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Ancient Lakes

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This route through part of the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area offers something you seldom find in the desert: a waterfall. But not just any waterfall; here you'll find a waterfall plunging into a lake. Did I mention this watery world is in the desert?

Well it is--a quick glance at the areas around the lake reveals that. Prickly hedgehog cactus dot the slopes around the trail as does an array of desert wildflowers. In the heart of this 15,266-acre wildlife area, you'll find sparkling potholes surrounded by massive basalt cliffs. The geological wonders are a product of the erosion of lava flows by ancient glacial floodwaters. The many layers of basalt are exposed, and several of the potholes are filled with water that has seeped from the irrigation systems that feed the Quincy basin farmlands upslope. These wetlands, ponds, and lakes have added important habitat diversity to this area. Ancient Lake is one such set of numerous "filled potholes" that dot this coulee.

Start hiking down the old jeep road that rolls on past the gates at the road's end. Through the first mile or so of the track, keep an eye on the brush--upland game birds abound here, with quail, Hungarian partridge, and even a few chukar living among the rocks and sage.

This is a rich historical area, as evidenced by the archeological dig occurring just 0.25 mile from the trailhead (the bone hunters were excavating a giant ground sloth). At 0.7 mile, leave the jeep track and head east (left) on a single-track trail as it angles up into the heart of a vast coulee that contains the Ancient Lake potholes. Come spring, wildflowers begin to wake up. By late May, the floor of the coulee is covered with flowering plants. Above the trail, the coulee's vertical basalt walls are startlingly colorful (russet reds mixed with the blues and blacks common to all basalt). At about 2 miles in, you'll reach the lake basin. Silvery gray cottonwood snags line portions of the lakeshore, and waterfowl frequently feed in the lake. Explore the lake basin--a deep bowl ringed with black basalt cliffs--before heading back down the coulee.
Driving Directions:

From Ellensburg, drive east on Interstate 90 to exit 149 for George. After exiting, turn left and drive north on State Route 281 toward Quincy. After 5.6 miles turn left onto White Trail Road. Continue 7.8 miles on White Trail Road, then turn left onto Road 9-NW. Continue 5.9 miles on this road (pavement ends at 2.0 miles) as it winds steeply down onto Babcock Bench to the road's end. Seven to eight vehicles can park here. Do not block the gate or the road on the right (marked with a "Snake X-ing" sign): This is a private driveway and not open to the public. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife permit required.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 81 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Ancient Lakes — Apr 06, 2014 — raring2hike
Day hike
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This was our fourth and final hike on our weekend trip east over Stevens Pass. We stayed in a motel...
This was our fourth and final hike on our weekend trip east over Stevens Pass. We stayed in a motel Saturday night in Quincy so we could hit the trail early in the morning. We arrived at the trailhead before 8am. We were hoping to see some birds and we were not disappointed. On the drive in we saw turkey, pheasant, and quail, then along the trail we heard several different birds and were able to identify a few Meadowlarks and water fowl.

We followed the wide jeep road to the lakes then on the way back followed a trail closer to the cliffs. There are many trails and we concluded it didn't really matter which one you take, they all lead towards the lakes. The trail closer to the coulee's north wall passes a waterfall and a huge boulder which added variety to the landscape dominated by sage brush. Once we arrived at the lakes, we followed various trails up and down hillsides, around lakes, and finally over towards the final waterfall on the most eastern side of the last lake.

The entire landscape was dotted with tents, most of whom were breaking camp by the time we arrived. As we were heading out mid-morning, we passed many more groups hiking in as well as people on bikes and some on horses.

The trail was very dusty. We spotted only one blooming flower, some sort of yellow daisy. We thought we might head over to Dusty Lake afterwards since the guide book indicated the Ancient Lake hike was only about 4 miles round-trip, but we discovered there were plenty of things to see and meander about in the Ancient Lakes coulee so we left Dusty Lake area for another visit.
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Ancient Lakes — Apr 05, 2014 — Medusa La Stone
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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It was a warm and clear day to venture out into the desert... I should have done an overnight! Trail...
It was a warm and clear day to venture out into the desert... I should have done an overnight! Trail is an easy meander up to the coulee, many people had pitched tents along the 4 lakes. Hiked up to the main water fall and then above it for some great views! Flowers were in bloom and sage was ripe for harvest. ^_^
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Ancient Lakes — Mar 30, 2014 — Nathaniel
Day hike
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When Western Washington weather is looking bad... you either stay home... or go East! We are really ...
When Western Washington weather is looking bad... you either stay home... or go East! We are really glad we decided to test out the forecast at Ancient Lakes as the weather was absolutely perfect.

Started at the Judith Pool trailhead. Trail is in good condition, nothing worth mentioning. I am happy that there didn't seem to be any fresh graffiti since the last time I ventured out there. There are many birds singing their songs, but most of the vegetation is in the early days of turning green once again.
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Ancient Lakes — Feb 16, 2014 — Blackrock
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Awesome day, mild wind, sunny, snow on ground but it warmed up and melted off.....
Awesome day, mild wind, sunny, snow on ground but it warmed up and melted off..
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Ancient Lakes — Feb 14, 2014 — Loren Drummond
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes | Water on trail
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We lucked into some great weather and sunshine on this Friday afternoon hike. Spent about two hours ...
We lucked into some great weather and sunshine on this Friday afternoon hike. Spent about two hours rambling the trails and soaking up the beauty of this area around the Columbia just outside of Quincy and George. We had views of cloud drama on the west side of the river, and the towering bluffs to the east. Awesome geology.

It had rained heavily the night before so the trails were a little bit muddy and wide, but otherwise in great shape. The rain seemed to bring out the scent of the sagebrush.

We were the only car in the parking lot, so we had the whole place to ourselves, if you don't count a few raucous crows. . Can't wait to come back and explore more, maybe pitch a tent for the night.
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ancient lakes.jpeg
Birds and wildlife abound in the Ancient Lakes basin. Photo by Kim Brown.
Location
Eastern Washington -- Wenatchee
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Statistics
Roundtrip 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain 10 ft
Highest Point 860 ft
Features
Waterfalls
Wildflowers/Meadows
Wildlife
User info
Good for kids
May encounter mountains bikes
Discover Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Moses Lake
USGS Babcock Ridge

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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