Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Parks and places

Staff Writer | June 11, 2024 3:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — School is letting out for the summer, which means families have a chance to spend a little more time together. Most communities have pools and summer programs, but sometimes it’s nice to go a little farther afield. One option is to pile the kids into the car and spend a day – or a weekend – at one of the state and national parks within easy driving distance.

The Grand Coulee Dam is one of the most popular destinations in central Washington. An hour or two of driving is rewarded with a whole day’s worth of free activities for the whole family. Start with the visitors center located right in front of the dam, then maybe take the free guided tour of the pump generating plant. It takes about an hour and tours start at 10 a.m. and 12, 2 and 3:30 p.m. For an extra educational boost, kids can do a printed scavenger hunt. For families who are into geocaching, there’s a three-cache challenge with a prize for anyone who finishes it, according to the Grand Coulee Dam website. Stick around until 10 p.m. (9:30 p.m. after Aug. 1) and see the laser light show telling the story of Grand Coulee Dam in spectacular color on the face of the dam.

Because of road work, there are traffic delays on SR 17 in Soap Lake on weekdays, according to the Washington Department of Transportation. Travelers from Moses Lake or Othello can bypass it by taking Pinto Ridge Road between Stratford and Coulee City.

Washington’s state parks system offers plenty of fun close to home. Potholes, Steamboat Rock and Sun Lakes-Dry Falls state parks are all in fairly easy driving range. There’s swimming, boating, paddleboarding and other water activities, as well as some spectacular hikes and some of the best freshwater fishing in Washington. Remember that all state parks require a Discover Pass, which costs $10 for a day or $30 for the whole year and is good at all state parks and other state-managed recreational lands, according to the Washington State Parks website. Special discounted passes are available for seniors, the disabled and foster families.

A little more driving can bring you to Lyons Ferry State Park on the Snake River, where besides the usual park amenities the Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery offers a visitors center where kids can learn all they ever wanted to know about the fish that populate our lakes and rivers. To the north is Palouse Falls State Park, with a spectacular waterfall that’s popular with artists and photography enthusiasts. 

For folks who are feeling adventurous (and aren’t prone to carsickness), there are hosts of great places to spend a few days. Washington has three national parks – Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic – that take three to six hours to reach by car but offer amazing views and educational opportunities. Volcanoes, glaciers, mountain streams and hiking trails are all salient features of these three parks. All of them have entry fees and some may take a little while to get into during peak times, so it’s a good idea to check a park’s website before hitting the road.

For those with pets, barbecue grills, trailers or other extras, it’s always a good idea to look to a destination ahead of time to see if there are special regulations. Nothing ruins a trip like arriving and finding out you can’t do the things you came for.


Travel times and distances are taken from Google Maps and are measured from the Columbia Basin Herald office in downtown Moses Lake. Travelers from other areas should adjust accordingly.

Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center
SR 155, Coulee Dam
68 miles/1 hour, 21 minutes

Potholes State Park
6762 Highway 262 E., Othello
20 miles/35 minutes

Steamboat Rock State Park
51052 Highway 155, Electric City
57 miles/1 hour, 6 minutes

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park
34391-34409 Park Lake Rd NE, Coulee City
42 miles/53 minutes

Lyons Ferry State Park
620 Marmes Road, Washtucna
89 miles, 1 hour, 33 minutes
509-646-3229 park, 509-646-3454 hatchery

Palouse Falls State Park
Palouse Falls Road, Lacrosse
86 miles/1 hour, 32 minutes

Mount Rainier National Park
168 miles/2 hours, 50 minutes

North Cascades National Park
191 miles/3 hours, 37 minutes

Olympic National Park
268 miles/5 hours, 11 minutes

    The spectacular waterfall at Palouse Falls State Park draws artists and photographers from all over the region.
    Mount Rainier National Park, on the slopes of Washington’s tallest peak, breaks out in colorful wildflowers. The park is about a three-hour drive from Grant and Adams counties, depending on where exactly you live.