Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway: Highlights Between Tri-Cities & Omak

The Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway is an amazing road trip through landscape carved out by Ice Age floods. This part of Washington state offers unusual scenery that is filled with many deep blue lakes, towering buttes, and ancient caves. It is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife lovers, and geology nerds!

So what can you expect on this road trip? Well, the drive begins in high desert plains and takes you through a spectacular gorge often paralleling huge lakes before entering the Colville Forest and finally finishing at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

While the Coulee Corridor officially runs between Othello and Omak, I recommend beginning this trip (or ending) in the Tri-Cities just because there is a lot to do here and plenty of excellent options when it comes to accommodation and dining out. Plus there is an airport in Tri-Cities for those of you flying into this part of the country. However, if you are coming from Spokane you should begin this trip from Othello or Moses Lake.

So what exactly is a Coulee anyway? A coulee refers to dry canyons that were gouged out by the Glacial Lake Missoula floods which happened several times about 13,000 years ago leaving behind a strange and extraordinary environment. Be prepared to be awestruck!

The Driving Itinerary

  • Tri-Cities To Soap Lake – 100 miles (1hr 45mins)
  • Soap Lake To Lenore Caves – 10 miles (10mins)
  • Lenore Caves To Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park – 8 miles (10mins)
  • Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park To Steamboat Rock State Park – 25 miles (30mins)
  • Steamboat Rock State Park To Grand Coulee – 12 miles (15mins)
  • Grand Coulee To Omak – 55 miles (1hr)

How Many Days Do You Need For This Trip?

It is possible to do this entire road trip in one day and we have done it before leaving the Tri-Cities early about 8am and returning home about 10pm. However, if you do this road trip as a day trip you will not have time to hike, swim, and explore places in depth.

Ideally you should plan at least one night so that you can spend the entire day at either Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park or at Steamboat Rock State Park. Another option is to drive all the way to Omak and spend the night there and then come back to the Tri-Cities along a different route.

Are You Into Birding?

The Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway is part of Audubon Washington’s “Great Washington State Birding Trail.” More than half of the state’s 346 bird species are encountered along this route. In the spring and fall you will find Sandhill Cranes migrating along the Pacific Flyway, in summer you can see Black-Crowned Night Herons and Great Egrets, and winter offers great Bald Eagle viewing opportunities. Here is a guide to bird species found in the Coulee Corridor.

Tips Before You Begin This Road Trip

Bring your bathers and water toys if this is a summer road trip for you! Trust me, you won’t be able to resist wanting to jump in at some of the beautiful lakes along the way. You’ll probably be surprised by how warm the water is too.

If possible plan to camp at either Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park or Steamboat Rock State Park to really make the most of your trip. Otherwise, if this is a day trip for you, be sure to leave the Tri-Cities early in the morning.

Last tip, if you are returning the way you came, I highly recommend stopping by Ten Pin Brewing in Moses Lake for dinner and drinks.

Oh, one last thing! We encountered tons of rattlesnakes on the road driving back at night. And when I say tons, I mean at least fifty snakes within a five mile stretch of road. It was indeed an eerie and creepy sight.

Best Stops Between Tri-Cities and Omak


Soap Lake

First stop on your road trip after leaving the Tri-Cities is Soap Lake. This non-soapy lake was extremely foamy once upon a time and famous for its supposedly miraculous healing waters. It was even dubbed ‘the world’s greatest mineral sea’ and ‘Washington’s health resort’ in the early 1900’s. Folks from all over the state would flock to heal themselves here in the legendary waters.

All of this was due to the lake’s high mineral content and strange soapy appearance. These days the lake isn’t very soapy at all since since the construction of canals channeling the water upstream. In fact, even the lake’s high mineral content has been drastically reduced since these hydraulic changes happened but still, some visitors continue to believe in its magic.

You can take a dip in the lake and test out the healing properties of the water for yourself. Access to the lake is available at the lake’s southern end and on its east side.

Soap Lake
Soap Lake Campground

If you are interested in staying here, I recommend checking into the Soap Lake Natural Spa & Resort or staying at the Smokiam RV Resort and Campground.

>>Read: 8 Unique Things To Do In Soap Lake

Campground In Soap Lake

Lake Lenore Caves

As you drive north along Highway 17 you’ll begin to enter the gorge section and this is where the views and landscape turn really impressive. The road follows the banks of Lenore Lake to the left for about ten miles before a sign pointing in the direction of the Lake Lenore Caves appear.

The Lake Lenore Caves are a set of seven ancient caves hiding in the high desert plains of Eastern Washington. These caves were created by the great Missoula Floods when water pulled chunks of basalt from the walls of the coulee.

As you drive up to the trailhead parking lot you will notice a few of the caves perched on the side of the cliff in front of you. To reach them you will need to hike a short way up but it is not difficult or strenuous at all so I encourage you to make the effort.

Not only are the caves really cool to see from the inside, but there are some pretty incredible views from the higher vantage point too. Do not forget to bring your camera for this hike.

Lake Lenore Caves
Lake Lenore Caves
Lake Lenore Caves

>>Read: Hiking To Lake Lenore Caves

Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park

Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park is situated in the middle of the Coulee Corridor and contains one of the most spectacular chasms carved out by Ice Age floods. This 3.5 mile wide chasm known as Dry Falls was once the largest waterfall in America, three times the size of Niagara Falls!

The best place to view Dry Falls is at an overlook on Highway 17. At the overlook there is a big parking lot where you can not only see the former waterfall, but vast views of the entire state park. There is also a Visitors Center where you can learn all about the history and geology of the area.

Dry Falls At Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park
Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park
Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park
Umatilla Rock in Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park

If you have time, be sure to also enter the park which will require you to back track to the entrance. This state park is not huge so you will be able to see most of it in under an hour unless you choose to hike. If you do want to hike I recommend the Umatilla Rock hiking trail which takes you around the unmistakable landmark feature here.

There are canoes, kayaks, and water tractors available to rent on Park Lake. In addition, there are nice park grounds and picnic areas for relaxing too.

>>Read: Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park: Hiking, Water Activities & Camping!

Steamboat Rock State Park

Steamboat Rock State Park is one of the most impressive places in Washington. It is unexpected, interesting, unique, and seriously stunning. This destination is unlike any other in the evergreen state and I promise you will fall in love with this place and be planning a trip back before you’ve even left.

This 3,522 acre state park is named after the massive basalt butte that rises up from the middle of beautiful Banks Lake offering several beach areas and lush picnic spaces.

There is a lot to do in this state park including hiking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, and boating so I hope you’ve brought your water toys and fishing poles!

If you’re up for a challenge be sure to hike to the top of Steamboat Rock where you can enjoy the most incredible views of Banks Lake and the Coulee Gorge. Otherwise you can spend the day relaxing by the lake under the shade of the tall Poplar trees.

Steamboat Rock State Park

Steamboat Rock State Park is one of the highlights of this driving itinerary so try to set aside at least a few hours for your visit, or consider staying overnight at the campground here or one of the park owned cabins.

This is a popular RV and camping destination in summer so campsites fill up quickly on the weekends. I recommend booking in advance on weekends and holidays just to be on the safe side.

>>Read: Steamboat Rock State Park: A Fantastic Summer Destination

Grand Coulee

The main attraction in Grand Coulee is the Grand Coulee Dam, America’s largest concrete dam. There is a visitors center at the dam open between 9am and 5pm where you’ll find exhibits, information about the history of the dam, and can watch a short film about its construction. There are two pull-outs, one above the dam and one below the dam where you can stop to have a look.

There is not much else in Grand Coulee so you’ll be moving on. If you’re in need of groceries or snacks, this would be the place to load up. It is about an hours drive to the next stop in Omak. The road from here follows the Columbia River for about fifteen minutes before entering the Colville National Forest.

Omak

Omak is located in north-central Washington and is the largest town in Okanogan County. The main street has a very small town USA feel and has several cute stores and restaurants to browse.

This town is most known for its annual Omak Stampede and World Famous Suicide Race. It is always held on the second weekend in August and is jam-packed with western entertainment such as horse racing, bull riding, and an Indian Encampment and Pow Wow. If you can plan your visit to coincide with this event it will be a trip you won’t forget!

Omak On The Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway
Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway

The area surrounding Omak offers plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking, mountain-biking, fishing, camping, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.

Some places nearby worth visiting include Omak Lake and Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Omak Lake which lies within the Colville Indian Reservation has been stocked with cutthroat trout and is a good spot for fishing and swimming. Sinlahekin Wildlife Area is a beautiful destination that is great for camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The 14,000 acre preserve was established to provide a winter feeding ground for mule deer and habitat for local birdlife.

Omak is the end of the line for this road trip however you can continue all the way up to the Canadian border along Highway 97 to visit Oroville or take Highway 20 to visit Twisp and Winthrop. If you want to stay overnight in Omak search for hotels in Omak here.

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