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Hiking Coulee Country: Big Skies, Early Spring

In spring, Central Washington's dramatic shrub steppe, broken up by pothole lakes and soaring basalt cliffs, offers hikers a warm, bright landscape to stretch their legs. You've probably heard of the iconic coulee hike - Ancient Lakes. But did you know Washington has loads of other trails in the same sort of scenery? Find your next favorite one on this list, or use our Hike Finder Map.

In spring, Central Washington's dramatic shrub steppe, broken up by pothole lakes and soaring basalt cliffs, offers hikers a warm, bright alternative to the snow and rain of the high country in the Cascades and Olympics.

A region unlike any in the world, this area will surprise you with its abundant, diverse and colorful wildflowers; lakes, ponds and marshes full of birdsong; sweeping vistas of mountains and rolling hills; intimate canyons with steep basalt cliffs; and the mighty Columbia River flowing down the middle. 

Tips for hiking in coulee country:

You've probably heard of Washington's iconic coulee hike: Ancient Lakes. But there are loads of other trails in the same landscape waiting for you to visit. Find your next favorite one on this list, or use our Hike Finder Map. 


Billy Clapp Lake

Location: Central Washington — Potholes Region 
Length: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 400 feet 

Billy Clapp Lake in the background. Photo by Bob and Barb.
Billy Clapp Lake. Photo by Bob and Barb. 

Walk near the shore of this lake that sits in the bottom of a coulee and take in the scenery of narrowing canyons blanketed with sagebrush and wildflowers. Water in a desert ecosystem is something of a treasure and this lake is no different. Wildlife know the importance of water so you are likely to see mule deer and several species of bird hanging around.  

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park

Location: Central Washington — Grand Coulee
Length: varies
Elevation Gain: varies

The closer you get to Umatilla Rock, the larger you realize it is. Photo by caitoh234.

Sun Lakes - Dry Falls State Park has a variety of hiking experiences on offer. You can visit the striking basalt tower of Umatilla Rock (pictured above) for a 5-mile hike with 100 feet of elevation gain. Or, opt for the 6-mile Park Lake Side Canyon which follows an old roadbed now full of sagebrush and wildflowers.

In addition to these and other hikes, this state park offers magnificent views, abundant lakeside picnic spots (be prepared for bugs) and an interpretive center.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

> Learn more about the state park amenities and campground


potholes wildlife area

Location: Central Washington — Potholes Region 
Length: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,050 feet

Potholes Wildlife Area. Photo by redfisher80.
Potholes Wildlife Area. Photo by redfisher80. 

Wander through the varied landscapes of this wildlife area. You will be sure to see sand dunes, rolling hills, and many small lakes that give this area its name. The flora and fauna here are also a special treat with wildflowers mixed in among the sage brush and migratory birds stopping over on their long flights. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 


Moses Coulee Preserve

Location: Central Washington — Grand Coulee
Length: 4.0 miles, roundtrip

Clouds over Jameson Lake. Photo by David Hagen.

At Moses Coulee, you'll find the best of this country: steep basalt cliffs, potholes, erratic boulders and a landscape of shrub steppe alive with wildflowers, grasses and wildlife. One highlight of the area is that the preserve is home to 14 of 15 Washington's native bat species.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Crab Creek Wildlife Area

Location: Central Washington — Tri-Cities Area
Length: 2.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 40 feet

Crab Creek Wildlife Area. Photo by Lucy.
Crab Creek Wildlife Area. Photo by Lucy.

Broad, rolling sand dunes, emerald-green lakes, a wide, gurgling blue creek, and towering mountains await you in the 17,000 acres of the Crab Creek Wildlife Area. The longest creek in Washington, this area is home to a variety of protected wildlife, a respite from the sloppy spring slopes west of the Cascades.

Large flocks of migrating sandhill cranes use this area during their migration.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Lake Lenore Caves

Location: Central Washington — Grand Coulee
Length: 1.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet

Lake Lenore Caves. Photo by Heffa.

A scenic drive along the Lower Grand Coulee between Soap Lake and Sun Lakes State Park, a short hike and some awesome geology make a trip to Lenore Lake Caves worth it any time of year, in all kinds of weather.

The Lenore Lakes caves dot a basalt wall created during the massive floods of the Ice Age. A fun, short hike allows hikers to visit six or seven of these caves, which also feature petroglyphs.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Steamboat Rock

Location: Central Washington — Grand Coulee
Length: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 650 feet

A spring-green view from the top of Steamboat Rock in May. Photo by Gerad.

Visit Steamboat Rock in spring, before temperatures rise and wildflowers fade. Follow the steep climb to the top of Steamboat Rock and ramble the butte for dramatic views of Banks Lake and the wide sweep of coulee country. Wildflowers and camping options at Steamboat Rock State Park sweeten the deal. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide