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Frenchman Coulee

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On summer weekends, rock climbers flock to the nearby Frenchman Coulee climbing area, drawn to the tall vertical columns of basalt that line the coulee walls. Hikers, who prefer their lands more horizontal than vertical, will also find great enjoyment here.

From the trailhead, the path leads straight up the bottom of the coulee. As you hike, watch the coulee walls for agile rock climbers doing their Spiderman impersonations on the black rock. If no climbers are in evidence, just enjoy the natural spectacle of the coulee. The towering columnar walls frame a valley filled with sage and wildflowers.

At about 2 miles from the trailhead, you'll find yourself near the base of a seasonal waterfall that tumbles into the coulee--during the spring, this is truly a beautiful sight to behold. Flowers dot the entire coulee floor but are more numerous in this well-watered far end of the coulee. Turn around here.
Driving Directions:

From Ellensburg, drive east on Interstate 90 to exit 143. After exiting, turn left under the freeway. At 0.8 mile, turn left onto Vantage Road. Drive 2.7 miles to the parking area on the right (north) side of the road. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife permit required.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 16 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Frenchman Coulee — Jan 19, 2014 — stacij
Day hike
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Even on a foggy winter's day this was a great walk with great views. There are many trails to choos...
Even on a foggy winter's day this was a great walk with great views. There are many trails to choose from, we started at the trail head and took a left at each y, ended up overlooking the Columbia River. Was an easy walk with dogs and kids on the trail. Will be exploring more of this area.
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Frenchman Coulee — May 12, 2013 — Alpine Art
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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This is a hike that brought up memories of a Leonard Cohen song "Suzanne" - in the last verse Cohen ...
This is a hike that brought up memories of a Leonard Cohen song "Suzanne" - in the last verse Cohen writes "She shows you where to look amidst the garbage and the flowers" - a powerful image and one that fits this hike/walk in the desert.

Frenchman Coulee is not a wilderness hike but one that allows one to see the beauty and fragility of our environment. The walk took our group towards the falls on the Coulee wall. The wall opposite the falls is littered with abandoned junk (cars, campers, water heaters) dumped from the Vantage Road. You would think people would have more respect for their home.

That said, the beauty of the hike is the quiet wandering on rocky and sandy road/trail to a falls coming down the Coulee and seeing the small wildlife of ants, lizards (as Paul said 'We're off to see the Lizard of Oz') and hawks. The walk to the falls took about an hour one way with lots of photo stops and lunch at the base of the falls.

The weather was great with a bit of cloud cover and breeze which made the 80 degree day seem quite mild. This is probably not a hike to take in August if you want to avoid heat. But yesterday it was nice to avoid the rain in Seattle and Western Washington.

No problems with the drive from Seattle which took about 3.5 hours with a pit stop at the pass both ways and dinner in Ellensburg - we left Seattle about 8:00 AM and returned home by 8:00 PM.

Asters and Queen Ann Lace were in bloom but will not last long as summer is in full swing in this area of Washington.
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Frenchman Coulee — Apr 21, 2013 — JayW913
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: No water source
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Tremendously gorgeous day out here. And, despite "hike of the week" selection recently, my friend an...
Tremendously gorgeous day out here. And, despite "hike of the week" selection recently, my friend and I had the entire place to ourselves. Lots of rock climbers out on the road in, but we saw three other people in the Coulee all day. If you're looking for solitude, this might be the place.

This is not a tough walk and, despite a small parking area, plenty of room on the shoulders to park. Not an issue.

The wildflowers appear to just be starting in spots, in grand bloom in others. The waterfall was going nicely at the head of the coulee though folks should use caution in trying to get close to it. Aside from slippery rocks, the adjacent walls are primarily loose talus and not an easy scramble. Trail gets more and more sandy as you approach the waterfall, so something else to be aware of.

Several trails in the basin to explore and, face it, tough to get lost in here. Worth the drive down Old Vantage toward the Columbia River Gorge. Several pull-offs with great views and one with a trail down to the riverbank. The wildflowers there are fantastic at the moment there.
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Frenchman Coulee — Apr 12, 2013 — terpene
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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Faced with the snow-clogged trails in the Cascades I decided to try one of WTA's "Hikes of the Week"...
Faced with the snow-clogged trails in the Cascades I decided to try one of WTA's "Hikes of the Week", Frenchman Coulee located just across the Columbia River.

After leaving I-90 I turned off onto Vantage Road for the short but spectacular drive down the rim of the coulee to the tiny parking spot at the trailhead; there's only room for three cars there, but you can park on the side of the seldom-travelled roadway.

The enormous coulee looks rather stark at first glance, especially on a cloudy day. And the wind was howling at the TH, but died down to almost nothing as I hiked up the trail.

As I headed up the trail (actually an old dirt road) toward the big waterfall at the head of the coulee, I began to see lots of wildflowers in bloom. You might not notice them at first as they are small relative to the sagebrush that covers the area. Most would be unfamiliar to those used to hiking the wildflower meadows of the mountains, and some are very small; small, yes, but making up for diminutive size with sheer abundance. Yellow Bells, one of the few species I recognized, are reaching the end of their bloom cycle. But I saw many others that are yet to flower, so the next month or so should be good for wildflower lovers; I recognized some Zigadenus (now Toxicoscordion) species, unidentifiable until they bloom.

For a more interesting hike, I highly recommend wandering off-trail; the most interesting things I saw were during bushwhacking forays, and the open shrub-steppe makes it easy going. And it's pretty much impossible to get lost here if you have eyes.

Unfortunately, the other thing that "grows" in the coulee is garbage. Apparently it's considered great fun to chuck unwanted debris off the roadway far above and watch it crash through this delicate ecosystem. The favorite junk item is tires, and many of these hit the bottom and roll quite a ways into the coulee.

I didn't encounter any other hikers the whole day, so you won't be crowded here!

All in all, though, it was an enjoyable hike and an interesting change from mountain scenery. But if you go, do it during spring as it looks like it will be baking hot during the summer, and there is no shade whatsoever.

BTW, I noticed that some trip reports actually refer to the smaller unnamed coulee on the other side of the road, the one with the big sand dunes, and surely an interesting hike in its own right. According to the USGS topo map (Evergreen Ridge quadrangle), the real Frenchman Coulee is on the same side of the road as the tiny parking area.
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Frenchman Coulee — Apr 09, 2013 — desertappa
Day hike
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Had a great time watching climbers near Agathla Tower and admiring the giant columnar basalts. Then...
Had a great time watching climbers near Agathla Tower and admiring the giant columnar basalts. Then we drove down the road a bit more to the parking pullout and walked over to the sand dunes, they are such fun to play in! We took 5 kids and had a blast running up and down the sand dunes.
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frenchman coulee waterfall david hagen 3.jpg
Frenchmen Coulee Waterfall. Photo by David Hagen.
Location
Eastern Washington -- Wenatchee
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Statistics
Roundtrip 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain 200 ft
Features
Rivers
Waterfalls
Wildflowers/Meadows
User info
Discover Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Moses Lake

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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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47.0258895 -119.9804624
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