Category Archives: Washington

Colville National Forest

Colville National Forest

Washington

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region

1,029,617 acres (954,409 federal/ 75,208 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/colville

Overview

In northeast Washington, Colville National Forest is divided into two sections on either side of the Columbia River.  In the west are the Kettle River Mountains, which are crossed by Sherman Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 20).  To the east, the remote Selkirk Mountains contain the Salmo-Priest Wilderness that spills over into Kaniksu National Forest.  Colville National Forest also borders Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

Highlights

Sherman Pass Scenic Byway, Pewee Falls, Sullivan Lake, Marble Creek Falls, Trout Lake, Kettle Creek National Recreation Trail, Crowell Ridge Trail, Sherman Creek Trail, Grassy Top National Recreation Trail, Brown’s Lake Interpretive Trail, Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

In the Selkirk Mountains east of the Pend Oreille River, the large Sullivan Lake is a scenic spot for boating and camping.  Designated in 1978, the Sullivan Lake National Recreation Trail runs 4.3 miles between the two campgrounds located at either end of the lake.  Colville National Forest is also known for 200-foot-tall Pewee Falls that cascades into the Boundary Dam Reservoir near the Canadian border, but we did not make it up there.

Best Trail

Hoodoo Canyon Trail is 4.8 miles one-way and accessible from two trailheads, one on unpaved Deadman Creek Road and the other at Trout Lake Campground, which is five miles from the Sherman Pass Scenic Byway.  We started out in the rain from our dispersed campsite along Deadman Creek Road and the trail soon made a steep climb through a dense conifer forest.  Eventually the route leveled out and we got our first view of shamrock green Emerald Lake, so we took a well-worn path down to its shoreline.  The trail was officially closed at the 3.2-mile point due to a small landslide (see photo), but it was not hard to navigate past that spot to gain a view of Trout Lake, at which point we turned around.

Watchable Wildlife

The remote Selkirk Mountains represent the sole place south of Canada where there is a herd of mountain caribou.  Grizzly bears, Canadian lynx, mountain lions, and gray wolves also inhabit this wild borderland region.  More common species include mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, beavers, bald eagles, and loons.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The water of Emerald Lake truly lives up to its gem of a name, even on a cloudy day.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Sherman Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 20) is paved, but most the roads we drove through Colville National Forest were unpaved but in very good condition.

Camping

Trout Lake Campground seemed like a nice spot, secluded but only five miles off the Sherman Pass Scenic Byway.  We found many excellent dispersed campsites along the unpaved portions of Deadman Creek Road.

Wilderness Areas

Salmo-Priest Wilderness (also in Kaniksu National Forest)

Related Sites

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (Washington)

Ross Lake National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Nearest National Park

North Cascades

Conifer Tree Species

Douglas-fir, grand fir, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine, western larch, western redcedar

Flowering Tree Species

syringa, quaking aspen, Pacific dogwood, red alder, balsam poplar, dwarf birch, paper birch, Piper’s hawthorn, boxelder, Bebb willow, western mountain-ash, choke cherry, western serviceberry, red alder, mountain alder

Explore More – Who was Andrew Colvile, other than the man that Fort Colville [sic] was misnamed for in 1825?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Overview

Bisecting the two sections of North Cascades National Park in northern Washington is Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  The incredibly scenic Highway 20 (closed seasonally) cuts through the mountains here, less than two hours from Seattle.  The rainshadow effect is readily apparent to anyone who crosses these mountains from the lush west to the arid eastern portion of the state.  Access to the only boat ramp on Ross Lake actually requires a drive through Canada, but you can also pick up a water taxi near Diablo Dam.

Highlights

Diablo Lake Overlook, Gorge Creek Falls, Ross Lake Resort, Sourdough Mountain Trail

Must-Do Activity

If coming from Seattle, start your visit at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center on the scenic North Cascades Highway (20).  Ross Lake National Recreation Area contains three hydroelectric reservoirs, which have an interesting turquoise color due to glacial silt, especially evident at Diablo Lake Overlook.  Nearby, Colonial Creek Campground offers a peaceful forest in which to spend the night and a good jumping off place for a day hike on Thunder Creek or Fourth of July Trails through old-growth forests with colossal mushroom conchs and giant banana slugs.

Best Trail

Summiting Desolation Peak is often found on the bucket lists of the writer Jack Kerouac’s biggest fans, as he did some of his best writing while stationed as a fire lookout here in 1956.  The observation tower is not far from the Canadian border and the trek is a daunting task, typically utilizing a water taxi to cross Ross Lake.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Do not drive past Diablo Lake Overlook, an awe inspiring and usually gusty stop along Highway 20.  The craggy heights of the geologically young mountains surrounding this spectacular reservoir are magnificent to behold, yet forbidding to enter.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The North Cascades Highway (20) is typically closed east of Ross Dam from mid-November through mid-April (or later).  The unpaved road to Thornton Lakes Trailhead is not suitable for trailers.

Camping

Colonial Creek Campground (164 sites) is only one option, additionally there are Newhalem Creek (119 sites), Goodell Creek (22 sites), and Hozomeen (122 sites accessed via a 40-mile gravel road from Hope, British Columbia).  For the full backcountry experience, pick up a free backpacking permit at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, Washington.

Related Sites

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (Washington)

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska-Washington)

Explore More – Only two miles across at its widest point, how long is Ross Lake?

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area

Overview

Stretching nearly one mile (5,223 feet) in length, the Grand Coulee Dam was the first constructed across the mighty Columbia River between 1933 and 1942.  In case you are wondering what a “coulee” is, that is a regional name for a canyon, many of which were carved by the walls of water that scoured this region after Lake Missoula burst through its ice dams periodically 15,000 to 13,000 years ago.  The reservoir created by the dam was named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is why the National Park Service (NPS) manages it as Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

Highlights

Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center, Fort Spokane, St. Paul’s Mission, watersports

Must-Do Activity

The Bureau of Reclamation manages the museum at Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center and a free laser light show is projected on the mile-long dam during the summer months.  Near a major river confluence, Fort Spokane was established in 1880 and now has a one-mile trail explaining its diverse history.  The reservoir submerged the salmon fishing grounds at Kettle Falls that had been used for millennia.  Native Americans still inhabit this region today, as the lake creates a border between the Colville and Spokane Indian Reservations.  Campgrounds and boat launch sites are located all along the narrow lake’s 129-mile length, although some may close due to changing reservoir levels.

Best Trail

A quarter-mile trail with interpretive signs is located at St. Paul’s Mission, one of the oldest churches in Washington state.  Here you will learn about (now submerged) Kettle Falls and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s historic impact on the region.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the time, the Grand Coulee Dam became the largest masonry structure ever built, breaking a record held for 4,700 years by the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/laro/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

The NPS charges a fee at boat launches and you cannot use the America the Beautiful pass.  Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center is free, as are the Keller Ferry and Gifford–Inchelium Ferry that cross the lake.

Road Conditions

There are some unpaved roads, but the designated Scenic Drive follows only paved roads and utilizes two free ferries.

Camping

There are 26 campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis, while sites at a few take reservations.  Boat-in campgrounds and shoreline camping are both free.

Related Sites

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Explore More – During peak construction, how many people were employed at the Grand Coulee Dam?

Olympic National Park

Overview

Rising from the Pacific Ocean to 7,980-foot tall Mount Olympus, western Washington’s Olympic National Park is arguably the most diverse National Park in the entire country.  Originally named as a National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect his namesake Roosevelt elk, the area was almost named Elk National Park when upgraded in 1938. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Ruby Beach, Lake Quinault, Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge

Must-Do Activity

Visitors can explore tidepools at Ruby Beach (pictured in our logo below), soak at a hot springs resort after hiking around Sol Duc Falls, experience sweeping mountain vistas from Hurricane Ridge, and boat across picturesque Lake Crescent.

Best Trail

There are more than 600 miles of trails, but one of the quietest is on the north shore of Lake Quinault and leads to a huge, hollow western redcedar tree.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Discover the moss-draped Hoh Rainforest, which at 160 inches annually experiences the highest rainfall totals in the continental U.S.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but notably the road up to Hurricane Ridge is not open every day of the week in the offseason.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds and four lodges, plus the historic Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926 (and technically outside of the park).

Related Sites

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This design we created to celebrate Olympic National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Although they are shrinking, how many glaciers are found in the Olympic Mountains?

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Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

Overview

As the only National Historical Reserve in the National Park Service (NPS) system, Ebey’s Landing is a unique 17,000-acre site under federal, state, county, town, and private ownership.  Located on Whidbey Island at the entrance to Puget Sound, it is accessible by ferry from the Seattle area and the Olympic Peninsula, or by driving Highway 20 across a bridge from the north (closer to Bellingham).  There are nearly one hundred historical structures protected by the reserve, mostly Victorian houses within Coupeville, Washington.

Highlights

Jacob Ebey House, Davis Blockhouse, Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start your visit is at the Island County Historical Museum (which charges an admission fee) in Coupeville, Washington.  After enjoying the Victorian architecture in town, drive to the Jacob Ebey House, World War II-era Fort Ebey State Park, and Fort Casey State Park where you will find gun emplacements from 1901 and picturesque Admiralty Head Lighthouse. 

Best Trail

Much of Whidbey Island was prairie when it was settled in the 1850s, and remains pastoral, which is great for travelers looking for a glimpse back in time.  Located adjacent to farm fields, Bluff Trail is known for its great views on clear days.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Admiralty Head Lighthouse provides a great photo op in Fort Casey State Park.  Gun emplacements built there became obsolete shortly after their installation due to the rise of the airplane.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ebla/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None except at the 3 State Parks and Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville, Washington

Road Conditions

The main roads are all paved and any gravel roads are well-maintained.

Camping

Both Fort Casey State Park and Fort Ebey State Park have campgrounds, and the latter provides shower facilities.

Related Sites

San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska-Washington)

Explore More – How many islands are there in Puget Sound (with the largest being Whidbey Island)?