Trail Report: Sunset Hike on Steamboat Rock
Everyone can identify with a fragrant garden, with the beauty of sunset, with the quiet of nature, with a warm and cozy cottage. ~ Thomas Kinkade
We make several trips a year to eastern Washington. While only a 4 or 5-hour drive from the west side, the landscape gives the impression you’ve been transported to a completely different state. Each time we visit, we discover another spot that deserves more exploration. On our last visit to the Grand Coulee area in Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, we stopped for a brief look around Steamboat Rock. We wanted to come back and explore more, so Steamboat Rock State Park became the destination for our most recent trip.
We planned our arrival to coincide with the sunset. Upon entering the park we self registered at the unattended ranger station and drove in. Right away we spotted deer grazing on the lawns, so we stopped to take a few photos and noticed a rafter of wild turkeys. After arriving at our cabin and unpacking quickly, we made our way to the trail.
Steamboat Rock is a monolith with a silhouette similar to a steamboat. Ice age flooding carved out the basalt around it and left behind this massive span of rock. Only a mile each way, the hike makes up in scenery what it lacks in distance.
As we left the trail head, the temperature dipped to 39 degrees Fahrenheit and continued to drop as the sun slipped toward the horizon. At the start of the trail, sand cut through sage, dried grasses, and flowers preserved as mementos of warmer days. As we reached the edge of our ascent, the trail became loose, fist-sized rock. There was still plenty of light, and we followed the path upward into a small sort of valley. The route then curved left and around to the back of the plateau.
We exchanged hellos with a couple making their descent, and they mentioned our perfect timing for sunset. The trail was a mixture of packed earth and larger rock here. As we approached the final upward turn, the path turned back to the loose rock with patches of packed earth. Carefully selecting each foothold, we summited an arid plateau of sage, scrub brush and dried grasses.
The view from atop was impressive. We could see adjacent rocky cliffs with the same flattened tops, Banks Lake, Lake Thompson, Devil’s Punch Bowl, the arid plains, and the grassy lawns of the park. The setting sun was the cherry on top.
We wandered around, taking in the views in each direction. The colors of the sunset deepened with each passing minute, progressing from gold to orange to pink then deep red and maroon tones.
This deepening sunset cast beautiful hues on the landscape around us and painted everything a reddish tint.
The temperature was falling quickly now, and we had a rocky path to navigate in the remaining light. We didn’t bring our backpacks, but we brought water and a headlamp, in case darkness enveloped us. We were especially careful climbing down, as it was darker now, and we were once again on the steep, loose rock.
The night was clear and cold as we made our way back with fresh memories of a lovely hike and a nice, warm cabin awaiting our return.
- Distance: 2 miles (round trip)
- Elevation Gain: 650 ft
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Pass Required: Discover Pass
Stacy & Brandon are transplants to Washington state who spend their free time exploring, hiking, and camping all across the glorious Pacific Northwest. They started Pacific North Wanderers in 2015 to share their adventures and inspire others to enjoy the outdoors.