Sun Lakes - Dry Falls Loop Hike
by Fred Stanley
In early January minimal snow cover offered excellent hiking east of the Columbia. On bare, dry ground, Lori Contratto, Fred Dunham, and I explored a portion of Sun Lakes - Dry Falls State Park. Most of the travel was cross country or faint trails, some on park trail, and a small portion on park road. We parked at the Dry Falls Visitor Center on State Highway 17 (Discover Pass required). To avoid hiking about 2.5 miles of paved road back to the start of the hike, leaving a second vehicle or a bike near Mirror Lake/Park Lake to return to is recommended.
At the start of the hike, private land closely borders the north side of Dry Falls Lake. We left the highway NE of the visitor center, just far enough to avoid dropping down into a deep gully as we headed east. Inhaling the smell of sage as we brushed through it, we generally followed the cliff lines above and around Dry Falls Lake and Red and Green Alkali Lakes until a southerly route intersected the cliff line above Meadow Creek; then east along cliff lines to the east end of Deep Lake. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land borders the state park boundary north of Deep Lake and east of Red Alkali and Green Alkali Lakes. The very east end of Deep Lake isWashington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW )land. We often dawdled, enjoying scenic views of lakes, sculpted basalt channels and potholes, and the winter hues of desert vegetation, capturing some of it on our cameras.
From the east end of Deep Lake, one could head north and then west to loop back to their car at the visitor center. We chose a return route on the south side of Deep Lake, on the bench just below the highest cliff line, to the park road just west of Deep Lake. We then hiked cross-country to Camp Delaney Environmental Learning Center (watch for downed barbed wire fence on either side of Meadow Creek), then NE, generally on park trail until it bends west through a gap in the basalt spine to intersect the Dry Falls Lake Road. The last bit of trail dropping to the Dry Falls Lake Road winds through a large patch of poison oak - no leaves in January, but one should still be careful. Then, where possible to avoid the road, we walked park trail or cross country southwest to Mirror Lake. At a leisurely pace this took us about 7 or 8 hour (lots of shorter variations possible) and left us with lots of terrain to explore on future visits.
See a topo map of the area with the route shown.
Google terrain maps and satellite images are helpful. Also see this State Parks map and this WDFW map.
Misc Park Details
Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is a 4,027-acre camping park with 73,640 feet of freshwater shoreline at the foot of Dry Falls. Dry Falls is one of the great geological wonders of North America. Carved by Ice Age floods that long ago disappeared, the former waterfall is now a stark cliff, 400 feet high and 3.5 miles wide. In its heyday, the waterfall was four times the size of Niagara Falls. Today it overlooks a desert oasis filled with lakes and abundant wildlife.
Park hours. Open Summer: 6:30 a.m. to dusk. Winter: 8 a.m. to dusk.
Dry Falls Visitor Center. Winter hours: Oct. 1 - April 30, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Thursdays and the entire month of February. (509) 632-5214. Summer hours: May 1 – Sept. 30, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The center is closed on the following holidays: Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.
Discover Passes are required for parking. Annual pass: $30. Day pass: $10. A Discover Pass is required for motor-vehicle access to state parks and recreation lands managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Exemptions: the Discover Pass is not required if you are camping or renting overnight accommodations, for the duration of your stay at that state park.