Twin Lakes


BLM trail

Why? A great place to see bitterroot in profusion in May, when the rocks are colored pink by their buds and flowers.

Season: Year-round, with the caveat that the access road can be impassable when very wet.

Ease: Moderate with little elevation change over 9 ½ miles of loop trail.

Anyone who knows me at all well also knows that a road named “Coffee Pot Road” would have quite a draw. It did several years ago when I took an alternate route between Uniontown and the Okanogan Valley, stopping for a picnic lunch at Coffee Pot Lake. There’s no hiking at that lake, but right across the road, at the Twin Lakes Recreation Site, there’s almost 10 miles of trail that’s perfect for early or late season outings.

My first trip to Twin Lakes was with someone who hiked the scabland area often, and had been to Twin Lakes several times. He pointed out the remains of an old house across a dry lake bed, a house that unfortunately is no longer standing. He’d checked it out years before. He told us he’d found German papers dated 1908 in it, probably used for insulation, plus an old Montgomery Wards catalog. He figured the land probably was settled in 1909 and abandoned during the depression when the children left. From a distance, it was a poignant spot that day, a deteriorating house sitting on a hill above the dry lake.

Luckily, the house wasn’t the only reason to hike Twin Lakes. Most of the time, the trail is high, above the valley, traversing old roads through sage country of shrub steppe and scabland. It’s a wide open place with long views of the surrounding area. Most of the few grades are gentle, and except for one section of trail (see trail notes below), it is well marked.

I always look forward to the short time the trail spends down in the canyon that contains the lakes and the creeks that connect them, a canyon that marks the path of one part of an ice age flood of Lake Missoula. There are basalt cliffs here and there, and definitely fine color in the fall and in the spring, too, when the dogwood and willow branches color the wetter areas. The area is marshy at first – we saw two pair of marsh hawks or harriers above that section – but not really wet. A few conveniently placed flat rocks make the rise on the east side of the creek a fine lunch or break spot.

Trail Notes: The trail starts on the road you drive in on. You hike up it a few hundred yards, to a trail sign and a road closed sign on the left. Follow that old road up until you cross the entrance road, a crossing that’s not very direct. Look right for a trail sign that’s clearly visible a bit down the road.
There’s a sharp right in the trail when it’s near the power lines, with a gate shortly thereafter.

All three times I’ve hiked this trail, we’ve had a problem finding the route from the second parking lot down to the creek bed between Wall and Upper Twin Lakes. However, except for having to scramble to find a spot for crossing a fence, it’s not really a problem. From that second parking lot, head generally east-southeast and you will come to a fence with a dirt road on the other side. That road is the trail, and it follows the fence for a long time, so there’s a wide range of spots from which to find it and negotiate the fence.

Directions: Turn left off Highway 195 at Steptoe, on Highway 23. Harrington is at milepost 65 on that road, and at the far end of Harrington, turn left on Highway 28, then right on Coffee Pot Road a couple of miles later. Stay left on Coffee Pot 2 miles later when the road splits, then right on Highline Road in 12 miles. Turn right 1.4 miles later, at the BLM public lands boundary, and drive down this road to the parking lot 1.9 miles later

Information: BLM Spokane, (509) 536-1200. Be sure to call before heading to Twin Lakes, for the road leading to the trailhead is closed when wet.
There’s a nice car camping area between the lakes, two spots with tables and fire pits. From there, we heard coyote, owl, and many frogs – ducks and geese and coots, too.

Maps: The BLM maintains a web site, Under “Recreation,” click on “Recreation Sites,” then scroll down to Twin Lakes. Maps also are available at the trailhead.