Red Buttes Wilderness


The United States Congress designated the Red Buttes Wilderness in 1984 and it now has a total of 19,940 acres. California contains approximately 16,190 acres. Oregon contains approximately 3,750 acres. It is managed by the Forest Service.


Red Buttes WildernessRed Buttes Wilderness straddles the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains (i.e., the rugged Applegate River/Klamath River divide), but has far more acreage in California than in Oregon. The twin summits of Red Buttes (highest elev. 6,739' a.s.l.) anchor the southern extreme of the area in California, where reddish peridotite rock, nudged up from a 425-million-year-old seafloor by plate shifts in the earth's crust, now supports unusual plant communities. The area's geology is ancient and very complex; some of the highest points were carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Some 3.5 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail skirts by Red Buttes Wilderness, near Lilypad Lake at the foot of the Buttes. Rocky buttes, forested ridges, and small glacial-carved lake basins characterize this rugged Wilderness, with a dense jumble of manzanita, snowbrush, and other brushy plants carpeting the dry south-facing slopes. Big sugar pines (some over 8' in dia.) dominate the lower-elevation forest of the Butte Fork canyon, which provides habitat for black bears, cougars, deer, and coyotes. "Unsubstantiated" (and almost certainly mythical) sightings of the infamous Bigfoot or Sasquatch may date back over the last century.

On the eastern side of Oregon's portion, from the grassy dale of Sucker Creek Gap, a trail leads three miles through heavy tree cover along the tumbling course of Steve Fork. To the west, one can take the Tannen Lakes Trail one-quarter of a mile to Tannen Lakes, where you can swim below the rockslides of Tannen Mountain. You will probably see few other people on the trail. Although summers are typically dry, snow buries much of the higher country from November until May. Along the main Siskiyou Crest portion of the Boundary Trail, in California, the south-facing route requires the traveler to have plenty of water on hand. Along the Boundary Trail in Oregon (following the ridge that divides the Rogue River and Siskiyou National Forests), several miles outside of the Wilderness to the northward of Sucker Gap, is Oregon Caves National Monument.

Red Buttes WildernessThis Wilderness was named for the reddish-orange hue that a high content of iron and magnesium lends to the dramatic peridotite and serpentine formations of Red Buttes and adjacent Kangaroo Mountain. You'll find dense forest, lush meadows, dense brushfields, and steep rocky slopes rising to craggy peaks. Cold streams rush down heavily eroded canyons and through extensive stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, sugar pine, western white pine, incense cedar, and Douglas-fir. White fir, Shasta red fir, and mountain hemlock grow on the upper slopes. The endemic Brewer's spruce and Sadler oak, as well as Alaskan yellow cedar (on the far southern fringes of its natural range), and other unusual plant species are found here. The area's flora is among the most diverse in North America. Even the area's many different evergreen-broadleaf brush species are rarely found growing in such close proximity.

Approximately 13 miles long and six miles wide, Red Buttes Wilderness features elevations ranging from about 2,800 feet in the lower Butte Fork Canyon to 6,739 feet on the east summit of the Red Buttes themselves. In the higher elevations, you'll find several small lakes huddled delightfully in scenic basins. Shallow Azalea Lake, the largest at 20 acres, sits in the western half of the California portion. In addition to black-tailed deer, black bears, cougars, and all manner of rodents and weasels, other wildlife are present. The rarely seen ring-tail cat (a reclusive relative of the raccoon) inhabits the area, peregrine falcons nest on remote cliffs, and bats roost in the rock overhangs and sinkholes near the Red Buttes.

Trail 957 crosses the core of the area eight miles in an east-west direction, following the flow of the Butte Fork of the Applegate River much of the distance, and passing through one of the largest remaining old-growth stands of the Siskiyou Mountains' distinctive mixed-evergreen forest. Butte Fork Trail connects to trails leading into Oregon at Azalea Lake. The shores of Azalea Lake, the most popular destination on the California side, have heavily impacted by past lakeshore camping and horse use; camping is not allowed within 100' of the shore of any lakes.

The Red Buttes Wilderness is part of the 107 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. This System of lands provides clean air, water, and habitat critical for rare and endangered plants and animals. In wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching, stargazing, and extraordinary opportunities for solitude. You play an important role in helping to "secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness" as called for by the Congress of the United States through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Please follow the requirements outlined below and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting the Red Buttes Wilderness to ensure protection of this unique area.

General Wilderness Prohibitions

Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited on all federal lands designated as wilderness. This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters, unless provided for in specific legislation.

In a few areas some exceptions allowing the use of motorized equipment or mechanical transport are described in the special regulations in effect for a specific area. Contact the Forest Service office or visit the websites listed on the 'Links' tab for more specific information.

These general prohibitions have been implemented for all national forest wildernesses in order to implement the provisions of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Wilderness Act requires management of human-caused impacts and protection of the area's wilderness character to insure that it is "unimpaired for the future use and enjoyment as wilderness." Use of the equipment listed as prohibited in wilderness is inconsistent with the provision in the Wilderness Act which mandates opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation and that wilderness is a place that is in contrast with areas where people and their works are dominant.

Red Buttes Wilderness-Specific Regulations

Wilderness managers often need to take action to limit the impacts caused by visitor activities in order to protect the natural conditions of wilderness as required by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Managers typically implement 'indirect' types of actions such as information and education measures before selecting more restrictive measures. When regulations are necessary, they are implemented with the specific intent of balancing the need to preserve the character of the wilderness while providing for the use and enjoyment of wilderness.

The following wilderness regulations are in effect for this area. Not all regulations are in effect for every wilderness.

No caching of food, supplies, or equipment.

Camping prohibited within 100 feet from lakes; 50 feet from streams or springs. over-use in these areas has led to severe loss of ground cover.

Group size limits, for both people and numbers of stock aim to preserve the legally mandated opportunities for finding solitude in Red Buttes Wilderness.

This number of permitted stock aimed to allow groups of up to 8 people to ride and use packstock for overnight visits.

NOTE: The permits referred to are State of California campfire permits, required during fire season regardless of whether inside or outside wilderness; obviously is applicable only within California portion of Red Buttes.

The short growing season in this high-elevation area requires that, in order to preserve long-term grass and forb communities, grazing be restricted and that weed-free feed be used to prevent invasion of noxious weeds.

No grazing before August 1. Because of the short growing season in the high-elevation area, grazing is restricted until after grass seed has "set" and dropped (i.e., usually after August 1).

This regulation is enforced in order to maintain clean water and prevent de-vegetation of lakeshore areas.

New special order, but same regulations as in previous years. This reg aims to reduce the mortality of trees and to end the creation of dusty/muddy stock-holding sites.


Red Buttes Wilderness takes its name from the dominant peak along the Siskiyou Crest; because of its high iron and magnesium content, the Butte's rock weathers to reddish-orange color.

The Siskiyou Mountains are part of the larger "Klamath Mountains Province" of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California, and they include some of the oldest rocks in this region. The former ocean-bottom sediments that make up most of the Wilderness date to several hundred-million years ago; later they were slowly changed by pressure and heat into the complex variety of "metamorphic" rocks present today: schist, quartzite, gneiss, and several outcrops of white marble. The periodotite rocks that make up Red Buttes and Kangaroo Mountain probably originated as molten magma deposited on the floor of an ancient ocean.

After many centuries of uplift and erosion into a mountain range, quite recent changes to the landscape occurred during the Ice Age (between 1 million and 12,000 years ago) when small glaciers sculpted the basins that now contain lakes and meadows. The forces of nature continue to transform the face of the land: the massive Butte Fork Landslide, for example, is less than a century old.


The Wilderness is home to a variety of animals. Blacktail deer are common; black bear, coyote, bobcat, and even an occasional mountain lion may be seen. A number of small mammals, particularly members of the rodent and weasel families, inhabit the area. Eagles, hawks, and falcons can be seen gliding along the air currents of the Siskiyou Crest. Goshawks and owls find the forest particularly suited to their needs; they live and hunt under the tree canopy. Probably the most common birds, however, are the Steller's jays and ravens, which can fill the air around camp with their raucous calls.


When it comes to describing the vegetation of Red Buttes Wilderness diversity is the key word. The Siskiyou Mountains are famous for their wide variety of trees and other plant species, some of them - like Brewer's spruce, Sadler oak, Siskiyou lewisia, and a number of "sclerophyllous" (hard-leaf) shrubs - are found only in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. Vegetative diversity has been maintained through time by periodic fires.

At the lowest elevations of the Wilderness, in Butte Fork Canyon, is found a magnificent old-growth forest of ponderosa pine, sugar pine, Douglas-fir and incense-cedar, with an understory of Pacific madrone, canyon live oak, and chinquapin. On the higher slopes are found white fir, Shasta red fir, and mountain hemlock; knobcone pine is common along some dry, rocky ridges. Perhaps the most distinctive vegetation community is that found on the peridotite/serpentinite outcrops, "desert-like" areas which support only widely scattered trees - Jeffrey pine, western white pine, and Brewer's spruce - but host a variety of smaller plant species that are adapted to these infertile soils.


Beginning perhaps as early as 8,000 years ago, American Indian groups traveled and hunted along this portion of the Siskiyou Crest. By late prehistoric times (from about one thousand years ago up through the early eighteen hundreds), the Dakubetede Indians of the Applegate Valley used this area, probably sharing it on occasion with their neighbors the Shasta, the Karok, and the Takelma. They hunted not only deer but also bighorn sheep, elk, and grizzly bear that were found here before the coming of the white settlers. The short season of mild weather and the limited amount of food plants and game animals found in the rugged terrain probable discouraged Indian groups from remaining in this mountainous area except for short visits during the summer. A few arrowheads, scrapers, and other stone tools are about the only evidence that remains from several thousand years of human prehistory in the Red Buttes Wilderness.

The first non native people to visit the Red Buttes Wilderness came through during the Siskiyou Mountain gold rush in the early 1850s. Prospecting and small-scale mining along with trapping, hunting, livestock grazing and other seasonal uses, continued to bring local residents up into the Wilderness during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1920s-30s the Forest Service built trails and a few cabins in the remote area, and during World War II the Federal government constructed a narrow mining road from the Klamath River up to the chromite deposits on the south slope of the Red Buttes. Throughout history, the ruggedness of the area has severely limited the amount and kind of human activity that has occurred in the Red Buttes Wilderness.

Points of Historical Interest: The Red Buttes Wilderness contains evidence of use by previous visitors - from the stone tools of prehistoric Indians to 20th century cabins and shelters. These cultural resources are protected by law for public enjoyment and education; please do not remove, disturb, or destroy these gifts from the past.

Very few mining cabins remain in the Wilderness: "hermit" prospector John Knox McCloy's cabin (which uses living cedar trees for roof supports), built in the 1920s at Frog Pond, is one of them. The 1940's Kubli Cabin in upper Hello Canyon is now collapsed; it provided shelter to workers at the small chromite mine located on the east slope of Kangaroo Mountain.

Early-day Forest Service structures included the Butte Fork Toolhouse (built in the 1920s to store trail building equipment and supplies), Fir Glade Guard Station (built in about 1930 as a summer fire guard's cabin), and Sucker Creek shelter (an "Adirondack style" trail shelter, probably built by Civilian Conservation Corps crew in the 1930s). During the summer of 1945 a small, single-engine airplane went down in the Red Buttes Wilderness; a bronze plaque along the Butte Fork Trail marks the grave of three victims of the plane crash.