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Columbia Plateau Trail - Fish Lake

Eastern Washington


Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area/Coeur d'Alene
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7.5 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 200 ft.
Highest Point: 2277 ft.


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Survey wetlands, working farms and Western-movie vistas on this 130-mile rail trail through Eastern Washington’s channeled scablands.

The Spokane, Portland and Seattle rail line represented the last major triumph of railroad magnate James J. Hill, the “Empire Builder.” Today, recreationists can survey the Inland Empire of eastern Washington on this 130-mile route, now maintained as the Columbia Plateau Trail State Park. Through much of its length, the Columbia Plateau Trail passes through the channeled scablands, the canyon-carved remains of cataclysmic ice age floods caused by the breaching of ancient Glacial Lake Missoula.

Users can access the route from multiple trailheads along its length; currently, 23 miles between Lincoln County and Cheney and another 15 miles near Tri-Cities between Ice Harbor Dam and Snake River Junction are developed for public use. Much of the rail trail remains crushed railway ballast, but the 3.75-mile stretch from Fish Lake Regional Park to the Cheney Trailhead is smooth blacktop and makes a fine introduction to the trail for hikers, bikers, skaters and, in the winter, snowshoers and Nordic skiers.

Beginning at Fish Lake Regional Park, the rail trail skirts the southeast side of the lake. At 1 mile the trail begins chugging slowly but steadily uphill amidst ponderosa pines and basalt columns. At around 2 miles, pass the first of several large tracts of agricultural land. On either side, shallow “pothole” wetlands, scoured into the basalt bedrock by the swirling Lake Missoula floodwaters, provide oases for migratory birds and belie eastern Washington’s dry reputation. Bring plenty of water for yourself, though; the trail, shade-free for much of its length, can be mercilessly hot in the summer, and there is no water along the route.

At 3.75 miles, reach the trailhead at Cheney-Spangle Road. Beyond this point the trail surface reverts to crushed gravel before passing through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge and points beyond.


Columbia Plateau Trail - Fish Lake

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 47.5662, -117.4933 Open map in new window


Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area/Coeur d'Alene

Columbia Plateau Trail - Fish Lake (#)

Washington State Parks

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Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hike Eastern Washington

by Craig Romano

highlights several more hikes in the Columbia Plateau and Channeled Scablands areas.

WA State Parks Columbia Plateau

Getting There

From Cheney, drive northeast on First Street for one mile. Turn right on Cheney-Spokane Road for 2.9 miles. Turn right on S Myers Park Rd. to the trailhead.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Discover Pass

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Columbia Plateau Trail - Fish Lake

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