Butano Trail Camp

Our Yosemite trip is just a couple of weeks away, and we thought it would behoove us to check our backpacking gear and skills. We chose as our destination the Butano SP Trail Camp. Butano’s regular campground is well known to us, but the Trail Camp was heretofore unknown. The TC is about 5 miles up into the Butano back country, a good 1500 ft. or so up in the Coast Range. I had some trepidation about a test probe backpacking trip including this distance and elevation gain, but the other nearby trail camps that I knew about didn’t seem as attractive.

We started our hike at about 3pm, and snagged the last available trail camp site; they have 8 sites, a primitive comfort station and a trash can, but no drinking water available. There are streams in Butano Canyon, but the closest one is a good half mile away from the camp sites, so we needed to carry in all the water required for drinking along the trail, making dinner and breakfast, tea, coffee, rinsing things out and so on. You go to great lengths to carry the ultra light weight tent, sleeping bag, pack, stove, and then add in about 15 lbs. of water. This won’t be as much of an issue on the Yosemite trip, since we’ll be near the river most of the time.

Our route to the top followed the Jackson Flats and Canyon trails, which are beautiful and for the most part well graded and easy for the backpacker. There are numerous small stream crossings, and if you’re hiking this in the rainy season, or early summer following a wet winter, this could slow you down some. After our dry/normal winter the streams were small or gone, but the footing can still be a little tricky around some of these as the trail winds down and up through rocky areas and tree roots near the stream beds. Also, there are a few stretches along the Canyon trail with a gravelly surface, narrow trail, and steep declines down the side into the canyon. Need to watch your step in this area. But the varied terrain and interesting changes in plants as you wind through micro ecosystems makes this a highly recommended route to or from the Trail Camp. There’s another route on the other side of the canyon, which will be described to you after I tell you about the camp.

We made it up there about 6:30 pm, about 2 hours before sunset. The only site left was number 7 – from what I can tell, the sites are fairly similar, although some have simple tables and benches hewn from logs. Ours did not have that feature. We set up our camp, and then made dinner. Does anyone have a suggestion for alternates to the freeze dried meals for backpackers? I had the Beef Stroganoff, and at some point (either the freezing or the drying, I guess) all of the flavor was eliminated from it. We must be able to do better than this. The concept is sound; just add boiling water to the foil package, wait several minutes, and you sit down (or stand, as in our case) to a nice hot dinner. We had breakfast versions of these things this morning, and my egg scramble tasted very much like my stroganoff.

After dinner we took a little stroll up the road towards an abandoned air field. I haven’t yet found any information about this place, and have not heard of any other air fields being constructed on precarious mountain ridges. The location would have its drawbacks for the aviator; often foggy, windy, with tall trees and steep terrain all around. Could be a reason why it’s called the ‘abandoned air field’. But you can get a nice view out to the ocean from there. We saw that, and the setting sun lighting up all those tree tops on the west-facing hills. Then we walked back into the gloaming of the Trail Camp, made ourselves some Sleepy Time Tea (with a Jameson chaser), and called it a night. The camp is quiet. The sites are nicely spaced from one another, and screened well by the Doug Fir forest understory. We eventually fell asleep in our little tent, every once in a while waking up to hear the wind way up in the forest canopy or see the third-quarter moon peeking through. We had some excellent coffee in the morning to go with our freeze dried whatever it is, and packed up for the walk back down the hill.

Maybe it was because we had a successful night out, or that we were going home, or heading downhill, or there was a lot of oxygen because of all the plants, but the walk back was exhilarating. We descended on the Indian Trail to the fire road (ocean views available here), and then onto Doe Ridge trail. This is an ideal forest walk; it’s almost too good, like somebody landscaped this to look like a nice forest. This trail meets the Goat Hill trail, which will wind on down to the fire road where the Subaru is parked.

I found a little commemorative pin on the trail, and stopped in the visitor center to see if they had a lost and found. The center was open, but unattended; just lots of cool displays with taxidermed animals. If you lost your Camp Royaneh pin on the Doe Ridge trail, please contact the Mellowcat.

To make matters even better, we stopped at Pescadero for a fantastic lunch that was not freeze dried.

2 Comments

  1. Hi – I am planning a trip to Butano Trail Camp in a couple months with about 10-12 people. You mentioned that the sites have good privacy, but are any of them large enough for our group? You mentioned that you got the last site, did you arrive Friday or Saturday evening?

    thanks!

    – Andrew

    1. Hi Andrew – Some of the sites probably have the space for 10 people, but the park might have some set limit per site. Our site (7) had room for a couple of tents – and it looked like #8 had a fair amount of space as well. I didn’t see any of the other sites – they were occupied, and screened quite well from the trail. We arrived on Saturday afternoon. Looking forward to going back again. – Brian

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