Grand Coulee Dam & Other Northeast Washington Sights

Tracking heritage in Northeast Washington, from Grand Coulee Dam to Fort Spokane & Beyond

In Northeast Washington, the raw forces of Mother Nature can run headlong into people’s will to tame them. Nowhere is this more evident than at Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the country. Opened in 1942, the mile-wide goliath harnessed the mighty Columbia River for hydropower and created Lake Roosevelt, a 130-mile-long aquatic playground for boaters, campers, and anglers.

Just to the south, lace up your boots and search for spring wildflowers atop Steamboat Rock State Park’s namesake mound of columnar basalt, a remnant of the prehistoric Missoula floods that created the channeled scablands.

To uncover more recent history, follow Highway 174 to U.S. 2 across windswept wheat fields to friendly Davenport. Here, the Lincoln County Historical Museum is filled with countless displays of early-20th-century life, including a vintage fire engine and printing presses. And just up Highway 25, Fort Spokane is a well-preserved 1880s-era military outpost.

Further north in Gifford, a ferry—one of only two remaining on the upper Columbia—offers convenient passage to the Colville National Forest. This high, rolling, million-acre wilderness is a part of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. For a dose of civilization, stay straight on Highway 25 and head for the small community of Kettle Falls, home to St. Paul’s Mission, an 1845 chapel built by Jesuit missionaries and native peoples.

Just southeast of Kettle Falls there’s plenty of living history in the town of Colville, too. Here you’ll find the Keller Heritage Center Museum and Park, where you can inspect some 5,000 artifacts including a sawmill and the Graves Lookout Tower, an authentic Forest Service fire tower built during the 1930s. Afterward, head to Northport to sample one of the seven microbrews on tap at Northern Ales, or finish your travels by driving north on Highway 31 via Highway 20 east of Colville.

The winding route traces the clear rushing waters of the Pend Oreille River to Metaline Falls and the Canadian border. Once a dusty mining town, Metaline Falls now supports a thriving artists’ community—a group that has no shortage of regional natural beauty or cultural heritage to inspire them.

—Craig Romano

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