North Menan Butte Trail (“R”Mountain)

By Marc Bowen


Volcanic Tuff Cone

In east Idaho near the town of Menan are twin buttes known as the North and South Menan Buttes. The north butte is also known by locals as “R” Mountain because of the big white ‘R’ painted on its north face. The south butte (the smaller of the two buttes ) is privately owned. The north butte is publicly owned and is designated as a National Natural Landmark. The buttes are two of the worlds largest volcanic tuff cones.

I wrote about these tuff cones and hiking this area in great detail on my blog last year. You can read that post by clicking this link: Hiking The Volcano – N Menan Butte

Hiking The Butte


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/10/18)

This hike is 4.2 miles out and back with 1,089 feet of elevation gain. The trail leads up the west face and then follows the rim around the entire crater and back. The hike to the rim of the crater from the trailhead will get your heart pumping. I have hiked this trail 6 times in the past 8 weeks (in the months of April and May). It’s close to my home and I can hike it early in the morning and be home by 9 or 10am. It’s a great workout and is good preparation for some more difficult hikes in the months to come.

The images in this post I shot over a period of two months. The images are dated as I thought it would be fun to show the surrounding landscape as the seasons change.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

Coming up the west side of the butte you know your near the top when you get to a line of steel posts connected to each other with a chain (above image to the right of the big rock formation). The footing is very poor in places and the chain gives you something to hold on to.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/23/18)

Because of the geology of this place caves and varied rock formations are a common sight. This one (above) is to the left of the trail near the top.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/30/18)

Just past that formation looking back down the slope at the trailhead parking area.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

Once you’ve made it to the top of the trail you will be standing on the rim of the buttes cratered center. Now you’re on the rim trail and can go left (above photo), right (scroll down to next photo) or even walk a trail down through the middle of the crater (not shown).

Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

I have arranged my photos in a sequence as if hiking to the right around the crater. As you hike this direction you can see (in this photo above) across the crater into the valley to the east toward Rigby, Ririe and the distant hills.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/23/18)

As the trail curves around the south side of the butte you can see South Menan Butte, the town of Menan is across the river in the middle right in the above photo and Idaho Falls is in the middle distance at the base of the hills.

Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

If you compare this panoramic image (above) with the one above it you can see the difference 5 weeks makes. Crops are growing and summer colors and foliage have arrived.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/23/18)

Looking back to the east from the trail across the crater, part of the valley between Rexburg and Rigby can be seen.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/10/18)

As the rim trail curves east you will arrive at a formation of rocks called the ‘Wind Bowl’. This is a fantastic formation and almost seems like the landscape should be part of another planet. Great area to do some ‘bouldering’ … Looking south across the bowl you can again see South Butte.

Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

There is a time span of six weeks between the above two photos.

Below is a video clip of the Wind Bowl recorded on 4/10/18.  ‘click’ to play


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

Above is a another photo of the Wind Bowl from a different perspective.

Below is the most recent video clip of the Wind Bowl.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

(above photo) Looking east towards Rigby and Ririe and the point where the Henrys Fork and South Fork of the Snake River come together. You can see some of the current flooding. Snow melt has caused all the rivers and streams to run at higher than normal levels the last month or so.

Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/10/18)

Again in the above photo the view is to the east as this is the east side of the butte. Part of the Teton mountain range can be seen on the horizon.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

I took the above photo as I hiked the trail around the north side of the butte heading west. This is looking south across the crater to the south rim and South Butte beyond that.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

If you look north from the trail on the north rim the St. Anthony Sand Dunes can be seen in the distance with the city of Rexburg to the right of that (above photo).


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/10/18)

In the above photo I am looking west across the desert towards the Lost River Range of mountains.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/10/18)

Another one of the many rock formations in the area and another view into the buttes crater.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/10/18)

I shot the above image as I was hiking south along the west rim of the crater. The orange-colored rock formation across the crater on the other rim is the area where the Wind Bowl is located.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/15/18)

My daughter Nicole (above photo) joined me on the May 15th hike. Looking out over the parking lot below and the Deer Parks Wildlife Management Area across the highway.

Below is a video clip shot from the northwest rim in April of this year.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

Another view (above photo) looking down on the parking lot / trailhead and the Deer Parks WMA.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/23/18)

Above is another view from the same area but shot over a month earlier.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 4/30/18)
Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

The above two images were shot a month apart at slightly different angles.


Photo by: Marc Bowen (shot on 5/30/18)

I shot this last image as I was headed back down the west face of the butte.

As I mentioned before I usually hike this trail early mornings with cool temperatures, beautiful light and colors surrounding me, and few people around. Sometimes I’ve had the butte all to myself and its a perfect time to change perspectives and remember whats most important in my life. Just being outside breathing the fresh air and having the sun shine upon me energizes my soul and changes my mood for the better.






Hiking The Volcano – N Menan Butte

By: Marc Bowen

Extinct Volcanoes

There are two cratered buttes not far from Rexburg Idaho called North and South Menan Buttes. About 38 years ago while attending Ricks college I climbed down into one of them. I wasn’t hiking though. It was a stupid response to a dare from a college friend to see if I would drive my Jeep CJ5 down into the bottom and back up the other side. We escaped injury on that trip (although the Jeep required some minor repairs). I was young, dumb (that particular day anyway), somewhat naive and not too concerned with safety issues or environmental impact concerns…So recently I have been planning on hiking the North Menan Butte but the weather has been bad. Finally the weather broke enough for me to go (although I did get snowed on 3 different times during the hike).


MenanButtes_ali_2010268 (2)
Photo courtesy of

These two ancient volcanoes are two of the worlds largest volcanic tuff cones, slightly larger then better-known tuff cone, Diamond Head on the island of Oahu. The North Menan Butte (the larger of the two buttes) is publicly owned and is designated a National Natural Landmark and a Research Natural Area by Congress. The N Menan Butte Trail is a 4.2 mile out and back trail that ascends the west slope to the rim (an elevation gain of 1,158 ft) and then circles completely around the crater and back down the west slope.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – Looking north at North Menan Butte from South Menan Butte


Getting There

There are several ways to get there. From Rexburg it’s about 11 miles to the trail head. You can go west on hwy 33 then left on East Butte Rd then west on Twin Butte Rd until you reach the trail head parking area. Or north from Menan on N 3600 E/Twin Butte Road until you get to the parking area.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – N Menan Butte parking lot

Hiking The Butte Trail

The above photo was actually captured at the end of the hike but as you will see in the next photo there was a dusting of snow on the butte earlier in the morning when I started my hike.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – N Menan Butte Trail

The first section of trail is well maintained, well marked and a nice steady climb. It was a little chilly at first but it wasn’t long until I could remove my outer layer of clothing.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

At various places along the trail there are interpretive signs with interesting facts about the area. This sign talks about the wildlife in the area and the different habitats needed to survive. Behind the sign and across the highway I could see the Deer Parks Wildlife Mitigation Unit. It is a 2,500 acre wildlife management area that is great for bird watchers as there are about 38 different species in the area.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – N Menan Butte trail

At this point in the trail I started seeing spots of white snow on the fence railings from the most recent snow storm. When taking a break to catch my breath I always turn around to enjoy the views. My camera is attached to my right shoulder strap of my pack using a CapturePro clip so it is always ready for use.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – N Menan Butte trail

Farther up the trail gets very rocky and hard too see if not for pole fences and a chain fence to guide you in the right direction. This portion of the trail is pretty steep, had me breathing hard and my legs were starting to feel the grind. All along the west slope I could see small caves, and a lot of lichen covered rock.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

I use trekking poles so I didn’t need to grab hold of the chain on the way up. I can see where they could help a hiker with no stick or poles.


The Crater Rim Trail

Photo by: Marc Bowen – west rim heading north on butte trail

As you reach the rim of the crater you can go right (counter-clockwise) around the crater or left (clockwise). I chose left but would recommend going right for anyone hiking this trail for the first time. I will explain why later in this post.

Photo by: Marc Bowen

This interpretive sign is the second sign I saw as I hiked the trail north on the west rim. The sign faces west towards the Lost River Range of mountains. That mountain range has seven peaks over 12,000 feet high including Mt Borah the state’s tallest. The sign explains how the Snake River Plain below was formed and how large it is. It extends from eastern Oregon to Yellowstone National Park.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

From the west rim I could see the parking area for N Menan Butte and three other buttes on the horizon. East Butte, Middle Butte and Big Southern Butte. Those buttes are collapsed volcanoes (no craters). Just beyond them is Craters of the Moon National Monument.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

The next interpretive sign I came to faces north west towards the Lemhi Range and explains how that range was formed.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – N Menan Butte crater (looking south east)

At this point on the trail as I turned to my right and looked south east down and across the 200 foot deep crater and the east rim I could see the Snake River winding it’s way through the valley.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – N Menan Butte crater (looking south west)

The above photo I captured while standing in the same spot as the previous photo but looking at the south rim of the crater and the part of the trail I just came up.


Photo by: Marc Bowen
Photo by: Marc Bowen

It was great to see all the different rock formations in the area. Ever since I was a kid I have been kind of a “rock hound” and have an interest in geology.  I actually took a geology class at Ricks College in Rexburg not too many miles from here.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

While looking out over the plains I loved seeing the numerous storms moving through the area. Looking north the St Anthony Sand Dunes can be seen in the distance.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

The St Anthony Sand Dunes are the largest set of dunes in Idaho and cover 175 square miles. They are 35 miles long and 5 miles wide and the dunes range from 50 to 400 feet tall… While on this part of the trail I noticed the wind picking up and the temperature dropping and as I looked out over the plain I could see a storm headed my direction so I prepared for snow. By the time the storm hit I had on my warm outer coat, stocking hat pulled down over my ears and gloves on and was actually quite comfortable and the brief storm was beautiful.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – N Menan Butte communication towers

By the time the storm had passed I had reached an area where the trail connects with an access road. The sun came out, the wind quit blowing and it warmed up enough where I needed to remove my outer layer again. This is the north summit of the butte and it has a communications installation. It is disappointing to have this nature area marred by technology but understandable given its the highest point in the area.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Just past the communications towers the maintained road ends and turns into the remnants of a 4 wheel drive track. There is another interpretive sign facing west towards the crater and has information about the raptors in the area.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking north east from this area the Henry’s Fork of the Snake can be seen below. In the distance I could see the Rexburg Temple and on very clear days the Tetons can be seen 50 miles away…This butte I am standing on also has another name. The locals call it “R Mountain” because of the big white ‘R’ painted on the north east slope that can be seen for miles.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Some interesting facts from this sign were that these rivers support one of the most extensive cottonwood gallery forests remaining in the western United States and from here is an excellent view of where the Henry’s Fork and South Fork come together to form the Snake River. I could also see more snow storms moving through the area. I got hit with another storm just down the trail from here.


Photo by: Marc Bowen – Indian paintbrush

This is the only flowering plant I saw in the area so probably still a little early for wildflowers.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

East rim looking west. This sign was put up in memory of Coach Lee Terry who coached cross-country for 20 years at Madison High School. He trained on these trails and always taught by example the importance of keeping natural areas like this clean, pristine and free of trash and human debris…While on this hike I saw half a dozen people running the trails. Several days ago was the Spitfire Ultra Race, an annual 12k/25k race on N Menan Butte.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking from the south rim towards The South Menan Butte… Earlier in this post I recommended hiking the crater in a counter-clockwise direction instead of clockwise. At this point in my hike I had a difficult time distinguishing the main trail from other faint trails in the area and as the trail began climbing up the south rim from the lower east rim I couldn’t see very far ahead of me because of the steepness of the trail.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

The trail I thought was the the correct trail took me into the bottom of what is called the Wind Bowl. It is also a dead end. So I back tracked and it took me awhile to find a faint track up some steep rocky areas to get to where I needed to be. By hiking this trail from the other direction (going right instead of left or counter-clockwise instead of clockwise  when you reach the rim of the crater coming from the trail head) I think it would be easier to see the trail. You can usually see a lot farther ahead of you hiking downhill then uphill.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

The interpretive sign that talks about the Wind Bowl explains how the bowl was formed.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking down into the Wind Bowl I could see S Menan Butte and the town of Rigby in the distance.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Looking south west and standing in front of the Glass Mountains sign I learned about the composition of the rock underneath my feet and how these buttes were formed.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Heading back down is always a little quicker then coming up and a time for me to reflect on what I have seen, learned and experienced.


Photo by: Marc Bowen

Almost there…

This was a nice spring hike. Not too difficult but a nice progression to more difficult hikes down the road. My daughter and I plan to take my grandsons on this hike sometime in the next week. That will be great fun!