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Paddling Eagle Pass – Banks Lake

Banks Lake is the main reservoir feeding the vast irrigation system of the Quincy Irrigation District in central Washington State. Grand Coulee Dam was constructed to provide the electric power needed to pump water from the Columbia River (called Lake

Steamboat Rock from State Route 155

Steamboat Rock from State Route 155

Roosevelt behind the dam) up through huge pipes into Banks Lake. From there gravity (assisted by some strategically located pumps) funnels the water to thousands of farms along I-90. Moses Lake itself is part of the reservoir system that includes the Potholes Reservoir and Billy Clapp Lake; both of which provide interesting and mostly rain-free paddling.

Steamboat Rock State Park nestles against a basalt monolith that rises out of the waters of Banks Lake just 7 miles south of the town of Grand Coulee and 25 miles north of tiny Coulee City at the southern end of the lake. Adjacent to the park is the Eagle Pass area that is a jumble of granite rock islets that make perfect flat water paddling.

There are numerous launch points including the main boat launch at the state park

Northrup Pointe boat launch with some of the many granite islets in the background

Northrup Pointe boat launch with some of the many granite islets in the background

itself but including one at Northrup Point only a mile or so north of the main entrance off State Highway 155 and again at Jones Bay only another mile further north. Northrup Point rest area offers toilets and showers but no camping. Jones Bay has about 30 camping spots along the water with no hookups and excellent access. The main state park camping area is reservation-only but it has beautiful sand beaches and about four boat-in-only campsites at the north end of the peninsula. The main park has full hookups and

Campsites at Jones Bay with beach access

Campsites at Jones Bay with beach access

uncrowded campsites but the sites at Jones Bay are, for the most part, right next to the water with only pit toilets. You can also camp on some of the many islets as long as you are careful.

As the photos show, this part of Washington lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. Because it’s dry in the summer it offers an escape from the often-wet summers in the Seattle area but campers must be careful to carefully control any fires. Wildfires, like those in California, often rage in the mountainous areas of north central Washington. Along with the dry conditions come thorny plants, the occasional rattlesnake (rare in the developed

Islet in Eagle Pass area suitable for a hidden campsite

Islet in Eagle Pass area suitable for a hidden campsite

campsites) and the songs of the coyotes at night. Cougars also call this area home so it pays to keep pets and small children under control. Problems with these critters are extremely rare (most of them avoid people like the plague) but one should be aware of the risks. Black bear are also endemic to the area. No grizzly bears that I am aware of.

The waters of Banks Lake are fresh and cool and very clear. Fishing is incredible with trout, bass, and walleye along with several fishing tournements from about May to October. Watch carefully for speeding boaters and stay close to the islands where they fear to tread.

The best paddling lies between Steamboat Rock itself and Jones Bay. Campsites in the state park itself are wonderful for family camping with roomy sites and full hookups. The small towns that grew up around Coulee Dam offer restaurants, RV parks and

Sandy beach adjacent to the main boat launch at Steamboat Rock State Park

Sandy beach adjacent to the main boat launch at Steamboat Rock State Park

motels as well as at least one major casino. During the summer there is a laser light show that plays on the water falling down the front of the dam itself while people watch from blankets and chairs in a grassy park next to the Columbia River.

Weather in the summer stays in the 70s and 80s with occasional peaks into the 90s and 100s. Sun protection is a must in this area with less than 10 inches of rain a year. Mosquitoes can be a problem in some areas so it’s wise to bring insect repellent.

From Seattle drive east on Interstate 90 to George, WA and take exit 151 to get on route 283 northeast through Ephrata to the intersection of Route 17 at Soap Lake. Turn left (north) on 17 past the Sun Lakes (good paddling and camping) and up to the rim of Dry Falls (worth a stop all by itself) to the intersection of U.S. Route 2. Turn right (east) and drive along the southern end of Banks Lake through Coulee City (nice marina and RV park here) to the intersection of State Route 155. Then drive north about 25 miles to Steamboat Rock State Park. You can’t miss it.

The Eagle Pass area of Banks Lake is one of my favorite paddles in central Washington and lies only about an hour from my home in Moses Lake. Rock garden paddling in fresh water and sunshine is hard to beat and you can even surf some boat wakes if you like.

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