It was looking to be a dreary rainy day on the west side of the Washington Cascades. Wanting to put some miles on my boots, I headed east of the mountains in hope of finding drier weather conditions. After exploring a few options, I opted to hike the Ancient Lakes Trail near Quincy, Washington.
By the time I rolled into the parking lot of the Ancient Lakes trailhead, I hadn’t quite escaped the rain as I hoped. That’s what rain gear is for, right?
There are two primary access points to the Ancient Lakes Trail. One is on the northwest corner of the Quincy Lakes Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, which allows you to approach the lakes from the bottom of the Potholes Coulee. The second access is from the top of the coulee along the access road to Quincy Lake. This steeper but shorter route was my choice for the day.
The Ancient Lakes trail starts out as a double track jeep trail as it slightly descends down the beginnings of the Potholes Coulee. It was raining pretty hard at this time, so my camera stayed packed away early on in the hike. At the bottom of the draw, which eventually steepens and turns into more of a ravine, a small creek from one of the upper lakes flows through it, creating small pools along the way including one named Judith Pool.
Eventually, the trail leads to the edge of the cliff overlooking the Ancient Lakes basin (the site of a large waterfall during the Missoula Ice Age Floods) and where now the above-mentioned creek drops into the coulee below.
From this point, it’s a steep scramble down the rock escarpment to the lakes and coulee floor. Going further from this point wasn’t hard, just not advisable for somebody not sure footed, especially with the wet (slippery) conditions on hand for the day.
Once at lake level, you follow a trail along the shoreline through the rocks before reaching the path leading through the lush green (at least in spring) coulee floor and the other lakes in the basin.
By the time I reached the first lake, most of the heavy rain had ceased and I got out my camera to capture the beauty of the springtime. Unfortunately, my attempts at photographing the waterfalls resulted with noticeable raindrops on my lens.
For much of the summer and early fall, the shrub-steppe ecosystem (what us west-siders of Washington state refer to as the desert, not true by definition though) is very dry. However, in early spring, the grasses turn a beautiful green, and if timed right, you can enjoy beautiful wildflowers in many areas. I didn’t have the luck (timing) of wildflowers on this hike; however, there were quite a few species of mushrooms along the trail.
I passed the paths of two groups of hikers, including one pair who set up their tent near the lakes for an overnighter.
During the hike along the coulee floor, the lakes were populated with a few flocks of geese. Other than small birds, the only other wildlife I spotted was a couple of marmots scurrying away in the distance.
After taking in most of the Ancient Lakes basin (the upper area of the Potholes Coulee), I took a side trail that looked like it led up and out of the coulee. I was hoping to make a loop back to the car (really, I had no desire to scramble back up the wall of the coulee), and see some new landscapes along the way.
The further I climbed, I came across horse and mountain bike tracks, so I figured I was on the right path. A little further along, I came to a fork in the trail, where I checked my map and followed the fork to the right through a saddle to then onto an overlook high on cliffs above Dusty Lake. No access to the lake from here though.
After making my way back to the before mentioned fork in the trail, I continued following the horse and mountain bike tracks on a gradual climb out of the coulee and back onto the plateau.
Eventually, I left the coulee behind and made my way back to the gravel road near Burke Lake, logging a total of 4 miles on the trail. Within a few minutes, several groups of horseback riders rode up the trail behind me.
From the trailhead at Burke Lake, it was a leisurely 1.3-mile hike along the gravel road past multiple lakes to the Ancient Lakes trailhead where I had parked my Land Cruiser.
By the time I got back to the car, the steady rain had started again. I drove around a little bit exploring the surrounding lakes, most of which had groups of people camping and enjoying some early season fishing.
I found a small flock of storks floating around and feeding at Stan Coffin Lake. Unfortunately, they were too far away for photos with the gear I had on hand.
I followed the road to its end near the Evergreen Reservoir. From this point, the overflow spillway empties down into a branch of the Potholes Coulee that contains Dusty Lake. The cliffs of the coulee were lined with columnar basalt at this overlook.
By this time, it was getting dark and the rain was getting heavier. I still had to make the multi-hour trip back to the west side.
This hike had been on my to-do-list for quite some time. I was glad I finally made the trip. It’s a very beautiful early season hike and I will be back to explore some of the other areas that I had missed.
You can view additional landscape photographs from this day at my gallery titled “Potholes Coulee via the Ancient Lakes Trail, Washington, Spring 2017”.