Black Buttes
Black Buttes

Place Name: Nevada County

Place Description: State: California
Date: 10/25/2020
Elevation: 8,028 Feet
Prominence: 708 Feet
Miles: 9.4
Elevation Gain: 2,234 Feet
Lists: Tahoe-Ogul

  • Difficulty
  • Solitude
  • Kid Friendly
  • Summit Views

Great Hike With A Lake and Some Fun Class 3 Climbs

Black Buttes are a fun hike north of Interstate 80 with a beautiful lake and fun scrambling. 



  • Nice well marked trail to the lake
  • Beautiful lake
  • Some fun class 3


  • Long drive in on dirt
  • Busy area
  • One tricky class 3 move

When driving Interstate 80 between Emigrant Gap and Cisco Grove, the views to the north really open up. Many peaks become visible including Black Buttes. These are three unassuming volcanic plugs on the northern skyline that can easily get lost in the shuffle.

Don’t let them fool you. The Black Buttes are a great day hike and a fun light class 3 climb, making them a nice addition to the Tahoe Ogul Peak List.

Getting There

The approach to the trailhead is long. While you see the buttes from I-80, you will need to take the Highway 20 exit and proceed west to Bowman Lake Rd. This road is paved and has regular traffic. You will follow this to Grouse Ridge Rd.

Grouse Ridge Road is dirt and has quite a few berms and some rocks. It’s straight 2WD, but I would recommend high clearance and good tires to get to Grouse Ridge Campground.

The campground had some occupants and looked like a nice drive in place to sleep for the night. It’s definitely well off the beaten path.

The Trail

I drove past the campground and found a lot of parking up on the open ridge above it. This is where the Glacier Lake Trail starts and heads off into the forest.

Glacier Lake Trail

Black Buttes from the trailhead.

The trail is about as easy to follow and walk on as any trail I have ever hiked. For starters, the trail drops and remains mostly flat over the first 2.5 miles. We passed the junction for the Sand Ridge Trail which parallels the Glacier Lake Trail but higher up. They go to the same place.

Before reaching Glacier Lake, there was finally some elevation gain. From here it’s all off trail. We went down towards the lake towards the boulder field under Black Buttes.

Black Buttes

Glacier Lake

The rock is pretty stable and I had very few actually rock on me. I crossed the boulders and hit a small use trail that led up the little gully to the ridge.

Black Buttes

Going across the talus field to the ridge at the top.

The use trail fades in and out, but it leads to the first butte. There are a couple ways to get over this butte, both involve a class 3 move with light exposure. I hate class 3 and I was fine with it.

The Summit

Follow the ridge to the left of the second butte and then the third one comes into view. The route to the top is class 3 with no exposure. There is a little chimney to climb up through and it reminded a lot of Red Lake Peak.

Black Buttes

In the chimney

We made quick work of this and were standing on the top shortly after. There is an ammo can register and spectacular views.

Black Buttes

Overlooking the area from near the summit.

The Final Word

After summiting, we followed the route we came back on along the ridge. We saw a couple of other people descending straight down the talus field towards the lake, so that may be an option as well.

Once we returned to the lake, we followed the Sand Ridge Trail back making it more of a loop. The Sand Ridge gives you wonderful views of English Mountain to the north and is very easy walking.

Black Buttes

English Mountain

From the parking spot you can hike up to the top of Grouse Ridge where there is an old fire lookout that is being restored as a rental cabin.

Grouse Ridge Fire Lookout

Grouse Ridge Fire Lookout.

All in all, this makes for a fun day of hiking in some pretty country.