Backpack Ancient Lakes

Washington Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area

Added by Jason Zabriskie

  • Great early season, late season or rainy-in-the-mountains hike
  • Short 2-mile (4-mile roundtrip), minimal elevation gain hike
  • You're in the desert - but wait! There's Lakes! Waterfalls! Wildflowers! Stunning basalt cliffs!
  • A few established campgrounds in between the three lakes
  • Best hiked during spring or fall seasons
  • In the hot summer months, beware of rattlesnakes

On the hunt for a dry, scenic backpack during a weekend of dreary, wet, early September weather in the mountains, we decided to head toward the high desert outside of Quincy, WA. After a short hike in, we found a site seldom seen - waterfalls and lakes in the midst of the desert - an area known as Ancient Lakes.

During our research, we had read that there was only room for 7-8 cars in the parking lot, but when we arrived, we found the lot could easily could fit closer to 20 vehicles. We shed our rain gear, loaded up our packs and began the hike into the Quincy Wildlife Recreation area.

After 1/2 mile on the jeep track, take a left and head into the coulee. The trails will seem to meander throughout the yellow field, but we learned that all paths led to the same ultimate location. Choose your route - you won't get lost.

On your route you'll pass a number of smaller waterfalls trickling off the surrounding basalt cliffs, with contrasting greenery surrounding it. After 2 easy miles of hiking, you'll arrive at the first of three lakes - ancient potholes filled by the irrigation water from the surrounding area's farmlands.

Hike up onto the large knoll and drop down the other side to the remaining two lakes. Stay left to explore the waterfalls. If you're backpacking, stay right to find your camp spot. The daring camper can also scramble up the left of the waterfall and pitch a small tent on the little outcropping overlooking the lake. You'll need to be creative in how you stake your tent down as the ground is all solid rock.

Above the initial waterfall are two other smaller falls, easily explored by scrambling left of the lower falls and following the bootpath through the high grass in the upper coulee. Or simply jump in one of the lower lakes, cool off, and soak in the unique surroundings.

It's an unexpected oasis in the midst of the desert, and one worth visiting when the mountains are no longer easily accessible.

For more info on the day hike, check out this adventure.

Pack List

  • If you're camping, be sure to bring a water filter
  • Remember that while it may be hot during the day, the desert can cool down significantly at night, so bring layers for an overnight stay
  • Bathing suit
  • Comfortable hiking shoes
  • Camera
Read More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Backpacking, Camping, Hiking

Skill Level:



Spring, Autumn

Trail Type:



4 Miles



Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Swimming Hole

Are we missing something?

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How to Get There

7 months ago

Question, not review

I'm headed here tomorrow morning, and have a question. It's suggested you not drink the water due to farm runoff, but swimming in it is okay?

7 months ago

7 months ago

Ancient Lakes

Backpacked Ancient Lakes in mid March, weather held up, and it was a pretty easy backpack, with a little scramble involved to get down to the lakes. Don't use Google Maps to try to locate the trail head, it took us to some private agriculture area, so use the WTA directions, they worked. Basically find the Public Fishing sign off the highway. Once you get onto the road, there is a lot of options of areas to go, so take the first right, and you will see a parking lot, and a metal sign that says Ancient Lakes. If you continue on, there are other turns to other lakes, and RVs and bathrooms. There are clear areas to camp throughout the hike, and there are lots of areas to roam around, and adventure around. I didn't filter any water, I took all the water in with me, which is a bummer, but since everyone suggests to do so, I followed.

7 months ago

12 months ago

Don't drink the water

Because the water in the potholes are runoff from the irrigation of nearby farms, the water in them is likely not safe to drink. We love this hike, but when we do it, we always pack in our own water.

12 months ago

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