Coulee Facts

Is Banks Lake a natural lake?

Banks Lake is a 31-mile long reservoir, which was filled by the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1950s to provide irrigation water to the Columbia Basin. The reservoir starts just east of the city of Grand Coulee and extends to Coulee City.


What the heck is a “coulee”?

As a geological term, coulee means a  ravine or deep gully, usually dry, which has been cut by water. The Grand Coulee of eastern Washington was formed over millions of years by eruption of lava which solidified and was later swept away  by massive and tumultuous Ice Age floods.

Forty million to 60 million years ago, a large inland sea covered the Columbia Basin. The basin was formed as a result of uplift in the surrounding territory. Ten million to 15 million years ago, volcanic eruptions began to occur and many layers of lava flowed over the basin forming the Columbia Plateau. Today, these layers can be seen as they erode, exposing the different lava flows.

Approximately two million years ago, the Ice Age began. Several times the ice pushed south and then retreated. Glaciers covered some of this area. It was during the last Ice Age, approximately 10,000 years ago, that an ice dam holding the waters of Lake Missoula (Montana) broke and massive floods swept through the area. Evidence suggests that one of the last floods had waters that were over 800 feet high.

It is these successive floods that carved and shaped the coulees and other landforms that are so prominent throughout the area.


What will I find in the Grand Coulee?

Besides the geological wonder of the Grand Coulee and the Banks Lake reservoir, there are some surprises hidden here, too. It is a wonderful wildlife habitat for dozens of species of birds, as well as for deer and coyote. The only natural forest in Grant County is located in a canyon of the coulee. Called Northrup Canyon, it is located across the highway from Steamboat Rock State Park and  is open to hikers.


Can I camp in the Grand Coulee?

Yes, campgrounds can be found at each end of the Grand Coulee and in the very heart of the coulee.

• Coulee Playland Resort — In Electric City, it’s two miles from Grand Coulee and two miles from the golf course. It features 40 sites with full hookups, 25 primitive and 10 tent sites. showers, restrooms, laundry, mini-store, dump station and playground equipment, boat launch, marine fuel, boat rental and overnight docking. Campers also will find a swimming area (no lifeguard). Open all year round.


• Steamboat Rock State Park — One of the most popular attractions along Banks Lake, this park is a 900-acre camp for swimming, hiking and boating.  It has a sandy beach and sheltered swim area (no lifeguards), plus a bath house, a concession stand, a grassy picnic area with playground equipment, and a truly unique view of Banks Lake and Steamboat Rock.

It offers over 100 campsites with full hookups. Water, electricity, sewer, tables and stoves are located at each site, and 26 standard sites with table, stove, and tent pad, plus 12 boat-in campsites located on the north end of Steamboat Rock. The restrooms have hot showers. At Jones Bay and Osborn Bay are 80 primitive sites with table, stove, a vault toilet, but no running water.

Steamboat Rock State Park is part of the state’s reservation camping system. Reservations for camping can be made online at or by calling 888-226-7688. The popular campground fills up fast and early reservations are recommended. The park is open for camping year round.

Please Note: A permit  is required for boat launching , and trailer dumping  at the park. A boat launching annual pass may be obtained at the park office or from the Washington State Parks Commission in Olympia, Washington.


Where can I launch my boat?

Boat launching ramps can be found at Steamboat Rock State Park, 11 miles south of Grand Coulee on SR155, and at Coulee Playland Resort in Electric City. There are two other launching sites found about midway along the lake. One is at Barker Canyon on the west side of the lake, and the other is on the small peninsula that juts out toward Steamboat Rock from the east side of the lake, just off the SR155.

While boating is great fun on Banks Lake, navigators are cautioned that the lake can become rough very quickly. Keep an eye on the weather, and carry the necessary safety equipment—flotation devices for each passenger, a bell or whistle and a fire extinguisher.


What about hiking?

Adventurous hikers should try Steamboat Rock. Head toward the saddle of the monolith, which can be seen from the park roadway. There are steep spots, but they are not difficult for most hikers. The panoramic view from the top is wonderful. There are approximately 640 acres at the summit.

Hikers may also venture into Northrup Canyon where they will find 3,120 acres of forested ravines tucked away between coulee walls. The area  harbors the only natural forest in Grant County and is a nesting ground for the bald eagle and a peaceful home for other wildlife. To hike the area, contact the rangers at Steamboat Rock State Park.

A few cautions: Do not wander too near the edge of the rock. Basalt is not stable rock upon which to depend for sound footing when approaching the edges. Stand a respectable distance from the edge. Be aware also that this is rattlesnake country. Rattlesnakes are generally not lethal, but they should be avoided. You will find them around most of the local trails during summer months. While not particularly aggressive, they have been known to bite. If bitten, seek medical attention. Finally, if you plan to hike an hour or more, carry water to quench your thirst and help avoid leg cramps.


Is there golfingin the coulee?

Yes, the public may golf at Banks Lake Golf and Country Club located approximately 1.5 miles west of Electric City and about five miles from Grand Coulee Dam on SR155.

The 18-hole course is carved out of the natural slope.

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