Area Status: Open
Red Butte is a distinct knob located on the Coconino Plateau south of Grand Canyon National Park. The summit of Red Butte and the fire lookout tower are reached by a short but relatively steep 1.25 mile trail, one way. The Red Butte Trail climbs from 6,460 ft. (1970M) elevation at the trailhead to 7,326 ft. (2233M) elevation on top of Red Butte. For the first .75 mile, the trail climbs moderately and has only a few switchbacks. The last .5 mile ascends the steep, upper slopes of the butte and has several switchbacks and steep grades. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. Caution should be taken in the summer months when rattlesnakes may be present on or along the trail.
Red Butte, a prominent topographic feature on the Coconino Plateau, is a lava-capped remnant of overlying rock layers that have been eroded from the surrounding area. For much of the Tusayan Ranger District, the rock layer on the surface is the Paleozoic Era Kaibab Limestone. The Kaibab Limestone is also found along the rim of the Grand Canyon. A marine limestone approximately 270 million years old, it records an ancient tropical ocean environment. Red Butte is the only locale in which the layers from the Mesozoic Era and Cenozoic Era can be viewed for quite some distance. The base of the butte is comprised of red sandstones and siltstones of the approximately 240 million year-old Moenkopi Formation. These rocks were once sand and mud in tropical tidal flats. Above this layer are conglomerates, rocks with fragments and grains of many sizes, in the Shinarump Member of the Chinle Formation. The Shinarump Member was deposited about 225 million years ago as sands and pebbles in river channels. These two rock layers are capped by a basalt, or iron-rich volcanic rock, which has been dated as about 8.5 to 9 million years old. This basalt cap is the only remnant of an ancient lava flow that once covered the area.
Excerpt from USGS Special Investigations Map 2895, Geologic Map of the Valle 30’ x 60’ Quadrangle, Coconino County, Northern Arizona by G.H. Billingsley, T.J. Felger, and S.S. Priest. Full map available for download:
The current Red Butte Lookout Tower was built in the early 1980s using a modified version of the standard Forest Service CL-100 design with a 14-foot by 14-foot cab, metal catwalk and two water cisterns. The fire lookout, which is staffed during the fire season, plays an important role in detecting new starts, smoke monitoring and as a communication relay for units on the surrounding Tusayan Ranger District.
Photograph by Curtis Clark from the Red Butte Wikipedia page.
At a Glance
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Access #1: Turn off Highway 64/180 onto Forest Road (FR) 320. Travel east for 1.5 miles and turn left (north) onto FR 340. After traveling .75 mile on this road turn right (east) onto a spur road. The trailhead is located at the end of this .25 mile road.
Access #2: Turn off Highway 64/180 onto FR 305. Travel east for 2 miles to the junction with FR 305A and stay on FR 305 by turning right (south). After 0.5 mile veer right (south) onto FR 340. Travel south 1.5 miles and turn left (east) onto an unnumbered spur road that leads .25 mile to the trailhead.
Road Conditions: All roads are suitable for sedans. However during wet weather roads may become slick, muddy and impassable.