Lake Roosevelt – Marcus Island

Nights: 6
Bikes: lots
Hikes: 0
Bug Bites: 7

Having seen the Grand Coulee Dam and heard about the vast lake formed behind it, we drove north along Lake Roosevelt’s eastern shore to see it for ourselves. The road moved quickly inland and the arid landscape near the dam gave way to vast fields of wheat illustrating the original reason for the dam—irrigation. As we turned back toward the water we moved into scattered pine forests then connected with Highway 25 as we passed Fort Spokane. I should have scoped out the drive ahead of time and we would have known to stop here at the Visitor’s Center but we kept going.

Soon glimpses of the lake let us know we were heading in the right direction as we wound our way through the small towns, farms, and forest. This is beautiful country and I enjoyed the drive although Chuck had to concentrate on the curvy road. After crossing Highway 395 a road sign proclaimed the Canadian border was just 40 miles away. We were close to our destination, Marcus Island, a small park right along the shore.

Marcus was the largest town they moved when the lake was formed and signs in the campground show how you can walk through the remnants of the town during the spring draw down of the lake. In the “new” townsite on the hill above the park, there are quite a few houses along streets with apple names like Delicious and what looks like an old cider press in the town park. This must have been a town of orchards once upon a time. We even found a few old apple trees along the park road. Too bad the apples were still too green to eat.

As we entered the park we found 24 sites spaced out in the pine trees along the island’s length. There were several already taken, but following Lesson #2 (drive the whole campground) we found the perfect spot right on the water. To the left large bushes blocked the site 50’ away and to the right was only forest. Once set up we were treated to lakefront views right outside our door and a bald eagle soaring past.

IMG_1342While we enjoyed bike rides twice a day through the campground and over to the boat dock, this place mostly made us lazy. We were in awe of the view and spent much of our time lounging in our chairs just staring out at the lake and forested hills beyond. The sky was constantly changing as clouds backed up against the hills, sometimes dark and sometimes fluffy white. In the afternoons the wind picked up and a few times we got sprinkled on, but often the ominous weather seemed to head north of us and blue sky prevailed.

We did explore a little nearby, driving to St. Pauls’ Mission, one of the oldest churches in Washington. As we were getting out of our truck, a ranger drove up. He asked if we were there for the tour. “Tour. What tour?” Turns out we were just in time for our own private, ranger-led tour along the short trail. He told us about the Indians in the area who fished the nearby falls for centuries until the dam was installed. This area has artifacts showing human use for nearly 9000 years. A cutting stone with deep grooves where spears and tools for fishing were sharpened was interesting. The mission was set up in the late 1800’s and was one of the first places to convert Indians. It enjoyed protection from nearby Fort Colville run by the Hudson’s Bay Company. While not much of the mission remains, there is a re-built log structure and some graves on the site. The ranger also told us about an old townsite in the nearby Kettle Falls campground. We drove over to walk among the remnants of foundations and sidewalks that were once shops lining main street. Signage shows you what was there before. We enjoyed meeting this young ranger and I was sad that we missed the free canoe trip he was set the lead earlier that morning. He said no one had shown up. Again, I’m surprised by the free activities the NPS delivers. I’m going to have to keep an eye out for more of those, although I’m not sure I could have pried myself away from the awesome views here to do much else.


One day we watched a tug boat pass slowly pulling a log boom to the nearby mill, but most of the time we just stared at the scenery. Besides the eagles, we saw hawks, water fowl, flickers, and many other birds making me wish I had kept my bird guide (perhaps I will have to find an app). Chipmunks screeched at us on our daily bike rides. Oddly, we never saw a fish jump although we saw people fishing from the shore and out on the lake. We don’t often have campfires, but this site begged for one. How could we resist with the lakeside views! Plus, unlike any campsite we’ve ever been at, you can gather downed wood right here.


On our final night we were treated to a fiery sunset. Overall it was a pretty relaxing week in a spectacular site and although it’s going to be hard to leave, Montana is calling us.

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