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Frog Lake - Crab Creek - Marsh Loop Trails

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By late spring, this area becomes very hot and dry, yet every valley bottom is covered with lush green vegetation and at least a small body of water --be it a creek, a lake, or a largish bog/mosquito hatchery.

While the small waters are rich with aquatic life, the desert begins 1 or 2 feet above the waterline, with prickly pear cactus, sagebrush, cheatgrass, lots of dusty bare ground, and rattlesnakes. In winter, bitter cold weather settles in, and a cold silence envelops the land--until the birds wake up. Then you'll be blasted awake by the call of the 100,000 ducks and geese that stop in this refuge during the annual migration. Most notable of the migratory birds are the sandhill cranes that stop over in March each year.

Five species of snakes are found within the refuge, including the western rattlesnake, which is fairly common. Visitors should be alert for rattlesnakes but must remember that they, like all other species of wildlife on the refuge, are protected. Rattlesnakes might be found anywhere on the refuge during warm weather but are most abundant in rocky areas and in heavy vegetation.

This trail crosses the creek and, staying left, slowly climbs out of the coulee that harbors Crab Creek. Views across the creek and the mesalike areas across the coulee are grand with billowing sage. White-crowned sparrows and red-winged blackbirds fill the bushes here.

Frog Lake is reached in about 1 mile. The small pond is a pretty little pool supporting a large population of birds and amphibians. Keep going on the trail and loop around a low butte behind the lake--or go off-trail and carefully climb the low butte to enjoy views of the entire refuge. The trail loops around the butte and returns to the trailhead in about 3 miles.

Don't stop there. The 1-mile Crab Creek Trail takes off just to the left of the signposts and follows the west side of the creek. It comes out a mile to the north at a north trailhead access to the same trail. The riparian habitat of the creek hosts hordes of birds and small mammals.

Don't stop yet. The Marsh Loop Trail is another 1-mile loop trail that heads out from the same junction as the Frog Lake Trail once across the creek. This is a nature loop trail and great for wildlife viewing and birding.
Driving Directions:

From Vantage, drive east on Interstate 90; crossing the Columbia River and leaving the freeway at exit 137 (State Route 26). Drive SR 26 for 25.3 miles before turning left onto SR 262 toward Potholes State Park. Continue 17.7 miles from SR 26, and at the far eastern end of the O'Sullivan Dam, turn right into the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge entrance signed for Soda Lake Campground and Othello (this is directly across the road from a massive public fishing boat launch site). Drive into the refuge and continue past the turn to Soda Lake at 1.1 miles. Turn right at 2.2 miles, and at 2.8 miles reach the northern Crab Creek trailhead. At a junction just past the Crab Creek trailhead, keep left on the main road (don't go straight). In another mile (3.9 miles total from the O'Sullivan Road entrance) is the Frog Lake/Marsh Lake trailhead area. The parking area is on the right (west) side of the road, and the trio of trails begins on the east side of the road. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife permit required.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 6 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Frog Lake - Crab Creek - Marsh Loop Trails, Goose Lake Plateau, Crab Creek Wildlife Area — Apr 03, 2014 — C. Hansen
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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I hitched a ride up to the hiking area with my Dad, brother, and nephew who were going to fish Upper...
I hitched a ride up to the hiking area with my Dad, brother, and nephew who were going to fish Upper Goose Lake. My intention was to dayhike the area and perhaps catch a glimpse of some Sandhill Cranes which should be around this time of year.

I helped them launch the boat and then headed up the path heading south from the boat launch. This isn't the TH mentioned in the Goose Lake Plateau hike... but I figure it's close enough, and I'm heading into the same area.

After hiking about a mile I saw a chance to gain access to the top of the ridge to the east and after a bit of scrambling I found myself on top of the plateau proper. At this point I began to circle back overland to the north for views of the lake from the plateau and also to eventually end up near the Marsh units/Crab Creek TH. I could hear the cranes in the marshes.

Along the plateau I jumped up at least two separate groups of mule deer that were bedded down. Also started to notice some spring wildflowers. Most common were yellow bells, bulbiferous prairie stars, and wooly pod milk vetch.

Navigating through these coulees takes some luck. Usually following an animal track will do the trick. They all eventually lead to the accessible gaps up and down through the basalt walls. This is exactly how I descended from the plateau to the marsh units.

Arriving at the marsh I was sadly surprised to find the marsh units closed to all public access to reduce disturbance to the cranes. Closed until April 15th. Figures. So I walked to the Crab Creek TH across the road and hiked the Crab Creek Trail to the Frog Lake TH. This trail is beginning to become overgrown and as it mostly lies along the creek in the riparian habitat (read: tick friendly) I was very pleased to gain elevation and get away from the water. Ticks are skeevy.

At the Frog Lake TH I left the marshy loop trails climbed the trail to the west directly from the TH to once again reach the plateau. I sat and ate lunch at the top and then continued west/southwest to check out some cool rock formations. In this area I scared up three coyotes. Interestingly they all took off in separate directions once they spied me. I also put on my wind shell as the wind had begun to gust up and was blowing steadily.

At this point I knew I needed to head west to get back on the trail that would return me to the lake to meet my Dad. Blocked by a rock wall that ran towards the north, and by a channel to my south that ran east-west, I picked up an animal trail that led toward where the two came together hoping it'd see me through. Unfortunately, in a sheltered spot windblown tumbleweeds blocked the path several feet deep, and at least 20 to 30 feet across. I flung a few around with my hiking poles but quickly gave up. There was just too many. So now with no choice I headed north along the basalt wall looking for an access point through it.

Eventually I made it through and started across the plateau westward. Shortly after, I spied several mule deer off to my left. They were all head down and grazing. I watched them for a while but it wasn't long until they spotted me and herded up and trotted off.

I continued across the plateau, found the place I had climbed up and climbed back down. I now noticed some of the walls here were dry stacked. I had walked right by them in the morning without noticing. Must've been some ranching done in this area at some point in the past.

It was uneventful hiking back out to the boat launch except I saw three more people coming up the trail.

It was a nice day. Sometimes it seems you could walk forever out here.
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Frog Lake - Crab Creek - Marsh Loop Trails — Mar 11, 2014 — Birdman
Day hike
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Entered the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge just north of Othello and parked at the Frog Lake Loop...
Entered the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge just north of Othello and parked at the Frog Lake Loop trailhead. Climbed up the ridge to the west and cross country hiked to an overlook above Goose Lake, dropped down to the road and then hiked along Crab Creek back to the Frog Lake trailhead. Hiked the loop then cross country explored to the east and north, then south until returning to the trail. Warm day with little wind.Flowers not out yet but saw deer, and thousands of water fowl, heard lots of frogs. The area is really fun to explore-rock formations, pot holes and lakes, you just want to keep going.
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Frog Lake - Crab Creek - Marsh Loop Trails — Mar 24, 2012 — raring2hike
Day hike
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After hiking at Crab Creek Wildlife Area, we drove to the Frog Lake/Crab Creek/Marsh Loop Trails. W...
After hiking at Crab Creek Wildlife Area, we drove to the Frog Lake/Crab Creek/Marsh Loop Trails. We especially enjoyed the 3 mile round trip hike up to the mesa overlook (towards Frog Lake) where we had a panoramic view of the many lakes in the valley below. We were glad to be hiking this region before the ticks, snakes, and heat become a concern though a few weeks later might be ideal when the flowers begin blooming. The interpretive signs placed along the trail were appreciated. We again were hoping to spot some birds, but meadowlarks seemed to be the only ones out and about (besides a few swallows and ducks around the ponds).

Since this area around Othello is famous for their sandhill cranes, after our hike we followed the advice of some birders we met and drove to Scooteney Reservoir to watch the cranes gather to roost for the night. We drove about 9-1/2 miles south of Othello on SR 17, turned right on Coyan Road, and then parked near the earth dam. Several birders were already out on the dam with scopes. Just as predicted, about 1/2 hour before sunset, the cranes began flying in and landing in the fields near the Scooteney Reservoir. It was quite a thrilling experience to watch/hear these birds as they congregated near the dam for the night.


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Frog Lake - Crab Creek - Marsh Loop Trails — Mar 23, 2012 — WaNative
Day hike
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We decided to to a pre-Sandhill Crane Festival outing to the Potholes area. So glad to have gotten i...
We decided to to a pre-Sandhill Crane Festival outing to the Potholes area. So glad to have gotten in and out before the hordes this weekend. Did a couple loops in the Crab Creek area for a total of about 5 miles. Beautiful day!
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Frog Lake - Crab Creek - Marsh Loop Trails — Jun 05, 2010 — JMilwaukee
Day hike
Issues: Overgrown | Mud/Rockslide | Water on trail | Bugs
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We had intended to do a quick overnighter from Crab Creek over to Sand Hallow Lake, but were woefull...
We had intended to do a quick overnighter from Crab Creek over to Sand Hallow Lake, but were woefully unprepared for all of the mosquitos that we'd encounter. In all of my years of hiking, I've never been turned back because of a swarm, but that's what we found waiting for us. We gave up the ghost after only 1.5 miles in, nearly running back to the car to escape the bugs. Piling into the car, we drove the 30 minutes or so to Potholes for some car camping and the kind of relief only 2 cases of beer can provide.

Really, the trail as it reads in the Best Desert hikes of Washington says "Crab Creek" - no where does it say "marsh". In fact, no where is the word "marsh" mentioned until one selects the trail to enter it into the WTA trip reports. Hindsight being 20/20, even I'm pretty confident I would not have willingly hiked a marsh in June. Even after hiking past the marsh and getting into scrub land, the mozzy's were unrelenting, swarming and feasting. We looked like Pigpen from peanuts going in and Chunk from Goonies by the time we gave up. Poor J stopped counting the bites after 100, including some nasties on her fivehead (so many bites, it became too big to be a forehead) and lips. The wind was still and the allergies were so bad, I gave up wiping the tears and snot from my nose.

I would not recommend this hike past April 1.

Still, when we were back at the confines of a state park camp, scratching wounds by a roaring fire with a cold beer in hand, the laughs came fast enough. We all had plenty of fun laughing at each other's swollen, deformed faces...but God, that hike sucked.

More photos and details at http://www.thehostelwitness.com
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Frog Lake - Crab Creek - Marsh Loop Trails — Apr 09, 2010 — Natasha'n'Boris
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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Boris came over to Eastern Washington at the end of a vacation week, bringing Rocky with and leaving...
Boris came over to Eastern Washington at the end of a vacation week, bringing Rocky with and leaving the Bullwinkles in care of the neighbors. Rocky is working on some really old bones, and may be on the last trip riding shotgun with head out of the window and ears flapping in the wind on the way to a trailhead. We didn't get past the first Crab Creek loop as a result - but wouldn't have gotten very far anyway as we spied animal tracks, nests, and listened for birds.

The trailheads are on good gravel road in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, north of Othello and south of Potholes Reservoir and Moses Lake. The Crab Creek loop appears to be ADA accessible, with gravel surface overlaid on the sand in the first part. The trail follows Lower Crab Creek above the marshy borders, with occasional footpaths to the creek, where there are lots of burrows in the sandy banks.

We saw lots of nests, hummingbird nests festooning trees above amazing thickets of golden currant in flower, and blackbird nests in the cattails. There are signs of coyote and deer as well. We heard sandhill cranes calling from the closed unity where they were hiding before leaving to continue their annual migration. Upland game birds - chukar, quail, and pheasant - skeetered among the shrubs and sage.

This would be a great hike for families or for beginner hikers- lots of wildlife and pretty views.
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photo1_large.jpeg
D approaches the Crab Creek trail from the parking lot. Photo by JMilwaukee.
Location
Eastern Washington -- Potholes Region
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge
Statistics
Roundtrip 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain 50 ft
Features
Lakes
Wildflowers/Meadows
Wildlife
User info
National Park/Refuge entry fee required
Guidebooks & Maps
Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Priest Rapids

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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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