If the sun is shining anywhere, it’s probably at Ancient Lakes, near Quincy, Washington.  Ancient Lakes is a cluster of three small lakes nestle at the head of a flat bottomed, cliff ringed valley called a coulee in these parts of Washington.  The Ancient Lakes coulee is carved into the orchard-covered Quincy plateau and faces west, toward the Columbia River.

From the parking area, walk through the gate and take an unmarked left in the first ¼ mile. The trail heads east up the coulee through sage and cactus, rising ever so slightly. A huge boulder tumbled from the cliff above provides the only shade on the hike. From here, squinting behind your dusty sunglasses, you will get your first glimpse of the incongruous blue water of Ancient Lakes.

Closer to the lakes, trails fan out in several directions. Ramble at will. Straight ahead and you’ll get to a low ridge between lakes. Trails towards the south side of the coulee head up and over cliffs to Dusty Lake.

©Carl Gronquist

Left brings you to a 100 foot high ridge with a nice overview, and to the northernmost lake, which is fed by a waterfall tumbling down the basalt cliffs. That trickle of water gives only the barest hint of what the scene might have been 12,000 years ago. Then, a series of gigantic floods surged through the area, unleashed by a crumbling dam of ice that had held back a vast glacial lake. The water would have poured over the cliffs, carved out the lakes as potholes, raced down the coulee, and spilled into the Columbia.


It’s only about two miles each way to the lakes. The hike is an easy, early season backpack (carry in all your water).  On the way home, you can explore the trails and geology at Gingko Petrified Forest, at Vantage.

Length: about 2 miles one way  6 miles roundtrip (or less).
Variety: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 100-200 feet
Difficulty: easy
Season: Winter, Spring, Fall
Trail Open to: Hikers, Dogs
Facilities at Trailhead: Large parking area

Maps: USGS Babcock Ridge



Take I-90 east to exit 149, SR 281. Go north towards Quincy. After 5.6 miles turn left on White Trail Road, and follow that 7.8 miles to road 9-NW. Continue 5.9 miles on this road (it drops onto a bench and doubles back to the south). Park in the parking area at the end of the road.

©Carl Gronquist

Leave a Reply