Dry Falls


Why? Great geologic area

Season: Pretty much year round

Ease: Easy and moderate, depending on which hike you do.

Dry Falls blows me away. Trying to imagine it with 800 feet of water pouring over the top is beyond my capabilities, even with the pictures at the overlook as inspiration. The canyon that it carved is more than 20 miles long, to the south, and now is full of lakes. =2Luckily, an imagination isn’t necessary for enjoyment of the trails in Sun Lakes State Park, at its foot, nor do you have to walk a 20-mile canyon.

There are several trails at Dry Falls. The first I hiked starts just off the road that heads to Dry Falls Lake. It doesn’t really follow a trail, though it begins on a double track that looked like it had possibilities. Since the track soon fades, it’s a good thing that it works to more or less follow whatever other track appears as long as it’s parallel to Umatilla Rock, the vertical slab of basalt that sits just southeast of that lake and on your left.

There’s a gap in Umatilla, and as you reach it, you’ll see a well-defined trail heading up to it. If you hike up to the gap, you’ll be rewarded with a fine view of Dry Falls Lake and a quick route down to the road to the lake. Following that route would make for a nice 2½ mile, + a bit, loop hike back to where you started.

But if you don’t want to hike uphill, keep going straight instead. Head toward the end of Umatilla Rock, then go left at its end, for a different overlook of Dry Falls Lake. Both view spots also are close to the basalt cliffs that some of the water poured over to create the canyon you’re walking in and the hole that’s now the lake.

From the overlook, I headed left and around the end of the cliff in order to see the red and green alkali likes, though the former is more brown than anything else.

A second hike is to Deep Lake and around and above a part of it. Unfortunately, this hike usually starts and ends with a couple miles of road walking on the road to the lake, which is gated from the end of September until the fishing season starts the last Saturday in April.

Not that the area the road traverses is without interest. There’s a burned field, with remnants of cement and rock cellars. There’s knowing you’re walking where all that water poured through all those years ago. There’s just getting more exercise.
Although the closed road means there’s essentially no one else at the lake but you, that 4 miles makes it a rather long day if you want to try to hike around the lake, assuming that’s really possible.

At the lake, a path or trail heads around its right side. I’m not sure just how far it goes, though I’m told it’s possible to circumnavigate the lake. However, the trail information provided by the park suggests it’s only 1 mile or so long.

I walked for maybe 45 minutes, starting at lakeside and level and ending on a flat area that was part way up the basalt cliff. The transition was short and steep, preceded by several short sections of trail that were right on the edge. I was rewarded with views of the end of the lake complete with reflections of the cliffs. The deep color of the lake is stunning, and there’s a cave or indent in the cliffs.

A third hike is out of the campground and an alternate route to the place where the first hike starts. It’s a nice walk through sagebrush country that also wanders along a creek, crosses a creek on thoughtfully arranged rocks, and passes a lake that otherwise is not visible. It’s a good before breakfast or after dinner leg stretcher, if naught else.

For the sake of completeness, there’s also a trail I haven’t hiked, along Park Lake south of the camping and picnic area.

Trail Notes for the third hike: The trail starts behind the office at the Park Lake end of the campground and is marked with yellow bands on utility poles or fence post poles. It crosses a service road, after which it takes a hard right. When you reach the road to Dry Falls, turn right and find the end of the service road. If you return to the campground that way you pass that lake.

Directions: Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is 7 miles southwest of Coulee City, WA, on Highway 17. Once, there, for hike 1, turn left at road to Deep Lake and left again 0.9 miles later. In 0.3 miles, go left a few feet to park. The road to the right goes to Delaney Camp.

For hike 2, start on the same road, which is closed where you turned left 0.9 miles in until fishing season starts about April 25th. Park at the gate and walk the remaining 1 ¾ miles to the lake.

Information: Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, (509) 632-5583, (800)-233-0321.

Maps: There is a park map at http://www.parks.wa.gov/parks/thumbnailAndmaps/6650042.pdf, but it doesn’t show the hiking trails. I got a trail map with information from the park office.