Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway Trip Planner

Dry Falls of the Grand Coulee
© Angela M. Brown (2009)

The 150-mile Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway runs from Othello north to Omak, following Washington State Highways 17 and 155. Along the way there are numerous places to stop, making it a driving tour that you can enjoy for a day, or for several days. The scenery along the route is both magnificent and unique. The landscape was carved by the ice age floods that emptied Glacial Lake Missoula not just once but multiple times.

The ice age floods gouged channels into much of central and eastern Washington state; geologists refer to this unique region as the "channeled scablands." The sudden floods scoured the land, leaving exposed basalt columns, drilling out potholes, dropping glacial erratics, and carving deep flow channels, locally referred to as "coulees," as evidence. These massive floods occurred around 13,000 years ago; you'll learn much about this geology at the scenic overlooks and visitor centers along the byway.

The Coulee Corridor is an important birding trail, making it popular with birders and wildlife fans. Bald eagles, sandhill cranes, and myriad ducks and hawks can be observed at different times throughout the year.

This sparsely populated and arid region is also home to one of the man-made wonders of the world, Grand Coulee Dam.

Here are my recommendations for fun things to see and do along the Coulee Corridor, from Othello in the south and proceeding northward.

Columbia National Wildlife Refuge
A short side trip off of Highway 17, this wildlife refuge provides habitat for migrating waterfowl, beavers, deer, turtles, and more. The refuge lies within a geologic area known as the Drumheller Channels, a deeply eroded section of the channeled scablands that, when combined with the water rerouting of modern irrigation activity, has created a unique combination of wet and dry ecosystems.

You can experience the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge on one of their interpretive trails or on a driving tour.

Potholes State Park
Like the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Potholes State Park is located a few miles off of the primary Coulee Corridor route. Situated at the Potholes Reservoir, this state park offers picnicking, boating, camping, water sports, fishing, and bird watching.

Moses Lake
Moses Lake is the largest town along the Coulee Corridor, offering chain and locally-owned restaurants and lodgings. The lake itself is a popular playground for water sports of all kinds, including water skiing, fishing, and jet skiing. Several parks, golf courses, and sports fields provide more opportunity for fun in Moses Lake.

Glacial Erratics
When glacier activity deposits non-native rocks and boulders on the landscape, these rocks are referred to as "glacial erratics." The fields along Highway 155 around the town of Ephrata are littered with glacial erratics. You'll see them as you drive. These glacial erratics are one more piece of evidence of the ice age floods that shaped the region.

Ephrata
Ephrata is another center of population and services located along the Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway.

Local attractions include the Grant County Historical Museum & Village and the Splashzone! community pool.

Soap Lake
The small town of Soap Lake revolves around the mineral-rich mud and waters that are supposed to have health benefits. In the early twentieth century, people flocked to Soap Lake in search of a cure. Today, local day spas offer mud wraps and mineral baths. Soap Lake is also a place to take advantage of such services as restaurants and gas stations.

The Grand Coulee
From Soap Lake north to Grand Coulee dam, Highway 155 follows the geological wonder known as the Grand Coulee. As you drive you'll take in about 50 miles of amazing canyons and rock formations, as well as numerous lakes. Along the way there are numerous scenic overlooks and state parks where you can stop and savor the stunning view, imagining the scope and power of the flood waters that carved out this massive coulee.

Lake Lenore Caves
The caves and cliff overhangs around Lake Lenore are yet another legacy of the great Glacial Lake Missoula floods. The area around Lake Lenore and nearby Alkali Lakes are hotspots for wildlife viewing. Located approximately 8 miles north of Ephrata, local signs will lead you to the trailhead, where you can park and hike to check out several of these caves.

Sun Lakes - Dry Falls State Park
Located below Dry Falls, which marks the divide between the Upper and Lower Grand Coulee, these lakes are a popular place for camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, paddling, and other water recreation. A private resort, Sun Lakes Park Resort, lies within the boundaries of the state park but is a separate facility from the state park campground, picnic, and boat launch area. Reservations highly recommended.

Dry Falls Visitor Center
As the name suggests, the Dry Falls are the site of a former waterfall. A massive waterfall that was four times larger than Niagara Falls and that existed only following an ice age flood event. Now the Dry Falls are waterless, a dry cliff that is 400 feet high and 3.5 miles wide. Be sure to stop to take in the view of Dry Falls from its sheltered interpretive view point as well as to visit the Dry Falls Visitor Center, where you can learn much more about Glacial Lake Missoula and the ice age floods.

Banks Lake and Steamboat Rock State Park
Steamboat Rock State Park lies at the north end of Banks Lake, a popular birding, fishing, and boating spot. The park takes its name from the huge basalt rock butte that appears to be an island but is actually located on a peninsula. The park offers miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding as well as campgrounds and day use areas.

Grand Coulee Dam
You should take advantage of at least these three unique ways to experience Grand Coulee Dam, the great feat of engineering that brought irrigation to an arid desert landscape. You stop at the viewpoint located above the massive structure to take in panoramic views of the dam, Banks Lake, and the surrounding country. Within the town of Grand Coulee you'll find the official Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Arrival Center and adjacent park. Guided tours are available and start at the side of the dam opposite the visitor center.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
A huge reservoir of the Columbia River created by Grand Coulee Dam, Lake Roosevelt sprawls over 125 miles. All this shoreline makes the reservoir popular for all kinds of outdoor recreation from camping and swimming to paddling and wildlife watching. Lake Roosevelt is a popular houseboating destination. History attractions within this national recreation include the Fort Spokane Visitor Center and St. Paul's Mission.

Chief Joseph Memorial Site
The length of the Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway north of Grand Coulee Dam up to Omak passes through the Colville Reservation. Chief Joseph, leader of the Wallowa band of Nez Perce that attempted to flee to Canada, lived that last years of his life at the Colville Reservation. His grave is located in a cemetery in the small town of Nespelum; a historic marker is located at a bend in Highway 155 as it passes through town.

Omak
The small town of Omak is best known for its annual Omak Stampede and Suicide Race, an event that includes a rodeo, parade, a pow wow, and dance. Omak offers a range of restaurants and lodgings and is also a gateway to all the recreation found in the Okanogan National Forest.