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Columbia National Wildlife Refuge - Crab Creek

Central Washington

Explore the desert of eastern Washington at this National Wildlife Refuge. Continue reading


Central Washington -- Tri-Cities
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2.6 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 40 ft.
Highest Point: 870 ft.


3.20 out of 5

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  • Mountain views
  • Wildlife
  • Lakes
  • Rivers

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


The Crab Creek Trail is a short but scenic hike among the rocks and reeds of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. Offering grand views of basalt cliffs above seasonal lakes, along with myriad bird species, the reward here for your effort is high. The patient hiker will be able to hear many bird songs, and may even spot a coyote or other wildlife.

The trail starts at the basalt pillar and an excellent sign board with a detailed map of the trail network. Follow the signs for Crab Creek Trail, heading to the left just past the pillar. The path immediately enters sagebrush and tall grass, home to many of the small birds that can be heard. Early spring is a great season to listen for birds, while rattlesnakes are still out of sight.

The path follows along the edge of a bank that overlooks the dammed water of Crab Creek. Songbirds can now be heard as a full choir of delightful chirps, whistles, and whoops. The chorus creates a soundtrack for the landscape, and brings a delightful softness to the hardness of the rocks and the sky.

At 0.4 mile is a short side trail that heads left to an impressive crater. This curious formation fits perfectly into an already bizarre, inhospitable landscape. The round trip to the crater and back adds just 0.2 miles to the total mileage, and is well worth the extra effort. This may also make a good turnaround point for those who feels content with a 1.0 mile round trip hike.

Back at the junction, the main trail now heads down a crumbling staircase made of railroad ties into the lower basin. The nearby vegetation here is a profusion of head high riparian grasses competing for real estate in the soggy valley bottom. The trail is literally a lane cut into the grass, and meanders gently, avoiding the muddiest dips along the way.

At 0.8 mile the path diverges in a brambled wood. Both lanes are short, but the righthand option has a sign commemorating the 2003 fire. This lane also offers a view of a small waterfall spilling into Crab Creek. The two lanes soon converge back into one path heading toward a series of cliffs where raptors often spiral high on morning thermals against the deep blue sky.

After nearing the main road, the path heads away from the cliffs, crosses a weathered bridge, and ends at the northern trailhead at 1.3 mile. A sign across the road marks the end of pedestrian territory, as the wetlands beyond are closed to preserve sand hill crane habitat. If coming from Moses Lake, it makes sense to start here and do this hike in reverse.

Hike by WTA Correspondents
Wes Partch

Columbia National Wildlife Refuge - Crab Creek

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.9495, -119.2557 Open in Google Maps


Central Washington -- Tri-Cities

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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Guidebooks & Maps

Best Desert Hikes Washington (Bauer and Nelson - Mountaineers Books)

USGS Corfu

USGS Soda Lake

Getting There

From Moses Lake, head south on SR 17 for 2 miles and turn right onto Road M SE. Proceed south for 6.4 miles, then turn right onto SR 262. After 2.3 miles, turn left at the Columbia NWR sign post, onto Soda Lake Road, directly across from the large boat launch on the Potholes Reservoir.

Proceed south for 2.2 miles, then turn right at the junction onto Upper Goose Lake Access Road. Bear left at 0.2 miles and then turn left after a further 0.5 mile onto S. Morgan Lake Road.

The parking lot is on the right (west) side after a final 1.0 mile, 15 total miles from Moses Lake. Space for a dozen vehicles. Trail starts at the basalt pillar on the opposite (east) side of the road. No facilities available.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


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Columbia National Wildlife Refuge - Crab Creek

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