Steptoe Butte was originally called “the power mountain” by Native Americans and it was believed that a trip to the butte rewarded the traveler with a gift of power from the mountains guardian spirit. The mountain became a defining battlefield in the 19th century Indian wars however.
In 1858 American Soldiers under Lt. Col. Edward J Steptoe found themselves in a fight with a large band of Palouse, Spokane, and Coeur D’Alene Indians. The Soldiers retreated to Fort Walla Walla and in the next year a full scale campaign was led against these Native Groups.
The geology of the mountain is also worth noting. Like its cousin Kamiak Butte, this peak was formed long ago (400 million years ago) as ancient ocean floors. The quartzite was later forced upward.
The peaks have been worn down from their original form and the Columbia flood basalts have diminished their grandeur. The formation is still much higher than the surrounding landscape and provide for a glimpse into the past when the very same ground was at the floor of a shallow inland sea.
Steptoe Butte was first named Pyramid Peak but was renamed “Steptoe” for a commander in the Indian wars of a battle in 1859 also bearing his name. In the 1880’s a resort with a powerful telescope was constructed on the summit but has since been lost to fire. The main drawing card for this park is the 360 degree panoramic view you are greeted with at the summit.
The road to the summit of Steptoe Butte is one long spiral. The road goes around the butte 2 and a half times by the time you reach the top. The view gets more and more distant and it makes for an interesting drive.
This road allows you to reach the top without hiking whatsoever. The parking lot at the top is large enough to accommodate about 20 vehicles.
Favorite thing: The Palouse region is an example of a landscape shaped by the forces of wind and erosion. Steptoe presently stands above the surrounding plain, but in another 50,000 years it will no longer be noticeable.