Merrick Butte Arizona
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We Like Big Buttes and We Cannot Lie: Discover These Awesome Natural Wonders

While many U.S. travelers may gravitate towards the grandeur of towering mountains or the serenity of expansive plains, there’s a certain charm to be found in the undulating curves and rugged contours of something often overlooked: Buttes.

Yes, you read that right. Buttes.

These geological formations, characterized by steep, flat-topped hills with steep sides, might not get as much attention as their taller counterparts, but they possess a unique allure that’s impossible to ignore.

From the iconic Monument Valley in the American Southwest to the majestic formations scattered across the Badlands of South Dakota, buttes have carved out their own place in the natural tapestry of the world.

Merrick Butte Arizona
Merrick Butte Arizona I photo credit: venuswix / Shutterstock

What is a Butte

A butte is an isolated hill featuring a small, flat top and vertical sides. The term comes from the French word butte, meaning knoll. Their distinctive shape makes buttes scenic landmarks in regions where they’re found.

In the Southwestern United States, mesas — which are very similar to buttes — can be found. A rule of thumb to differentiate the two is that mesas have tops that are wider in height, compared to narrower butte tops.

Why Do People Love Buttes

What is it about buttes that captures the imagination and inspires admiration?

For starters, there’s their sheer visual impact. Rising abruptly from the surrounding landscape, buttes command attention with their imposing presence. Whether bathed in the warm glow of the sunrise or silhouetted against the fiery hues of a desert sunset, buttes possess a timeless beauty that speaks to the power of nature.

Each butte is a testament to the forces of erosion and geological upheaval that have shaped the planet over millions of years. From the layers of sediment that tell the tale of ancient seas to the forces of wind and water that continue to shape their contours today, buttes are living relics of Earth’s tumultuous history.

Buttes are also often steeped in cultural significance. From the sacred buttes of the Navajo Nation to the revered landmarks of Australia’s Aboriginal communities, buttes are more than just geological formations; they are living symbols of cultural heritage and identity.

Chimney Rock-Nebraska
Chimney Rock | photo via irena_hradilova

Notable Buttes in the United States

Monument Valley Buttes | Utah/Arizona

These iconic buttes, including the famous “Mittens” and “Totem Pole,” are synonymous with the American West and have been featured in countless photographs, and films like The Searchers, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Stagecoach.

Castle Butte | Montana

Located in the Badlands of eastern Montana less than an hour from Billings, Castle Butte is a prominent landmark with a distinctively rugged appearance, offering panoramic views of the surrounding prairie.

Chimney Rock | Nebraska

Rising nearly 300 feet above the North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock was a prominent landmark for pioneers journeying along the Oregon Trail in the 19th century.

Spider Rock Arizona-
Spider Rock Arizona I photo credit: Qing Ding / Shutterstock

Spider Rock | Arizona

Found in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Spider Rock is a towering sandstone spire rising approximately 750 feet above the canyon floor, steeped in Navajo legend and lore. Legend says the taller of the two spires is the home of Spider Grandmother.

Bear Butte | South Dakota

Considered a sacred site by Native American tribes, including the Lakota, Bear Butte rises over 1,200 feet above the surrounding plains and is a place of pilgrimage and prayer.

Devil’s Tower | Wyoming

Devil’s Tower is an iconic geological formation rising dramatically from the plains at more than 800 and holds cultural significance for several Native American tribes. Devil’s Tower National Monument was established as the nation’s first national in 1906 and was the site of climatic scenes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Cathedral Rock | Utah

Located in the heart of the rugged landscape of Capitol Reef National Park, Cathedral Butte is known for its towering spires and colorful sandstone formations. It’s one of the most photographed sites in Arizona and has a summit elevation of nearly 5,000 feet.

Steamboat Rock Washington
Steamboat Rock Washington I photo credit: tourdottk / Shutterstock

Steamboat Rock | Washington

Situated in the Grand Coulee region of Washington State, Steamboat Rock is a massive basalt butte rising over 800 feet above the surrounding landscape and is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock | Arizona

Located near Sedona, Arizona, Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock are iconic red sandstone formations that attract visitors from around the world for their stunning beauty and spiritual significance. Bell Rock has an elevation of almost 5,000 feet and Courthouse Butte has a summit of nearly 5,500 feet.

Merrick Butte | Utah/Arizona

Another prominent butte in Monument Valley known for its striking profile and appearance in numerous films and advertisements.

Sentinel Butte | North Dakota

A prominent landmark in western North Dakota, Sentinel Butte offers panoramic views of the surrounding prairie and is known for its distinctive flat-topped profile which has an elevation of more than 3,000 feet.

Camelback Mountain | Arizona

While technically not a butte but a mountain with a distinctive camel-like hump, Camelback Mountain is an iconic landmark in the Phoenix metropolitan area and a popular hiking destination.

Saddle Rock | Washington

Found in Wenatchee, Washington, Saddle Rock is a prominent basalt butte offering sweeping views of the Columbia River Valley and the surrounding Cascade Mountains.

Kissing Camels Colorado
Kissing Camels Colorado I photo credit: Infiniumguy / Shutterstock

Kissing Camels | Colorado

Located in the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, the Kissing Camels rock formation consists of two sandstone buttes that resemble the heads of two camels leaning in for a kiss.

Black Butte | California

Situated in the Cascade Range near Mount Shasta, Black Butte is a prominent volcanic cone rising over 6,300 feet above sea level and offering challenging hiking opportunities and stunning vistas.

Sutter Buttes | California

Sutter Buttes, known as the “Smallest Mountain Range in the World,” is a small circular complex of eroded volcanic lava dome. The buttes are a significant spiritual and cultural landmark for the local Native American tribes and also played a role in the California Gold Rush.

Black Butte | Oregon

Black Butte is a prominent volcanic cone in the Cascade Range. The butte is part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc and is a notable feature of the surrounding landscape. It rises to an elevation of approximately 6,436 feet above sea level and is easily recognizable due to its dark color.

Coyote Buttes | Utah, Arizona

This area is renowned for its unique and striking rock formations, including the famous “Wave” sandstone formation. The area also offers other notable formations, such as the “Second Wave,” “The Alcove,” and “Top Rock Arch,” each contributing to the region’s otherworldly beauty.

Visit Magnificent Buttes in the United States

Perhaps what truly sets buttes apart is their ability to inspire a sense of wonder and awe in those who encounter them. Standing in the shadow of a towering butte, it’s impossible not to feel humbled by the sheer scale and grandeur of nature’s creations.

Whether you’re exploring the rugged landscapes of the American West or venturing off the beaten path in search of adventure, you might just find that you, too, like big buttes and cannot lie.