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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 — Jan 18, 2014 — Luna
Day hike
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What a perfect hike. Cold, but not too cold. Cloudy, but not too cloudy. A gorgeous desert hi...

What a perfect hike. Cold, but not too cold. Cloudy, but not too cloudy.

A gorgeous desert hike, and well worth the drive out from Seattle. Not a difficult trail, so it would be great for kids and/or those new to hiking.

A change of scenery is good for the soul.

Words just don't do it justice. So here are some pics.
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Ancient Lakes — Nov 16, 2013 — Eastside Anne
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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Ancient Lakes… just the name of the place grabbed me. Again, my hiking buddy has been urging a hi...
Ancient Lakes… just the name of the place grabbed me. Again, my hiking buddy has been urging a hike out here, so with all 3 dogs in tow, off we left from Spokane. When we got to the trailhead, we were a little surprised to see about 10 vehicles, a small troop of Yakima Boy Scouts, and 3 hunters. We figured that the forecast beautiful day must have brought folks into this carved-out pothole coulee for a last chance snow-free/frost-free hike, or maybe they just came to soak in the sun and stretch the legs a bit as we did… and to touch down on some really cool geology!
We took the first left (north) off the trail, wandered beneath the seasonal waterfall, passed by a Boy Scout encampment next to the infamous toppled basalt boulder, and headed towards the first lake. I was struck by the impressive strand lines left on the longitudinal bar on the north side of the lake… Wow, this is almost as good as the Missoula Flood Lake strand lines in Missoula! Line after line, each recording the ups and downs reflecting the water levels here. Hmmm, we speculated that the lake levels varied due to periodic Columbia River ice age flood/damming events.
We climbed up the hill above the big waterfall (very nice), then circled down and decided we wanted to go see Dusty Lake, which is a divide southward in a separate coulee. I guess we didn’t read the trail description very closely in our guide book, but then, sometimes we find that there are ways to get to places off the guide-book grid. We had a quick lunch on a gravel bar, entrenched in strand lines, with a nice view to a little ancient lake. Then we made the decision… let’s go for the unknown route to Dusty Lake up and over the ridge.

There is a nice trail carved into the basalt scree (see attached photo). It heads upwards quickly and offers great views back towards the lakes and the pothole coulee. We made it to the ridge top, and then, the trail ended. My buddy thought she saw a way down, and scrambled down the loose shale-shaped basalt for a bit while I waited on top with the cliff-edge peering dogs. We decided this wasn’t a good choice since neither of us had life-flight memberships, so we called it good and took the south route back.
The sun was starting to set as we made the trek back thru big sagebrush and boulders, pausing now and then to look at pillow structures in the flows and fun little hangouts perched above the coulee bottom. We saw evidence of coyotes and a number of birds that were darting in and around the cliffs above. Unfortunately this portion of the trail is loaded with Russian thistle. Perhaps this is why there are multiple parallel trails heading back along this stretch.

When we got back to the trailhead 6 miles and about 5 hours later, most of the cars were gone, and so was the sun. But never fear! We made it back to Spokane after witnessing a transformer exploding in Ephrata that shut off the grid for miles around on Highway 2. But hey, it just makes the night landscape more scenic when the lights are out. Happy Trails and Tales!
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Ancient Lakes — Jun 21, 2013 — sarahiker
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns | Overgrown | Mud/Rockslide
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There are several trails here so make sure you pay attention to where you are going. Also, there are...
There are several trails here so make sure you pay attention to where you are going. Also, there are several lakes here so keep going to get to the one with the waterfall. We had the lake to ourselves so we got a great view of the waterfall, although blowdowns made it impossible ( at least for us) to actually get to the waterfall. We saw one brown snake by the water, but no rattlers.
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Ancient Lakes — May 27, 2013 — Zachariah Bryan
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Bugs | No water source
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A drizzly but nice day hike out to the Ancient Lakes. Great for birdwatching. We saw magpies, red-wi...
A drizzly but nice day hike out to the Ancient Lakes. Great for birdwatching. We saw magpies, red-winged blackbirds, quails, hawks, ravens, and what appeared to be a whooping crane -- a rare sight in Washington by the sounds of it.

In the distance we could hear a couple of louder songs from the nearby Sasquatch Festival, but otherwise all that could be heard were the sounds of water, birds and our own footsteps. In the bowl of basalt cliffs that encapsulate the Ancient Lakes, you won't hear any of the contraptions of civilization.

By the lakes, there was some unnecessary and unburnable trash in the firepits. Just a reminder to please respect nature and clean up after yourselves.

Wildflowers were a bit sparse, but there is still plenty of color in the valley.

I imagine this would be a perfect place to camp on a lazy sunny summer day.

All in all, a wonderful trip.
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Ancient Lakes — May 26, 2013 — wendiwoo22
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Bugs
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Headed out to Ancient lakes for a few nights for memorial day weekend bc the weather west of the cas...
Headed out to Ancient lakes for a few nights for memorial day weekend bc the weather west of the cascades was poor, and we desired sunshine for our long weekend.
Easy hike on the way in. We ended up setting up camp at dusty lake in the hopes that less people would be there. On our first night there was only one other group of 3 people but as the weekend drew on several groups ended up walking in and out of our site looking for a place to set up camp. One group was a group of about 14 college age kids that were loud well into the night. If you're looking for solitude this isn't the place to go. On the way out the parking lot was an absolute zoo and there were an additional 6 groups all looking like they were planning on staying a night or 2.
As mentioned by a few people before, there is a good amount of trash in this area and it could definitely benefit from a WTA clean up or something or the sort.
The water quality is questionable not due to any organic matter that I would worry about being in either dusty or ancient lakes but because of the pesticides that are likely in the farm run off. We had to end up treating and drinking the water on our last day with no problems but I would advise against it if you can take your own water in.
If you plan on staying out at dusty I would also advise that you check the concert schedule of the gorge amphitheater. At night we could hear some of the louder songs being played at the sasquatch festival. It didn't bother us too much but if you're looking for total silence I would definitely look into that before leaving.

Overall we had a nice time, the nights were cool and full of owls hooting and the days were sunny and warm. Lots of birds in this area, makes for great bird watching.
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ancient lakes.jpeg
Birds and wildlife abound in the Ancient Lakes basin. Photo by Kim Brown.
Eastern Washington -- Wenatchee
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Roundtrip 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain 10 ft
Highest Point 860 ft
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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