According to one legend, Spencer’s Butte was named after a 19th-century English trapper killed by Native American arrows. The Kalapuyans called it Chamate, meaning “rattlesnake mountain.” An 1848 account (from Batterns DeGuerre’s Ten Years in Oregon) of the view from the summit reads as follows:
On one hand was the vast chain of Cascade Mountains, Mount Hood looming in solitary grandeur far above its fellows; on the other hand was the Umpqua Mountains, and a little farther on, the coast ridge. Between these lay the whole magnificent panorama of the Willamette Valley, with its ribbon streams and carpetlike verdure.
You can still see Mount Hood and the Willamette Valley from Spencer’s Butte today, but there are some differences. Below the north summit you look down on Eugene-Springfield, with Fern Ridge Reservoir in the northwest toward Junction City. Beyond the reservoir you can sometimes see Mary’s Peak.
Other Cascade Mountains not noted in the previous account but sometimes visible from the butte include Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, the Three Sisters, and Mount Bachelor. To the southeast, Creswell and the hills around Cottage Grove are visible.
The two main trails to the top vary in difficulty. If you bear left immediately after leaving the parking lot, you’ll come to the route known among the locals as the Face. This trail is shorter in distance than its saddleback counterpart but is much steeper and is littered with boulders and sometimes muddy spots. It can be scaled in 40 minutes by reasonably fit hikers.
The main trail is a straight shot from the parking lot, looping up and around the steep hills. These inclines are broken up by flat stretches. Allow about an hour for the ascent. Signs caution against rattlesnakes, falling limbs, and poison oak, the latter being the most likely problem. A mixed-conifer forest featuring old-growth Douglas fir with an understory of numerous ferns and wildflowers will usher you along.
Getting to Spencer’s Butte
The main parking lot for Spencer’s Butte is on Willamette Street. Just drive south on Willamette Street until you see the signs on the left side of the road. There’s also parking on Fox Hollow Road.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel