of both the weather and the snow conditions. There is avalanche danger on some of these slopes and wind swept snow will create both cornices and slabs of hard snow over hidden rocks. A professional guide died on Mt. Bailey in March 2016, which is a reminder of the dangers and risks we take when we explore the outdoors. Even a sprained ankle could lead to a night out in subzero and windy conditions, so be careful and be prepared.