Steele Butte |

Western Henry Mountains

Hiking Steele Butte - Western Henry Mountains Hiking Steele Butte

Western Henry Mountains

Overview

RATING: Moderate Hike / A little 5th class climbing
MAPS: STEELE BUTTE, UT

Sun

A 40 percent chance of snow.  Partly sunny, with a high near 46. Breezy, with a south southwest wind around 23 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph.  New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

46 | 30

Mon

Mostly sunny, with a high near 46. North wind 6 to 14 mph becoming south in the morning.

46 | 27

Tue

Partly sunny, with a high near 50.

50 | 31

Wed

A slight chance of rain after 11am.  Partly sunny, with a high near 49.

49 | 33

Thu

A chance of snow.  Partly sunny, with a high near 45.

45 | 30

View Full Weather Details
SEASON: Spring, Fall, Winter if the roads and route are dry
GEAR: Standard Hiking Gear
WATER: None
NOTES: Reaching the trailhead requires medium clearance and dry roads.

Sun

A 40 percent chance of snow.  Partly sunny, with a high near 46. Breezy, with a south southwest wind around 23 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph.  New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

46 | 30

Mon

Mostly sunny, with a high near 46. North wind 6 to 14 mph becoming south in the morning.

46 | 27

Tue

Partly sunny, with a high near 50.

50 | 31

Wed

A slight chance of rain after 11am.  Partly sunny, with a high near 49.

49 | 33

Thu

A chance of snow.  Partly sunny, with a high near 45.

45 | 30

View Full Weather Details
Steele Butte from the approach road.

Steele Butte from the approach road.

Steel Butte is one of those summits that I think perhaps the route to the top is the best of the day! To be sure, the views of the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef, and badlands to the north are excellent from Steel Butte, but the route up, ascending a narrow slot canyon, is so much fun!

I'm not sure what first caught my attention about Steele Butte. We visited as a family in the winter of 2021, planning on poking around a bit to see if there was a route to the summit. We found a social trail on the ridge, but ran out of time to follow it far. When I returned in 2023, I found an exquisite and fun route to the summit.

Skill Note: The route to the summit contains a bit of steep loose dirt to get to the ridgeline proper, a bit of route finding to stay on the sparsely used trail, and a bit of climbing to ascend/descend the slot. The climbing is easy 5th class, and about 3 m ( 10 ft. ) of exposure. Given the factors above, experienced canyoneers or climbers comfortable with these risks only. It makes a great, fun short route if in the area and looking for a little challenge.
From the approach, the route contours around this corner.

From the approach, the route contours around this corner.

Getting There

Travel east out of Capitol Reef National Park on highway 24. Just past the park, 0.25 miles, is the well signed Notom road. Turn right onto the Notom Road and follow it for 13.6 miles to the Sandy Ranch Junction on the left (east) side of the road.

  • Reset your odometer as you turn left (east) off the Notom Road and start heading toward the Henry Mountains. The road crosses the open desert, before descending to and crossing Sandy Creek. Continue on the main road after the crossing as it continues across the badlands toward the Henry Mountains. There are a few minor side roads to ignore and a number of good primitive campsites along the way.  ( 12S 493905mE 4217280mN / N38° 06' 12" W111° 04' 10" )
  • 9.5 miles - Just after crossing South Creek, the road splits. Go left here. ( 12S 502752mE 4215518mN / N38° 05' 15" W110° 58' 07" )
  • 13.6 miles -  After the road has passed around the north side of Steele Butte, it descends and reaches a junction with a rougher, smaller road leaving on the right. Take this rougher side road. It heads south and west around the base of Steele Butte. ( 12S 507549mE 4214390mN / N38° 04' 38" W110° 54' 50" )
  • 15.0 miles - Park anywhere off the road. There isn't a landmark for the trailhead, but you are south of the dirt ridge heading up to Steele Butte. ( 12S 506292mE 4213007mN / N38° 03' 53" W110° 55' 42" )
Mount Ellen in the Henry Mountains from the overlook.

Mount Ellen in the Henry Mountains from the overlook.

Route

The first challenge is to reach the ridge. From the parking area, head north. I entered a major wash a few minutes from the car that I followed up to a steep dirt gully that eventually reaches the ridge proper. This, on my visit, showed signs of a social trail mostly washed out by summer rains.

Head along the ridge toward Steel Butte. When the ridge reaches a rocky slope heading up to steeper cliffs, look for a cairn near a tree to the north at about the same elevation you are at. The goal is to contour around, finding a more defined trail just around the corner that heads northeast above a drainage and into the headwall of Steele Butte.

From a distance, it may not look like there is a way up the imposing cliffs at the head of the drainage. Once there, begins the slot canyon adventure. A move or two of fourth-class climbing leads into the slot. The slot is gorgeous, and narrow. At 6'1" with a 42" chest, I had to turn sideways but fit easily.

Work up the slot, reaching a large boulder blocking the slot that marks the crux of the route. The left looked easiest to me. Once you start feeling around, you will find many well-defined holds, making this short steep step reasonable. Above the boulder, a couple of forks in the canyon lead to dead ends. Continue up until a dry fall blocks the way ahead, but an easy exit is found on the left (looking up canyon) just before the dry fall. The exit out of the slot is 4th class or easy 5th. Be sure you can recognize it on the way back down. Once above the slot, easy open country leads up to the rim overlooking the Henry Mountains between the two high points of Steel Butte.

The true high point is to the north. Both the north and south summits seem to have relatively easy scrambling routes if you look around. Coming darkness had me cut my trip short of the summit, but the initial scrambling was easy with good route finding.

Return the same way.


Maps

Route To Overlook / 2.10 miles / Elevation Range 5,985 - 6,676 ft.
Printable Maps:
Trailhead

12S 506292mE 4213007mN

N38° 03' 53" W110° 55' 42"

Bottom Of Gully Up

12S 506328mE 4213426mN

N38° 04' 07" W110° 55' 40"

Stay Level Around Corner

12S 506631mE 4213699mN

N38° 04' 16" W110° 55' 28"

Exit From Slot

12S 506914mE 4213857mN

N38° 04' 21" W110° 55' 16"

Overlook

12S 507025mE 4213900mN

N38° 04' 22" W110° 55' 12"

Steele Butte Summit

12S 506921mE 4214128mN

N38° 04' 30" W110° 55' 16"

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