Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area

Hawk Creek
Hawk Creek

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area is a 100,390-acre property surrounding the 130-mile long Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake upstream of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in eastern Washington. Grand Coulee Dam was built in 1941, the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area established in 1946. Just to the southwest is Crescent Bay Lake which is also included in the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

Native American history in the area dates back more than 9,000 years. The Nez Perce have an oral history of fishing in this part of the Columbia River before the pyramids were built in Egypt and archaeologists have found artifacts in the area to back up that history. Other stories tell of floods rushing down the river at the end of the last Ice Age as the glaciers retreated and meltwaters broke through natural barriers upstream. But the biggest changes the tribes have ever seen came with the influx of Anglo-American settlers.

The first European to come through the area was most likely David Thompson, a British explorer with the Northwest Company. Thompson was a trapper who explored (and laid claim to) most of the northwest in the late 1700's. He reached the confluence of the Colville River with the Columbia River in mid-June, 1811 and the Pacific Ocean a month later. Along the way, he and his small group of voyageurs stopped and spent some time with almost every group of Native Americans they came across. His journey back to the east took much longer but was also much easier as he had already introduced himself to so many and had established friendly relations along his entire route. Contrast that with what happened after the Anglo-Americans started to flow in...

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, Grand Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam
St. Paul's Mission
St. Paul's Mission, built in 1847

Construction of the Grand Coulee Dam stopped the migration of salmon further upstream to spawn. It also locked sturgeon into the lake and some of those sturgeon are now 70 years old and up to 20 feet long. The watershed of Lake Roosevelt drains about 44,969 square miles, the majority of which is in Canada. When full, the lake extends more than 154 miles upstream from the Grand Coulee Dam and includes the lower reaches of many rivers and streams. Most of the water in the lake is runoff from lakes, snow and glacial ice high in the Canadian Rockies. Biologists have found more than 200 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, 10 species of amphibians, 15 species of reptiles and 28 native species and 12 nonnative species of fish.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area is located at the juncture of the Kootenay Arc, the Okanogan Highlands and the Columbia Plateau, three distinct geological provinces. The Columbia Plateau is the result of millions of years of intermittent lava flows. The Okanogan Highlands used to be much wetter but as tectonic action pushed up the Cascades to the west, the area came into a rain shadow and began to dry up. Scientists have documented massive floods in the area as the last Ice Age was ending, floods that drastically changed the shape of the land almost overnight. Toady, the shoreline around the lake supports grasslands, scrublands and conifer forests, each habitat with its own various wildflowers and wildlife.

Spread out around Lake Roosevelt NRA are 22 boat launches, 10 swim beaches, 27 campgrounds and historical sites such as the St. Paul's Mission and Spokane Visitor Center and Museum. Because of the size of the National Recreation Area, there are visitor centers and administrative offices in Spokane and Kettle Falls with the actual headquarters office located at Coulee Dam. The Fort Spokane Visitor Center and Museum is open from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day daily, 9:30 am to 5 pm, and the rest of the year by prior request. The Kettle Falls Information Center is manned by the NPS, USFS and Kettle Falls Chamber of Commerce. That shared responsibility means the office is open daily Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day from 9 am to 5 pm and on Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm the rest of the year. Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area itself is open 24/7/365.

Misty Cove on Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
Misty Cove

Camping: Most sites are available first-come, first-served. All group sites and a few individual sites are available by reservations. No camping fees at boat-in only campgrounds. No more than 2 vehicles or 10 people at an individual campsite.

There is a two-night minimum on all reserved campsites (three-night minimum on holiday weekends) and reservations/changes must be made through at least seven days in advance. No site can be reserved for more than 14 days. Group reservations must also be made through

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service