A Canoe on Banks Lake: Central Washington Adventures

Every weekend of the summer, power boats zoom up and down Banks Lake, a man-made reservoir filled with water from the Columbia River. Fishermen head out in the early morning, water-skiers follow in the afternoon. Steamboat Rock State Park fills up with RVs and a few tents. Is there room for a canoe in this mechanical world? Do the power boats leave anything to be explored? It depends on how you look at the lake, and the coulee that fills.


When the Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942, it created two lakes: Lake Roosevelt, which lies directly behind the dam and Banks Lake, formerly the Grand Coulee, into which water is pumped and then stored. Whatever one may think of the decision to build the dam, the results are here to stay. Nevertheless, the Grand Coulee maintains its stark beauty, a beauty which is now experienced via boat.DSCF9521

However, as I watched the power boats speed past our canoe, I had to doubt that the passengers were engaging with the basalt formations, the desert flowers, the wind, and the clouds  in the same way that I was. In this case, simple adventure means turning off the engine and getting to know this reservoir at a slower pace.It means reflecting on beauty, destruction, and the intended and unintended consequences of human actions. Was bringing irrigation and hydropower to the semi-arid desserts of central and eastern Washington state worth the decimation of salmon runs? Should human beings use their power to alter landscapes in such drastic, and basically irreversible, ways, even if the benefits are enormous? Is boating on a man-made lake less “pure” than boating on a natural lake?  Perhaps these questions were on the minds of the folks with power boats and RVs. I have no way of knowing.DSCF9497

Since I was nearly 7 months pregnant when we took this weekend canoeing and camping trip, my expectations for exploration and physical exertion were lower than normal, so we focused on replenishment and rest.We paddled and hiked, but we also napped, fished, read, and journaled.

We camped at one of the 12 boat-in campsites located at Steamboat Rock State Park.The beach along the edge of these campsites in reserved for boat-in campers, so we did not have to deal with tons of people coming and going via power boat. We explored the islands, which were once basalt hills, that dot the lake near the state park. They make for hidden fishing holes and a fun day’s paddling.In the cool of the evening, once the power boaters had returned to their RVs, we enjoyed the quiet lakeside and painted clouds.

DSCF9491If you go:

I would recommend canoeing on Banks Lake in the spring time (Late April through early June). The flowers are out, the crowds are smaller, and the heat is pleasant rather than unbearable. The state park boat-campsites are first come, first serve. We did not have any trouble securing a site the first weekend of June, but I would imagine that the sites are more heavily used later in the summer. Fortunately, most of the land around the lake is public and can be used for camping.  Consider planning multidisciplinary trip, as there are opportunities for hiking and rock-climbing in the area.









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