The Mountains of Arizona •
The Buttes • North & South Peaks • Green Valley Hills
• Hellsgate Wilderness
• Tonto National Forest
• Gila County

The Buttes, Arizona
Distance view of the north peak and surrounding buttes
The Buttes, Arizona
South Butte from the road as I hiked in
The Buttes, Arizona
Summit of South Butte
The Buttes, Arizona
View of Diamond Butte Peak and the cliffs of the Hellsgate Wilderness
The Buttes, Arizona
North Butte
The Buttes, Arizona
South Butte as seen from North Butte's slopes
The Buttes, Arizona
Approaching North Butte's top
The Buttes, Arizona
North Butte's summit ridge
The Buttes, Arizona
North Butte as seen from the road, and a few cows

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Date: November 28, 2020 • Elevation: 5,842 feet (N) & 5,683 feet (S) • Prominence: 442 feet & 323 feet • Distance: 9.2 miles • Time: 4 hours and 45 minutes • Gain: 2,400 feet (gross) • Conditions: Sunny and cool

ArizonaMain • North: PBLoJ • South: PBLoJ

The Buttes, as they are called on the map, are a bunch of hills about 4 miles south of Highway AZ-260, roughly ten miles east of Payson. There are about a half-dozen hills that comprise The Buttes. I was interested in the two most prominent ones, called "North" and "South" here. In keeping with the generic theme, I would be hiking on The Road much of the way. It would be an easy hike but long, pushing ten miles.

I did not get started until noon. The day was beautiful, with clear skies, low humidity, no clouds, gentle breezes and temperatures in the low 50s. I drove from home, going east on AZ-260 a few miles, turning right (south) onto Tonto FR-436, which is just after the Experimental Elk Crossing sign. That sign's been there for years and I still am not sure what experiment is going on. I assume elk cross where they feel like it. I mention this because the turnoff afterwards comes up quickly and is easily missed, which I've done now a couple times even though I should know better. Today, I didn't pass by it, and got it on my first try.

Road 436 goes a little over a mile to a cleared area and a corral, and an electrical substation nearby. I parked near the corral. There were a couple RVs here and pickups with toy-haulers also parked nearby. This is the same place I parked when I hiked Green Valley Hills Highpoint way back in 2018. I started hiking at 12:20 p.m.. Forest Road 656 starts here, at a gateway, crossing over Green Valley Creek. I walked it southwest about a half-mile. It gains gently, then drops steeply, then gently again, bottoming out back at the creek. The road hangs a left and heads southeast, up another canyon.

For the next half mile, the road interbraids with the rocky drainage, gaining up a few feet, then dropping back into the drainage, not really gaining very much total over this half mile. I was moving fast here, almost jog-walking. I wanted to get through this initial segment quickly. The road then crosses the drainage one last time and then starts steeply uphill, gaining 500 feet in a half-mile. Road 656 ends at a junction with Tonto FR-893. A left goes uphill to the Green Valley Hills highpoint, while a straight heads south downhill, with The Buttes now visible, about two miles away. It was on this steep uphill that I heard an engine motor, two hunters in a Polaris inching uphill. I stood to the side and let them pass.

I kept a quick pace, walking downhill and losing about 150 feet. The next mile is a long south-bound segment along the spine of a ridge, with consistent ups and downs, then a long uphill as the road skirts Peak 5794. The road swings west, drops into a saddle, then steeply uphill to top out on Hill 5709 (Prom about 120 feet. Woo hoo, I got a bonus peak). In the saddle before this hill, there were some cattle just standing there, staring at me as I walked by. I took a break somewhere along this stretch, the time now about 1:30 p.m., so I was making good time.

Once off of Hill 5709, the road swings south again and drops almost 500 feet over a mile. The road first drops to a saddle northeast of the North Butte. Here, a Polaris was parked (possibly those two guys I saw earlier), and there were a bunch of cattle sitting and standing around it. My plan was to hike south and tag the South Butte summit first, then double back and hike the North Butte second.

I walked the road downhill, then followed it left (east), regaining about 80 feet, to place me at Butte Tank, at the saddle between the North and South Buttes. To here, I had covered a little over 4 miles in about two hours. I hiked past the low tank and up the steep jeep trail, topping out on the South Butte's summit quickly, a gain of about 340 feet from the saddle.

The top is slightly off the road a little, my first off-trail hiking of the afternoon. I could not find any cairns or registers, but finding the top was simple. I tagged it, snapped a couple images, and immediately started down. The views up here were fantastic, although the sun was now lower in the southwestern sky, glaring anything in that direction. To the east I could see the big cliffs fronting Tonto Creek, down in the Hellsgate Wilderness. I even saw another Polaris parked here, but saw no people.

I hiked quickly back to the saddle at Butte Tank, then started up the long southern slopes of the North Butte. These slopes were wide open, gentle and consistent, and great for hiking. I gained 500 feet in about a half-mile to top out on the North Butte. The summit is a short ridge on which a few low outcrops could be the highpoint. I tagged any that looked promising. The map says a benchmark is here but I could not find it, nor a register. I did not spend a lot of time here either. It was about 3 p.m. now. I took a short break up top, then started down. The north summit lies inside the Hellsgate Wilderness boundary, for some reason. I am not sure why they drew the boundaries to include this bump but not the south one or other nearby hilltops.

Here, I intended to hike down the north slopes and catch the main road at the saddle (where all the cattle were assembling). The satellite images show a rough jeep track that lies just below the summit and connects to the main road. So I hiked down and ... never saw it. I continued downhill, in moderate brush and trees but with good views. I knew what I had done. I had angled a little north instead of northwest and got myself on the north-facing slopes. Ahead of me was Hill 5709. Knowing that, I knew what I needed to do. I hiked almost all the way down into the canyon, but angled west toward the bottom. I soon found a footpath which led back out to the main road, and that Polaris still sitting there, and about a dozen cows chilling.

On the road now, I just needed to walk back out to my car. It was about 3:30 p.m. now. The sun was inching lower in the southwest, creating long shadows. The air temperature dropped too, into the 40s. I figured about 90 minutes to egress, which would be very close to sunset, so I did not waste too much time.

Conveniently, three cows sat smack on the road. I had to detour into the trees to get around them, and they moved, slowly, and not always away but just farther down the road. I was soon past them. I hiked uphill to Hill 5709, then downhill, seeing the same three cows from earlier in the day. They moved aside as I scooted past them. I walked fast, just wanting to get out, the sooner the better. Along the way, I met a woman sitting in an ATV, bundled up and relaxing. Her husband and son (I presume) were about a hundred feet into the brush scouting. I chatted with her briefly but got moving again.

The outbound hike went fast and was unexciting. I was tiring now, but moving as quick as I could. I was back to my car a bit past 5 p.m., the area now in shade as the sun was beginning to set. It was cool, low 40s, and cooling fast. I didn't change clothes or anything. I just drove home to shower and relax. I calculated my total mileage to be 9.2 miles, with about 2,300 feet of total elevation gain. I was tired but not exhausted. This hike had gone well. Given my late start, I was mindful to move fast and not delay, so as not to be on the trails after dark. Nevertheless, I stopped to enjoy the views and appreciated the hike and the two bumps I tagged.

The roads are rough, and I only saw the two Polaris (Polarii?) vehicles, plus the ATVs. Toward the end, some guy came through in a Toyota truck that was outfitted with beefy tires and proper suspension. These roads seem better suited for the Polaris/ATV-type vehicles, but small "standard" vehicles presumably are fine, based on the sample size of one that I saw. Nothing less than strong 4-wheel drive and knowledge of what to do would be required. Large vehicles may have trouble with some turns and curves. For hiking, the roads were fine.

(c) 2020 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.