Located about an hour’s drive straight south on the Pullman Highway, Steptoe Butte sits like a tall, odd hump on the back of the otherwise gently rolling Palouse.
You can drive your car to the top – 3,612 feet above sea level – on a narrow and sometimes steep road. Drive slowly, hikers and bikers travel in the same lane! The narrow road spirals its way around the butte until you make one last tight turn and pop out on the very top.
From the windy parking area you have a 360 degree view of the Palouse, which unfolds at your feet like a vintage quilt with blocks in all shades of green and canola yellow.
In one direction you can see majestic wind turbines gently rotate, and far below huge farm trucks look toy-sized. Gray mountains loom at the far away and on a clear day, you can see both Idaho and Oregon without binoculars.
According to the Washington State Parks Department the quartzite butte is formed of some of the oldest rock in Washington and Native Americans called it “Power Mountain.” It was renamed Pyramid Peak by early European settlers, and finally named after Colonel Edward Steptoe who fought in the Battle of Rosalia. The two-story Cashup Hotel was built there in 1888 but failed to become a major tourist destination. The vacated hotel burned to the ground in 1911.
In the 1930s, Virgil McCroskey fundraised to buy the butte and turn it into a park. It was dedicated as a state park on July 4, 1946.
There are many wonderful picnic sites around the bottom of the butte, including covered picnic shelters and there are bathrooms at the entrance and the top.
As Steptoe Butte is a state park you need a discover pass for access. If you don’t have one, you can buy one at the top of the butte or you can purchase a year-long $30 pass online. A limited number of day-use Discover passes are available for checkout at the Spokane libraries.