Hike Steamboat Rock
Washington › Steamboat Rock Trail
Added by Kim Morris
Walk atop a basalt butte created during the Great Missoula Floods an eon ago. Stand at the edge of a sheer cliff and peer down into Banks Lake. All that and enough elevation gain to get your heart rate up. What's not to love?
Steamboat Rock is a 600 acre basalt butte that rises 800 feet out of Banks Lake. The butte was carved out of the surrounding rock during the Great Missoula Floods. From atop the rock, take in the 360 degree views, appreciate the immensity of the floods and what has been left behind for us to enjoy.
Steamboat Rock is conveniently located in Steamboat Rock State Park about 3 hours and 45 minutes east of Seattle, WA. The state park has restrooms, food options (in summer) and camping facilities should you choose to stay over. If you want to camp, be sure to get a reservation. Summer months are very busy. Discover Pass is required to enter the park.
There are multiple ways to access the main trail up the rock. Two trail heads are located off both camping loops. These trails converge at a small clearing. Looking at the rock, you will see an arrow spray painted on the rock face - follow that arrow. This part can be a bit tricky. You'll be walking up scree. Footing is uneven and can shift when weight is placed on the scree. Go slow and be careful.
After passing through a notch and gaining the first terrace, keep following the braided trail up the steady incline. There are occasional game trails that branch off to the right. If you want to explore the lower terraces, you can take these trails. If not, keep going up until you come to a T in the trail. At the T: You can go left or right at this point. I recommend going right. The trail to the right is easy to find and follow, it leads along the rim, takes you across the center to giant broken rocks in the middle of a grassy field, and ultimately leads you back to the T in the trail. Plus, going right will lead to the larger portion of the rock with the most to see.
Once on top, you will forget that you are on top of a giant rock in a lake: the sloping hills, swaying grasses and clumps of fragrant sage make you feel like you might be in a high desert meadow. I've seen deer track and scat up there, as well as coyote scat, so keep an eye out for 4 legged wildlife. You will certainly see ravens, falcons and other birds.
Going left at the T: the trail is harder to follow and covers less distance. You wont get the panoramic views like you would on the other half of the rock, but if you are in the mood to explore, go for it!
Note to hikers: If you have trouble with heights this might be a hard trail for you. There are no rails and the trail can take you very close to the edge at times. You can always walk off trail to feel safer, but 800 feet down is still 800 feet down.
- Discover Pass or cash for your state park entry fee
- Sturdy hiking boots
- 10 Essentials
- ND Filters
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Steamboat rock is well worth the trip. Hiking the 3 mile butte well uncover the mule deer herd that roams the plateau along with the coyotes that share the plateau. In the spring the plateau blooms with the wild flowers that brings an abundance of color. Not far from Steamboat are the Lenore caves and the dry falls, which were the largest falls in the world when the Missoula flood occurred. This is an excellent hike for scouts.
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