Formerly the Frog Lake Trail, this area is breathtakingly scenic, compensating for the fact that there is no actual lake en route. Frog Lake dried up years ago, leaving a seasonal marsh that occupies a small basin below the trail's ultimate destination; a broad mesa with a 360 degree view of the surrounding scablands of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.
A signboard at the trailhead shows a map depicting the Frog Lake Trail as a lollipop loop, confusingly labeled as "Rimrock Trail." Further on, all markers mention the "Frog Lake Trail" name. Other signs at the trailhead offer quick info about heat, carrying drinking water, and the presence of rattlesnakes.
Start the Frog Lake Trail by heading straight beyond the signs to a junction with the Crab Creek Trail. Proceed straight and downhill, crossing an earthen dam overgrown with marsh grasses that are home to countless ticks in spring months. This and many other regional wetlands are fed by seepage from the greater Columbia Basin Project.
Turn left at a junction with the Marsh Loop Trail. The Frog Lake Trail then gently gains a rise, trading the grassy marshland for sagebrush covered hillsides. Cross an old bridge at a half mile where magpies flit about the shrubs. New interpretive signs explain the ecology and geology of the region, while primitive signs of coyote decorate the trail's margins.
Soon the view over intermittent Frog Lake opens on the left. The basin narrows into a shallow coulee between basalt cliffs and reaches another junction at 1.0 mile. Turn right, following the cliff bands along a rocky rim that looks back upon the trail and over Frog Lake.
The trail continues to gain a bench, making a beeline for the only cleft in the cliff band forming the top mesa. A switchback delivers the hiker to the mesa rim at 1.2 miles. Proceed in either direction; the mesa is a 0.6 mile loop that rejoins itself here at this junction.
The mesa affords a stunning view over the vast expanse of the region. To the north lies the Potholes Reservoir with its frozen dunescape and wide lake. Nearer is the textured wasteland of cliff bands broken by shaded coulees that are dotted with deep blue gems, contradicting their harsh surrounding landforms.
Everything in sight is home to upwards of 225 bird species; a key resting spot along the great Pacific Flyway between Alaska and Patagonia. Waterfowl dominate the skies seasonally, but the area is most famous for sandhill cranes, which arrive in the springtime and create a symphony of calls that can be heard from miles away.
Atop the mesa, the hiker feels that they are circumnavigating an island in the sky. The rim is guarded by nearly contiguous cliff bands of columnar basalt, vaguely resembling the remote summit of Devils Tower. The landscapes beyond betray the action of lava flows and glacial erosion. Imagine standing on this island in prehistoric times when an inland sea emptied and flooded the entire region, scouring the surface in one epic sweep.
Rejoin the homeward trail at 1.8 miles and retrace your steps back through the ancient channels that were carved into this landscape not so long ago. Marvel at the forces of vulcanism and ancient floods that created the stark scablands around you. How ironic it is that these violent forces set the stage for a world-class agricultural region.