Crab Creek Coulee Hike

Hike Rating: Moderate
Hike Length: 6.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 190’
Trailhead Elevation: 1,670’
Best Season: April-May and September
Driving Access: Any vehicle

Plus Points
• A scenic, cross-country walk along a coulee rim, for lovers of desert solitude
• Overviews of the Crab Creek coulee, with basalt bluffs sculpted by Ice Age floods
• Mima mound topography on the flat benchlands above the coulee rim
• Showy balsamroot and white lupine on the moist, north-facing slopes in Spring
• A cool, shady hike destination awaits at the banks of perennial Crab Creek
• Solitude is nearly unavoidable on this hike

Minus Points
• No shade or tree cover, so it's best to start in the early AM on hot days
• Route is mostly cross-country over uneven ground, so sturdy footwear is a must
• Rattlesnakes are a possibility throughout the summer, so be aware

Download (PDF, 673 KB): Photos of Crab Creek Coulee Hike
Download (PDF, 709 KB): Topo Map for Crab Creek Coulee Hike
Download (PDF, 667 KB): Road Map for Crab Creek Coulee Hike

Trail Notes
Map of Crab Creek Coulee Hike
The hike begins at the green, steel pedestrian gate on the southeast side of the Rocky Ford bridge over Crab Creek. The route initially climbs steeply up the gigantic flood bar of cobbles behind the gate, then ascends gradually east through tall sagebrush to the brow of the ridge. The goal is to reach the prominent rocky rim on the horizon, about 200' above the elevation of the trailhead. Once up on the rim, at about 0.5 miles, the route is to the east, contouring along the edge of the rock rim on cow trails through low sage and sparse grass. Look for mima mound topography in this section.

Cow trails appear and disappear along the rim's edge, but route finding is easy as long as one contours along the same rock layer. At about 1.8 miles, the route crosses a north-south fence line and wide, sweeping views open up over Crab Creek and the coulee to the east. Past this fence, it may be tempting to drop down to lower benches along the rim, but the easiest route is to just maintain the same contour level. In Spring, look for colorful arrowleaf balsamroot and white lupine on the north-facing slopes below the rim.

At 2.6 miles, one comes to a stacked rock cairn on the rim's edge, which is the end of the cross-country trek. Scrambling down the slope northeast of this cairn, one soon finds a double-track jeep road trending north down into the coulee. Follow this jeep track for about 0.8 miles north and east to its end at Crab Creek below. This creek flows year-round and there is shade under the small trees and willows at streamside. It's a fine spot to cool off, have lunch and see a few ducks. Return as you came.

Road to Trailhead
From State Route 28, about 15 miles east of Odessa and 9.5 miles west of Harrington, turn south on paved Doggett Road. Drive south 1.6 miles, curving southeast and crossing the railroad tracks, to a "T". Turn left here (east on Tanke Road) and drive 0.5 miles to the top of the hill, then turn right (south) onto gravel Rocky Ford Road. Drive 5 miles south on Rock Ford Road to the concrete bridge over Crab Creek. Park at the pullout southeast of the bridge. The trailhead is the green steel pedestrian gate in the fence.

From Interstate 90, take Exit 221, then turn northwest onto the road leading into Ritzville (which soon becomes Division Street). On the northwest edge of town, about 1.5 miles from Hwy 90, just before the road bends due west, turn right (north) onto paved Marcellus Road. Follow Marcellus Road for about 9 miles north to a 90 degree turn to the west. At this corner, turn right (northeast) onto gravel Rocky Ford Road and follow it for 4 miles to the concrete bridge over Crab Creek.

Camping Options
The nearest public camping area is the BLM Pacific Lake/Lakeview Ranch Campground, about 30 driving miles from the trailhead, north of Odessa on the Lakeview Ranch Loop Road. Here, near the old Lakeview Ranch buildings and corrals, on a flat bench above now dry Pacific Lake, are a vault toilet and gravel parking areas suitable for travel trailers. A grassy area with a few shade trees, plus tables and fire rings, serves tent campers and picnickers. There is no potable water here, but drinking water jugs can be filled at the City Park in downtown Odessa. Though Pacific Lake is now dry, the area is still scenic, with vertical basalt walls defining both sides of the coulee. A quiet spot for camping, with no fees charged. Do keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.

Camping is also available at two private resorts on Sprague Lake, east of the trailhead near the town of Sprague off Interstate 90. These campgrounds offer full hookups, showers and rest rooms, but they're relatively expensive and near the freeway and railroad tracks.

Agency Contact: Spokane BLM District, (509) 536-1200

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to contact local public land agencies to inquire about current conditions before traveling.

Page last updated: 11/8/13