Adventure

The rugged, remote region of open parklands, wet forests, rolling grassy slopes, granite ridges, rushing streams, rocky outcroppings and quiet canyons of northeast Washington’s Columbia Highlands provides a backcountry experience like no other in Washington, so get out there and take a hike, mountain bike, ski, paddle, pick berries, ride a horse, hunt or fish.

The Columbia Highlands contain over two hundred thousand acres of roadless forest, from the open, rolling ponderosa grasslands of Cougar Mountain roadless area to the alpine cirques and rushing streams of Harvey Creek roadless area. These roadless areas offer hundreds of miles of backcountry adventure without the crowds. Even a short, half-mile hike can bring solitude, respite, and challenging adventure.

A hiker looks out over Clackamas Mountain roadless area from the Sweat Creek trail. Photo: Walt Hunner.

The Columbia Highlands feature several habitat types that are largely restricted to the east side of the Cascades, such as aspen groves, interior dry Douglas-fir forest, ponderosa parkland and shrub steppe. Here, for example, can be found some of the last monolithic old-growth ponderosa pines in the state, where logging and development have reduced ponderosa parklands to 1% of their historic range.

The rocky, open ridges don’t shirk on views, either. From the summits of many of the peaks in the Kettle Range, view of the Selkirk Mountains to the east, the Okanogan highlands and the Cascades to the west, and B.C.’s Rossland Range to the north abound, a reminder that this is Washington’s big-sky country.

Best of all, many trails stay crowd-free all summer. It’s not unusual to see more wildlife—elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mule deer, black bears, Clark’s nutcrackers and dusky grouse—than people.

One need not even set foot in a roadless area to enjoy the beauty it protects. For example, unroll a picnic blanket at Lake Ellen and enjoy the scenic backdrop of South Huckleberry’s steep-walled canyons and lodgepole forests, or view the vast swaths of pristine forestlands from Sherman Overlook.

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