High above the Palouse Hills on the eastern edge of Washington, Steptoe Butte offers unparalleled views of a truly unique landscape. The warm quartzite bluff stands out against soft hills of green and mauve, an occasional barn dotting the landscape. Colors seem to shift and change in the light.
The butte contains some of the oldest rock in the Pacific Northwest, and it marks the border of the original North American Continent.
Steptoe has, over time, been a wagon road, a hotel site and an observatory location. In addition to inspiring vistas, the 3,612-foot summit displays several interpretive panels that pay homage to its distinctive geology. This day-use park is a must-visit on a leisurely drive through Eastern Washington.
Steptoe Butte is a 150-acre day-use park. Camping options for an eastern Washington road trip include Riverside, Field Springs and Lewis & Clark Trail state parks, all less than two hours away.
Discover Pass: A Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to state parks for day use. For more information about the Discover Pass and exemptions, please visit the Discover Pass web page.
The park offers seven unsheltered picnic tables and four braziers for cooking, all available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The butte summit features an interpretive wayside exhibit. Outdoor displays explain the site’s natural history, surrounding and distant landscape features, the Cashup Hotel, which once stood on top of the butte, and the unique story of how this National Natural Landmark became a state park.
Groups coming in buses need to contact Blue Mountain HQ at (509) 337-6457 to schedule their event.
Steptoe Butte, a high-promontory in the Palouse Hills of southeast Washington, has served as a dramatic viewpoint for countless generations. The quartzite butte is some of the oldest rock in the Pacific Northwest, and marks the border of the original North American Continent.
Once known as Pyramid Peak, the landform was renamed Steptoe Butte after Colonel Edward J. Steptoe (1816-1865) who fought in the nearby 1858 Battle of Rosalia. Nearly two-decades later, pioneer James S. "Cashup" Davis purchased the promontory from the Northern Pacific Railroad. After building a wagon road to the summit, he erected a two-story mountaintop hotel in 1888. The hotel was capped by a glass observatory with a telescope. Guests using this telescope claimed to view the distant Cascade Range on a clear day. Although a unique destination, difficulty in reaching the 3,612-foot summit proved to be a barrier to travelers, and within a few years the hotel was scarcely occupied. Cashup and his wife Mary Ann remained occupants until Mary Ann’s death in 1894, and James’s death in 1896. On the evening of March 11, 1911, the neglected hotel burned to the ground, apparently the result of a teenager mishap with a cigarette.
Seeking a dream to preserve the geologically significant feature for future generations, Virgil McCroskey began a campaign to purchase the butte in the 1930s. After a 10-year struggle, with support from family and local business leaders, McCroskey was able to secure the summit area as a public park. He donated a total of 120 acres to the state of Washington in 1945 and 1946. This "island in the sky" was dedicated as a formal state park on July 4, 1946.
The term "steptoe" has gone on to be used by geologists worldwide to describe an isolated hill or mountain surrounded by lava. Recognizing its national significance, the National Park Service designated Steptoe Butte as a National Natural Landmark in 1965. This Washington State Park Heritage Site offers a unique glimpse into the deep geologic past of Washington state.