Updated June 12, 2016
Road tripping the Snake River Washington upstream, from its mouth in Pasco, Washington USA to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is a rollicking journey in an unforgiving desert.
We decided to take our own travel tip from, Road Trip Destination--30 Ways to Choose Where to Go, choice #2, "Follow a River--Start at the source and follow the river to its confluence. Experience everything along the way."
However, we started at the confluence and followed the Snake River to its birthplace.
Little did we know this unique journey would lead us to tread in the footsteps of legendary figures, get up close with our roots, and discover things on a road less traveled in the extreme outback that defines Snake River Washington.
The Snake River Washington is a convoluted coil carving its way 1078 miles from its headwaters deep in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
After, lackadaisically flowing across the rolling plains of Idaho, the Snake River shoots through the treacherous canyons of Oregon (Hells Canyon), and tumbles around the mountains of the expansive Palouse Hills in eastern Washington to its gaping maw at its confluence with the mighty Columbia River, where together, they make a run for the Pacific Ocean.
Since early prehistoric times, people and wildlife depended on the Snake River for survival in a formidable land.
Current peoples and wildlife still depend on the Snake River.
It’s the prime source of water in an arid high desert, providing fish and other food stuffs to Native American cultures. Industry and agriculture harvest the water for production. Dams provide the electricity necessary for the conveniences of modern day living. Stretches of the Snake River remain significant waterways for transporting goods, and some have become recreation hotspots.
In an effort to protect this vital national resource, portions of the Snake River are designated Wilderness Areas and are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
We began this leg of our road trip on the shores of the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers at Sacajawea State Park, 2503 Sacajawea Park Road in Pasco, Washington USA 99301.
From the north, travel on US-395 South to Pasco. In Pasco take the US-12 East exit toward Walla Walla. Follow US-12 East for just short of 4 miles. Turn right onto Sacajawea Park Road and follow the signs to Sacajawea State Park.
From the south, travel to I-82 North in Pasco; take exit 113 for US-395 North. Take the US-12/US-395 exit to I-182 toward Spokane/Walla Walla. Travel just less than ½ mile, stay to the left and merge onto I-182 East/US-12 East/US-395 North, and then continue on US-12 East. Turn right onto Sacajawea Park Road and follow the signs to Sacajawea State Park.
From the east, travel on US-12 West. At the junction before Starbuck, turn left onto WA-124 West/2nd Street. Travel about 44 miles and merge onto US-12 West. Turn left onto Sacajawea Park Road and follow the signs to Sacajawea State Park.
From the West/Northwest, travel I-90 East; take exit 137 to WA-26 East. Just short of a mile, turn right onto WA-243 South. At the junction near Hanford Reach National Monument, turn onto WA-24 West and drive just short of 5 ½ miles to WA-240 East. Stay in one of the two right lanes, and then take the WA-240/I-182 East exit to Pasco/Kennewick. Continue onto US-12 East, and then travel about 4 miles; turn right onto Sacajawea Park Road and follow the signs to Sacajawea State Park.
The Snake River Washington seamlessly merges with the Columbia River forming a wide delta, and the park is sited at the point overlooking the confluence.
In the distance, the BNSF--Snake River Bridge, also known as the Pasco-Burbank Railroad Bridge and the Snake River Railroad Bridge, is an iconic photographic point of interest. Built in 1884, this vertical lift bridge is a work horse, still in operation, and is currently owned by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad.
Upon entering the park we immediately encountered wildlife!
This colorful Killdeer feigned a broken wing to lead us away from its nest in the grass nearby.
This Great Blue Heron strutted along the shore of a small creek. Easily alarmed by nearing humans, these big birds usually take flight. I've tried for years to photograph one and was delighted when this Heron went about its business as if we weren't there.
As we strolled along the shore, a most beautiful American White Pelican leisurely swam by on the mirrored river.
Come prepared to spend the day playing; boating, fishing, hiking, swimming, bird watching, wildlife sighting, play volleyball or horseshoes. The children will love the playground.
Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and the men in their expedition were the first white men to set foot here, and to make trade with the local native peoples.
I took a moment of reverence at this point, feeling deeply the historic happenings here. I've read Meriwether Lewis’ and William Clark’s journals, and after visiting many of the sites where they had tread, I’m left in awe of the continuing impact of these intrepid explorers, who shaped the “west” in which I live.
The park is dedicated to Sacajawea, their young Shoshone guide.
So, it is only fitting the jewel of the park also be named in her honor.
From Sacajawea State Park, we sallied forth to explore the Palouse (pa-loose) region of Washington State. Our destination was Palouse Falls State Park, a little over an hour to the east. We followed Sacajawea Park Road to US-12 West and hit the highway, US-395 North/WA-260 East.
For a far as the eye can see what was once open prairie is now covered with wheat irrigated by the Snake River Washington.
Rounding a long, lazy bend, I glimpsed an enormously wide canyon, which I later learned is called a coulee. Long, long ago a tremendous river flowed here following the great flood. Today, much of the ancient river bed has been turned to agriculture.
The coulee narrows and deepens, and the road rises higher on the plateau. A short time later we top the plateau where we turned left onto Palouse Falls Road and drove to the entrance of the park.
The crowning jewel of the Palouse is Palouse Falls State Park.
Repeated volcanic eruptions of the past unleashed unfathomable rivers of lava over the land as evidenced by roughhewn cliffs . . .
. . . and fissured bluffs.
Then, the great flood swept through and forever rent the earth. A landscaped pockmarked with deep coulees and sinks . . .
. . . over which can be heard the thundering roar of white water plunging into a treacherous canyon.
Fryxell Overlook offers astounding views of the Palouse River Canyon. The sheer beauty of the place is awe-inspiring.
Artists strive to portray the picturesque Palouse Falls on canvas with brushes and oil paints. We were impressed by their interpretations.
Palouse Falls is a favorite venue for professional photographers; while I’m not a professional, I do enjoy capturing family memories with my little red camera.
Hike the 2 mile round trip trail at sunset for the best light affects. The park also has an ADA accessible trail, you see me hiking in the above photo.
Consider following the Great Washington State Birding Trail, the Palouse to Pines Loop. The following birds have been seen here:
Enthusiasts will need a keen eye to spot wildlife.
From Palouse Falls State Park, we drove south on WA-261, about 9 miles, to Lyons Ferry Park.
The park was closed on this day, so we were unable to enjoy its beautiful shores.
We crossed over the confluence via the Snake River Bridge, the “Gateway to Palouse State Park", and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Of cantilever construction, the current day bridge replaced the old Vantage Ferry Bridge damaged by flooding following the construction of the Wanapum Dam downstream in the 1960’s.
Originally built at the Vantage Ferry Crossing, this bridge was dismantled and moved to the Lyons Ferry crossing to better serve the high volume traffic drawn by the nearby state parks.
Other attractions to the area include wonderful fishing, camping and white water sports on the Snake River Washington.
We continued our trip upstream on the Snake River Washington by following WA-261, heading east on US-12 East toward Clarkston, Washington. Our destination was Buffalo Eddy, a unit of the extensive Nez Perce National Historical Park.
Since our directions were poor, we made a brief stop at the U.S. Forest Service National Headquarters--Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (Clarkston Office) at 2535 Riverside Drive, Clarkston, WA 99403.
To get there we followed US-12 East to the western boundary of Clarkston where we turned right/south onto WA-128/15th Street. We took a left/east onto Fleshman Way, and then a right/south onto WA-129 South/Riverside Drive to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Clarkston Office.
We discovered maps and a wealth of printed information about this area of Hells Canyon, the highlight of the Snake River Washington, and helpful tips from the staff. It was well worth the stop.
Hitting the road again, we resumed our route south on WA-129 South/Riverside Drive to Asotin, Washington. The highway follows the west bank of the Snake River Washington.
In Asotin, we stuck close to the Snake River Washington, driving on 1st Street, and then onto Wilson Street, which turns into Snake River Road. We traveled a little over 13 miles to Buffalo Eddy.
At first glance, the turnout seemed as if our destination would be a disappointment and we almost left. But, we had to photograph the opposite shore; after-all, the Snake River Washington is the border between two great states, and we were looking at Idaho on the other side.
The roof top in the distance looked interesting. Zooming in, we discovered the building was an outpost of some kind.
Then, we noticed a trail leading down to the river’s edge and decided after such a long drive, it was time to stretch our legs.
So, we started down the trail. You know me; I’m easily distracted by all the flora and fauna; it’s part of the adventure!
Imagine my surprise when I bent down to take a picture of this broad-leaf wildflower!
Wild roses perfumed the arid scabland . . .
. . . and Yarrow was the lacy adornment.
The ambiance was colorful . . .
. . . and the mood was heightened with bird music.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area has been a bucket list destination for me since I was a little girl. I remember sitting at my grandfather’s knee listening to his Hells Canyon tales when he toured here so many decades ago. His stories made the canyon come to life.
We carefully pick our way through the slick, glassy boulders jutting into the Snake River Washington.
The going is slow because we stop to shoot photos of the ancient rock art.
I was surprised to find this Kokopelli as most are located in the great Southwestern states of the U.S.
While we searched among the boulders a Snake River Adventures jet boat excursion from Clarkston, Washington speeds upstream.
The tour stopped at the boulder outcropping below the outpost on the Idaho side of the river and we enjoyed listening to the river guide tell about the petroglyphs found there.
After completing our exploration, we retraced our route back to Clarkston and crossed the bridge into Lewiston, Idaho where we spent the night at Hells Gate State Park.
“Named after Sacajawea’s husband, the famous interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Toussaint Charbonneau, this scenic park has been awarded the distinction as one of America’s Top 100 Family Campgrounds.
In addition to camping, visitors enjoy fishing for salmon and steelhead, trout, sturgeon and small-mouth bass, hunting waterfowl, water sports, biking, hiking, volleyball and a children’s playground. Conveniences include a boat ramp near the marina, concessions, flush toilets and showers.” Recreation.gov
"The park is located on the site the Alpowai encampment of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe. It was the home of Chief Timothy, who was a trusted friend of the early settlers in the area.
The Alpowai Interpretive Center is built near the original site of the village that existed in the mid 1800's. " LewisAndClarkTrail.com
"Fishhook Park is located on the shores on Lake Sacajawea in Eastern Washington. The lake is formed by Ice Harbor Lock and Dam on the Lower Snake River.
The park was named for Fishhook Rapids, which were once nearby, where Lewis and Clark spent time in October 1805. Today Fishhook is a fishing destination, as the name implies, attracting boaters and anglers alike to its black rock canyons. Visitors also enjoy camping, upland hunting, hiking, swimming and water sports." Recreation.gov
"Hood Park is located on Lake Wallula in eastern Washington. The lake is formed by McNary Lock and Dam on the Mid-Columbia River.
Lewis and Clark camped two miles downstream at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, which is now the location of Sacajawea State Park.
Visitors enjoy camping, fishing, boating, hiking, picnicking and swimming." Recreation.gov
"Windust Park is located on Lake Sacajawea in Eastern Washington. The lake is formed by Ice Harbor Dam on the Lower Snake River.
The remoteness of this park is popular with regional visitors looking for a quiet area to get away from it all. The park provides recreational opportunities for boaters, campers, hikers and anglers alike." Recreation.gov
"Exhibits feature Native American artifacts, information on Lewis & Clark's Corp of Discovery, railroad development, agriculture, irrigation, area ferries and bridges, aviation and health care, as well as a wealth of local artifacts and photos." Located in Pasco, Washington.
Located on the Snake River Washington in the city of Asotin WA, this day use park features picnic facilities with BBQ grills, boat ramps and docks, swimming, fishing, tennis, basketball, softball and a playground.
"The historic Steamboat Jean is moored in the park. It now houses a privately owned gallery. Tours on request. Phone: (509) 243-4387. The Full Gospel Church built in 1889 and listed on National Historic Register is also in the park. The original white oak pump organ is still in church. The public is welcome." LCToday.com
"Established in 1965 to tell the story of the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) people. Spread out over four states, following the route of the 1877 conflict this park offers something for everyone. The history and culture of the Nez Perce surrounds the park." NPS.gov
"The Northwest Discovery Water Trail is a 367-mile recreational boating route on the region’s defining waterways. It begins at Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River in Idaho, follows the Snake River down to the Columbia River and ends at Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River Gorge."