Hike Ancient Lakes

Washington Ancient Lakes Trailhead

Added by Mitch Pittman

  • Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
  • Minimal elevation gain
  • Dramatic cliffs and waterfalls
  • Wildlife spotting opportunities

All around you, waterfalls pour over cliffs as you gaze upon colorful lakes. If you're lucky, a coyote scampers by through a patch of wildflowers – it's just another beautiful day in the Ancient Lakes basin, a gem tucked along the Columbia River Gorge in Central Washington.

From the parking lot, meander through a valley of sage brush under the hot sun until the whispers of waterfalls become roars. Soon, you will be peering into a basin of lakes. If you can fight the urge to jump in right away, make your way around to the waterfalls in the back of the valley.

For those who feel comfortable, scramble up the talus slope beside the waterfall to enter an upper valley for more solitude – and more waterfalls! But BE CAREFUL going off trail, because rattlesnakes are very active in the area.

Sunsets from Ancient Lakes are known to be spectacular. Another benefit of the location is it usually stays dry when the western side of the state is getting drenched.

If you're planning to backpack, check out this adventure.

Pack List

  • 10 Essentials
  • Extra water
  • 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



Fishing, Hiking, Photography, Running, Swimming

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



4 Miles



Adult Beverages
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Swimming Hole

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How to Get There

Can be hard to find

Lots of wide open spaces and beautiful canyon cliffs to explore, we wanted to go off trail to scramble every cliff and see every waterfall, but be mindful of LNT and enjoy this otherworldly place. Just know that there is a road that takes you to the south of the lakes area as well, putting you 4 or 5 miles past the main lakes and onto an open plain. We got quite turned around here, and without cell service had to use a trail guide to sort out that we were on a completely different road. We also camped out here, be mindful that it is very cold in March still, but having said that, besides some coyote packs, we had the place all to ourselves.

29 days ago

7 months ago

Spectacular place for sunset

We hit the trail just after 4:30 in order to give us just enough time to witness one of the many spectacular sunsets Central and Eastern Washington are renowned for. With an average yearly rain accumulation under 10 inches, Ancient Lakes in Quincy, WA has fairly moderate weather year-round. It was windy so don't forget a sweatshirt and shell! After climbing above the main waterfall overlooking the lakes and watching the sky burst into color, we found our way back via headlamp. A great evening to hit the trail!

7 months ago

Awesome desert adventure!

This is a great spot for when you're feeling those winter blues in Seattle and need some sunshine and sagebrush country. There are 12 miles of trail throughout the Ancient Lakes network, so you can expand your adventure if you want to. Definitely be wary of rattlesnakes, especially in the early morning or getting closer to sunset (when I came across one right in the middle of the path soaking up some warmth). This area also has Western poison ivy, so generally a good idea to stay on trail here. There are fantastic wildflowers here in the spring and a wildlife reserve where you can see lots of different bird species as you hike. Make sure you bring all the water you need for a day hike or overnight because all water in this area is irrigation runoff and not safe for drinking even after filtration. Discover Pass required here.

8 months ago

about 1 year ago

We hiked here on a Saturday in April and it was so crowded! There were at least three scout troops that backpacked in and were camping overnight in addition to all the other people who were there! We found a quiet place on the shore of the far lake opposite the waterfall to eat our lunch. We then hiked to the waterfall by way of the boulders and came across a rattlesnake (danger!). We didn't go outside the first three lake area to the area beyond the waterfall, but the area is still beautiful and worth the time.

about 1 year ago

Added by Mitch Pittman

I live in Seattle, but my life happens in the mountains. My hobbies include long walks in the woods, whiskey in hot springs, and carrying skis up long slogs for a few turns in late summer.

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