This time Lupe was going to climb White Butte (3,506 ft.), the highest point in North Dakota (3,506 ft.), for sure! Back on June 25, 2014, Lupe and SPHP had come by on the way home from Lupe’s Dingo Vacation to the Kabekona Lake cabin in northern Minnesota, but SPHP had not been able to figure out how to gain access. SPHP was better prepared now, after reading trip reports and printing out topo maps from Peakbagger.com.
White Butte is located 6.5 miles S and 1 mile E of the tiny town of Amidon (pop. 20 in the 2010 census) in Slope County, roughly 45 miles NE of the SW corner of North Dakota. S of Amidon, Hwy 85 comes within 3 miles directly W of White Butte, but there is no easy access from the W.
To get to White Butte, Lupe and SPHP left Hwy 85 two miles E of Amidon turning S on a good, wide, gravel road. (There is a green and white street sign on the N side of Hwy 85 identifying this as “140 Ave SW”.) The road went straight S five miles to a crossroad marked at “69 ST SW”. White Butte was visible from this intersection about 2 miles to the SW.
Lupe and SPHP turned W (R) on 69 ST SW which was a much narrower gravel road, but still in good condition. 69 ST SW went straight W one mile to another intersection. There was a large old mailbox with crude fading lettering on it saying “White Butte turn here”, and a nice place for a couple of vehicles to park just beyond it. SPHP parked the G6 here at 4:27 PM (56°F).
From this intersection where the big old mailbox was, a gravel road curved SW toward a farmstead. Another gravel road in similar condition to 69 ST SW went straight N. Lupe, however, needed to go S another 1.5 miles to get to White Butte.
Fortunately, there was also a dirt road going straight S from the mailbox along the W side of a fence line. This road was basically just an old pickup truck route through a pasture. Not something SPHP thought it would be wise to take the G6 over, besides which there was an elaborately painted “Road Closed” sign.
The weather was unbelievably beautiful for February in North Dakota, in the mid 50’s °F with a light W breeze, as Lupe set out heading S along the old pickup truck route through the pasture. SPHP’s only concern was whether Lupe could get to the top of White Butte before sunset.
There was still some time before sundown, but not an awful lot. SPHP tried to hurry along. Lupe was unconcerned. She enjoyed trotting along on and off the road, while sniffing around. She liked being out of the G6, but was disappointed that there weren’t any cows around. The prospects for finding any squirrels looked pretty bleak, too.
After going nearly a mile S, Lupe came to a stand of big old leafless cottonwood trees just W of the dirt road. A short distance beyond the cottonwoods was a dilapidated old building. Lupe was at least half way to White Butte as she went on by.
A little S of the dilapidated old building, Lupe came to a very small hill where another fenced-off field started on the W side of the road. From here on, the road continued S between barbed wire fences on both the E and W sides.
Lupe went over the small hill down into an area where the ground was pretty soft. Just W of the dirt road, and at virtually the same level, the field looked just plain swampy. Clearly, it wouldn’t take much rain or melting snow to turn the entire area into a sea of mud.
Lupe was getting really close to White Butte now. The road S ended at another fenced field directly ahead. There were “No Trespassing” signs on the fence. However, there was a gate near the end of the road giving access to the field to the W. Lupe and SPHP went through the gate.
On the W side of the gate, a fairly well-traveled single track trail went S along the W side of the remaining fence line. By now, it wasn’t much farther to a hill where Lupe’s climb would begin. As Lupe got close to the hillside, there were some interesting badlands type formations off to the W.
The trail left the fence line to go around the W side of this first hill. There was a short section of trail that climbed fairly steeply up barren, crumbly badlands type terrain before reaching a small grassy area on top of the hill. The trail angled back E close to the fence again, traversed a little ravine and then turned sharply W. There was a dangerous downed barbed-wire fence following just S of the trail along here.
When the trail turned S again, SPHP picked Lupe up to get her over the dangerous barbed-wire fence. Just ahead, the trail divided as it crossed a larger grassy area. There was a small grove of trees mostly toward the left (E) track. The two tracks met up again before climbing up onto the ridge extending down to the N from the E end of White Butte.
There was a very short steep stretch of trail where there was some ice just before Lupe reached the crest of the ridge line, but Lupe and SPHP were soon past it without any problem. Just N of where Lupe reached the top of the ridge, there was a little rise. From the rise, there was a great view of the rest of the ridge extending off to the N.
Lupe’s route up along the trail was really quite easy. Trying to get up on the ridge line farther N would have made for a trickier ascent. Looking back to the S, the single track trail went up the W side of the next big hill onto the high ground NE of the summit.
Now on the N ridge, Lupe went S following the trail up the last big hill. SPHP hadn’t really checked the maps carefully, and wasn’t sure how much farther the summit was to the SW. It wasn’t far at all. In just a few minutes, Lupe was standing on top of White Butte!
At the summit were a number of items of interest. There was a cairn, a USGS Benchmark, a green metal box containing a red-covered notebook serving as a registry log and lots of pens, a long wooden box containing a hand trowel, and a metal marker for Lawrence P. Buzalsky (1935-1990). SPHP entered Lupe’s name into the registry log.Lupe had made it to the top of White Butte 20 minutes before sunset. After entering her name in the registry log, there was time for Lupe and SPHP to wander around taking a good look at the splendid 360° views.
Lupe and SPHP left the absolute summit to explore the summit ridge to its western terminus, which wasn’t far off. The views to the W were best from here. Lupe and SPHP watched the sun sink slowly behind long desolate ridges.
Once the sun went down, it was time for Lupe to start back to the G6. She returned briefly to the true summit along the way. From there, Lupe and SPHP wandered over to the E end of the summit ridge for another look before leaving White Butte.
The dead tan of the grasslands in late February added to the sense of barren remoteness seen in every direction from White Butte. White Butte felt desolate and forlorn. Still, what Lupe had seen from the top was a beautiful, wild and largely unspoiled part of the world.
Lupe’s trip to White Butte had been a very enjoyable success! If she had arrived a little bit earlier in the day, it would have been fun to go SW over to High Point 3484, and maybe spend some time poking around on the N ridge for a little while.
As it was, the light was fading quickly as Lupe headed back down the trail. More ranch lights appeared scattered across the prairie than SPHP would have expected. Stars twinkled faintly in the sky. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed a beautiful trek back across the prairie following the fence line N. Orion was shining in a dark night sky above White Butte when Lupe reached the G6 at 6:39 PM (43°F).
Just as SPHP was putting the backpack in the G6, Lupe heard the wild dogs. Coyotes were singing off to the N. Lupe listened very intently for the few minutes they called to her. Then she hopped into the G6 for the long ride home.
Access & Trail Notes: SPHP found some of the trip reports on Peakbagger.com a bit confusing as to the best access route to White Butte. There were also mentions in some reports of difficulties avoiding steep terrain. Lupe and SPHP found the following route to and up White Butte to be very straightforward and easy:
The tiny town of Amidon is near the W end of a 9 mile stretch of Hwy 85 that goes E/W. One mile E of Amidon is a road off Hwy 85 that goes straight S toward White Butte. There is a cemetery here by the highway on the SE corner of the junction. A sign says this road is closed, and the road to White Butte is one mile E. The sign is correct. Do not take the road going S from the cemetery. (Some who reported a long rough drive to White Butte probably took this road despite the road closed sign.)
Go another mile E on Hwy 85 to the next road going S (2 miles E of Amidon). There is a green and white street sign on the N side of Hwy 85 at this intersection saying this road is “140 Ave SW”. This is a good, wide gravel road and the best access route to White Butte, even though there is no sign along Hwy 85 saying so. Note your vehicle’s odometer reading as you turn S from Hwy 85. Follow 140 Ave SW going straight S.
Five miles S of Hwy 85 is a much narrower gravel crossroad. Again there is no sign saying anything about White Butte, but there is another green and white street sign on the SW corner of the intersection saying “69 ST SW”. Turn W (R) on 69 ST SW and follow it 1 mile to the first intersection where the big old mailbox is on the left. The roads were perfectly fine to this point. No high clearance vehicle is needed.
Park just beyond the mailbox and hike the pickup truck route about 1 mile S along the fence line to the gate. Go through the gate, and follow the obvious trail S and on up to the top of White Butte. There only a couple of short steep sections on the trail the entire way, and they are pretty easily traversed. There is nothing dangerous along the way except the downed barbed wire fence part way up that is laying across the trail. (Perhaps rattlesnakes during warm weather.)
SPHP has no idea why the mailbox was padlocked shut. Others reported leaving a donation to the landowners as a thank you for allowing access to White Butte, which is on private property. SPHP intended to, but didn’t since the mailbox couldn’t be opened.
Lupe and SPHP met no one, and saw no activity or lights at the farmstead SW of where the G6 was parked. Other trip reports which mention encounters with the landowners indicate that they are not opposed to high pointers crossing their property to reach White Butte. Lupe and SPHP encountered no “No Trespassing” signs posted on any of the land Lupe crossed, although there were some on adjacent fields.
Those who choose to ignore the “Road Closed” sign to follow the pickup truck route S will find it in pretty good shape much of the way to the gate. Even the G6 could have traversed much of it. However, if the ground is at all wet, this entire route would be very soft. Lupe doesn’t recommend trying to climb White Butte during wet weather, or any time when the ground is not either dry or frozen solid. The whole route would be a miserable mucky mess.
White Butte was a pleasant, easy hike with views well worth the modest effort – a very nice state high point, especially for those who love remote unspoiled places. Good luck!