In a state with no shortage of classic backpacking and long day hiking options, the Odessa – Lake Creek Trail is unique. At 13 miles one way, the trail offers the only true backcountry experience in eastern Washington’s channeled scablands. Hikers won’t find snow-capped spires or gem-like lakes, but they will find a sprawling sagebrush expanse pitted with pothole ponds, all tucked away into Washington’s breadbasket. Even better, this arid landscape – straight out of a John Ford western – can be hiked virtually year-round, making it a worthwhile destination for winter-weary hikers.
The Odessa-Lake Creek Trail navigates a maze of basalt buttes and broad mesas, carved by long coulees – a result of the Lake Missoula Floods some 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. On the western horizon the fluted basalt buttes known as Odessa Towers make an impressive landmark. To the southwest is 136-mile-long Crab Creek, which winds through the heart of the channeled scablands. And all around is the surprising hum of springtime life in the sagebrush steppe, where raptors perch on pioneer fencespots, coyotes trot on the skyline, and rodents – and rattlesnakes –move underfoot.
Spring is the ideal – some might say only – time to hike the Odessa–Lake Creek Trail. Best is early March, when the February doldrums have burned off and tick season has yet to peak. The shallow rocky soils showcase some of springtime’s earliest blooms – sagebrush buttercup and desert parsley. Come later in the spring to see bitterroots daub the otherwise drab ground with pink.
Even in early spring, begin hiking in the morning on sunny days; frigid mornings can quickly give way to 60-degree days, and the scant shade of basalt boulders near the southern trailhead is the only you’ll experience all day.
Hikers should plan on packing all the water they need; aside from shallow duck-filled ponds near the northern trail terminus, this is a dry hike. It was not always this way: at the halfway point of the hike, the route crosses the dried-out Bobs Lakes drainage, once a reliable spot to cast for perch. Bobs Lakes and their neighbors have fluctuated with aquifer levels over the years, but increased demand from area agriculture may keep them permanently dry. The Bureau of Reclamation has floated the idea to divert water from Lake Roosevelt to re-fill them, but until then these are lakes in name only.
Two trailheads access the Odessa–Lake Creek Trail. From the southern trailhead on the edge of tiny Odessa, signed singletrack dips over and around hunks of pockmarked basalt. The northern trailhead departs on old roadbed from the back forty of the old Lakeview Ranch, now a BLM property. Leave a shuttle car or mountain bike at one end of the route for a long day hike or quick, dry overnighter. The western rim of Lake Creek Coulee, at the halfway point of the hike, is the best spot to pitch a tent for dramatic views. From your tent flap, take note of the juxtaposition between the panoramic coulees and canyons before you and the sprawling wheatfields on the horizon – a viewpoint unique to backpacking trips in the Evergreen State.
Interested in car-camping rather than backpacking? Check out Pacific Lake near the northern trailhead. Although it has dried out like its neighbors, Pacific Lake still has a pleasant campground. Find more info on hiking in the area at wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/odessa-lake-creek-trail. //