This trail is short and steep with great views. The rocky, arid climate of eastern Washington is on full display as this crumbly-at-times trail snakes up through cliff bands and rock gardens.
Alta Lake State Park was originally a gift from a local benefactor to the town of Pateros. Recreation is generally water based with good fishing. This short trail gains a quick 700 feet in under a mile on reasonably good tread. The terrain is steep though and some cutting of switchbacks has led to erosion problems near the top.
The trail is obvious at the start as it winds through immense bitter brush bushes and the occasional big leaf sage overhead. This mature shrub-steppe community will continue throughout the hike blending in more and more ponderosa and bunch grasses the higher you get. After a tenth of a mile or so a well graded gravel road is crossed that loops the state park. At this point the terrain steepens and the trail gets a little more serious. Originally built for stock, the trail is stout, though time has taken its toll on the corners.
Another quarter mile up and hikers will pass a cliff band that has crumpled into a rustic rock garden. Skillfully the trail winds tightly through this cluster before returning to grassy hillside switchbacks. One long steady traverse toward the north takes the trail to a final push through an eroded cliff band.
The summit of this rocky knoll has expansive views. Dyer Hill’s flat basalt flows to the east, Arbuckle Mountain and Alta Coulee define a rugged landscape gouged out by ice-age floods due south. The springtime flower show is early and spectacular here, the summer can be deathly hot.