Rock Lake, Washington, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Washington - Northeast Washington -

Deep, dark and mysterious describes Northeast Washington’s Rock Lake. Largest and deepest of the many lakes in the ‘Channeled Scablands’, Rock lake covers over 2000 acres between striking basalt cliffs towering above the surface. Long and narrow, Rock Lake presents a deceptively serene surface much of the time which has led many unsuspecting boaters into serious difficulty. The lake is exceptionally deep and cold, and the towering cliffs funnel winds which can create three-foot waves in short order. Although suspected to be up to 425 feet deep in some areas, even deep water near shore hides sharp rock pinnacles just under the surface that can tear into the bottom of small boats. Because the water is somewhat murky much of the year, these aren’t easily seen and avoiding them can be difficult.

A natural lake, Rock Lake gains most of its water at the north end from inflowing Rock Creek, a tributary of the Palouse River. During spring thaw, more water enters from the plateaus above through channels worn into the rock cliffs. The rushing water erodes the basalt into strange columns, producing caves and unusual holes through which the water flows. In spring, several seasonal waterfalls appear at the north end of the lake. The basalt, formed from long-ago volcanic action, and the channeled scablands which form the flooded canyon where Rock Lake lies, both show evidence of the major geologic changes this part of eastern Washington experienced in prehistory. Rock Creek flows through the ‘scabland’ valley which was created by repeated massive flooding from pre-historic Lake Missoula. Most visitors simply marvel at the unusual landscape.

Rock Lake has a shoreline of about 20 miles, but walking around it isn’t possible due to the broken cliffs. The surrounding area is nearly all private land, and no road circles the lake. One small unimproved boat launch site near the south end is privately owned but maintained by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) under a public access agreement. The launch site is simply a flat, sandy spot where small boats can be launched. Insiders warn that the bottom drops off suddenly, and care must be taken when backing boat trailers into the shallow water. Launching large boats is simply not possible here, so most boating is restricted to fishing boats, canoes and kayaks. Despite these drawbacks, Rock Lake is extremely popular among fishermen and has a surprising variety of fish available for the catching.

Rock Lake is known as an excellent year-round fishery and holds black crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, pumpkinseed , bullhead and carp. Most popular among anglers are the rainbow trout and brown trout. Originally planted by WDFW, the trout are mostly self-sustaining now. For reasons that aren’t completely understood, the lake doesn’t freeze most years. Early Native Americans believed that the lake didn’t freeze because of ‘large animals’ seen below the surface. Reports of an elusive lake monster have persisted, with some researchers believing that a resident population of land-locked sturgeon live in the lake. Little actual scientific research has been done on Rock Lake, so it still holds its traditional mysteries-and remains open to speculation.

Canoe and kayak users sometimes enter the lake from inflowing Rock Creek. Reports of some sailing on the lake are occasionally found, but those suggest any boats remain near the center of the lake due to the unexpected rock pinnacles. A capsized boat can be very dangerous as the water remains cold enough that hypothermia quickly sets in. The steep cliffs prevent swimmers from reaching a shore point that will allow them to leave the water. Unfortunately, the lake has experienced several drownings due to unprepared boaters ending up in the water and being unable to reach shore, so it is not recommended for the inexperienced.

A portion of the John Wayne Trail skirts the southeast shore of the lake for some distance. Formed along the abandoned Milwaukee Road railroad bed, the trail is open only by permit from the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Much of the land is privately owned, so the trail is not yet widely available. The 100-mile John Wayne Trail travels from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River gorge and is open in many places to all non-motorized traffic. The Rock Lake portion of the trail passes through two long railroad tunnels, over iron and concrete trestles with abandoned rail cars overturned and lying next to the tracks from a long-ago trail derailment. Local legend maintains that several boxcars full of new Model T Fords went into the lake, never to be recovered. So far, divers have not located them. Whether is is true or not, the rail company relocated the railroad before abandoning it all together.

Around the turn of the last century, the small town of Rock Lake City occupied a spot on the cliffs above the lake. The railroad brought passengers to the small hotel built there, and tourists could take boat trips along the lake. The enterprise was short-lived due to the relocation of the rail line, and many of the buildings were moved to the nearby town of Ewan, a mile to the west. The area is still scenic and wildlife plentiful. If one gains permission from the local farmers who own the land around the lake, one can see and photograph bald eagles, osprey, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, vultures, turkey, coyotes, mule deer and an occasional elk wandering away from the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge herd. Talk about making the lakeshore into a state park was common in the 1950s, but the anticipated plan was never carried out. Likewise, plans to dam the outflowing Rock Creek for water storage, hydropower and other uses similarly have not occurred.

The area surrounding Rock Lake holds several geologic features of interest. Several lava blowholes are found south of the lake, and nearby, large Castle Rock rises above the landscape. On private land, Castle Rock isn’t currently accessible. North of Rock Lake, a natural tunnel through a lava flow can be seen, and several shallow lava caves are located near here. Rock Creek courses through Hole-In-The-Ground coulee before heading to Rock Lake. Nearby, Devils Well is an ancient hole left in the lava when a lava flow surrounded a mammoth tree, which eventually rotted away, leaving the imprint of its bark in the cooling lava. Originally, the hole was reported to be about 100 feet deep, but local residents filled it nearly full with rocks after children had fallen into it. Paddlers can travel Rock Creek upstream to Bonnie Lake. A parking area is located near Hole-In-The-Ground.

There isn’t much in the way of lodgings at Ewan, but the City of Cheney is about 30 miles to the north and well-prepared for visitors. Spokane is 50 miles from Rock Lake. The Cheney Rodeo is the biggest annual event the city produces, with a history of nearly 50 years. Cheney also holds the Ice-Age Flood Institute, which occasionally holds informational events. Here, visitors can get information necessary to take a self-guided tour of the scablands. Home to Eastern Washington University, Cheney has a number of arts and cultural venues which hold exhibits, plays and musical events. Several hotels and bed & breakfasts offer plenty of lodging choices. Local campgrounds can be found in the area. City lights are not so far away, as Spokane is just another 20 miles up the highway. So, if you’re visiting eastern Washington, take a day to explore the area around Rock Lake. Its beauty, legends and mystery will delight you.

*Statistics included are the most current figures from Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Reports of greater depths for Rock Lake are unofficial.

Things to do at Rock Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Wildlife Refuge
  • State Park

Fish species found at Rock Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Black Crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Brown Trout
  • Carp
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sturgeon
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Yellow Perch

Rock Lake Photo Gallery

Rock Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 2,190 acres

Shoreline Length: 19 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,728 feet

Maximum Depth: 375 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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