Sun Lakes, Washington, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Washington - North Central Washington -

Also known as:  Blue Lake, Deep Lake, Soap Lake, Dry Falls Lake, Lenore Lake, Park Lake, Meyers Lake, Mirror Lake, Perch Lake, Alkali Lake, Green Lake, Castle Lake

All kinds of recreation await visitors to Sun Lakes in Washington’s North Central region. These mostly natural lakes all share a common origin, having formed in the ancient river gorge of the Columbia River. Scientists believe the Grand Coulee Gorge was cut through the surrounding plateau by the rupture of the ice dam holding back huge glacial Lake Missoula about 20,000 years ago. The massive flow of water scoured away the top layers of soil down to bedrock and flowed into the Pacific near Portland at depths nearing 400 feet. When it was all over-a process taking a few thousand years-the 900-foot-wide gorge held several pockets of water at the bottom of the new valley.

The Columbia River retreated to its present course, leaving the series of lakes called Sun Lakes in the lower Grande Coulee Gorge below striking basalt cliffs. The stark beauty of the sagebrush plateau called the ‘scablands’ gives the lakes an atmosphere of a surprising oasis in an arid desert-scape with columns of basalt as a backdrop. Finding wildflowers blooming in the thin soil and birds enjoying the shoreline are some of the reasons the Grand Coulee Gorge has been named a National Natural Landmark.

Over a score of lakes of various sizes occupy a spot on the gorge floor. The largest of these are connected by a natural outflow until they reach the terminus lake in the series: Soap Lake. The stream is part of the irrigation system formed when the Columbia Basin Project dammed the Upper Grand Coulee Gorge, creating Banks Lake. Water is pumped from above the Grand Coulee Dam to fill the lake, which flows down the gorge into and through the other lakes. The lakes in the lower basin include Soap, Deep, Lenore, Alkali, Blue and Park lakes. Dividing the Upper and Lower gorge, the world’s largest ancient waterfall-a nearly 4-mile wide precipice that is 400 feet high-forms a breathtaking natural landmark. The falls were formed by the flooding created by the breaking of the ice dam that emptied ancient Lake Missoula. The falls are a major feature of the Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park and a favorite spot for visitors to the area.

The Dry Falls Interpretive Center is about two miles north of the main Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park entrance on Highway 17, also known as the Coulee Corridor-National Scenic Byway. The 4000-acre state park holds Dry Falls Lake, Deep Lake, and encompasses the north shore of Park Lake. The park boasts over 73,600 feet of shoreline open to visitors. Only 99 acres in size, Dry Falls Lake isn’t the place for swimming or water sports, but canoes are encouraged here. Excellent fly fishing for rainbow trout and brown trout encourages anglers to navigate the primitive road to reach the lake. Hiking trails give access to the many small pothole lakes (formed by erosion of rock) in the park with some accessible to mountain bikes. A private concession offers guided horseback riding within the park to Dry Falls. Streams form a water trail between several of the smaller lakes in the park. Also located within the state park, Deep Lake is 107 acres and reaches a depth of 115 feet. A boat launch is available, and the lake is a favored place to fish for lake trout, rainbow trout and kokanee. Sections of the park are open for hunting in the fall.

The main entry point to Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is located near the campground on Park Lake. A modern campground is located here, with all amenities for large RVs and tent campers. Primitive camping is permitted within the park in some areas. The park swimming area is located near the campground. A privately-operated resort within the park offers cabins for rent, a golf course, convenience store and rents paddleboats and row boats to guests. Two boat launch ramps are available, and waterskiing or personal watercraft are permitted during certain times of the year. Moorage slips can be reserved for use. An environmental learning center provides interpretation of the unique area and its outstanding features. Campers do not need a Discover Pass, but others visiting the park will need to purchase either a daily or an annual pass. Park Lake is the largest lake in the park at 246 acres. Long and narrow, Park Lake has a full six miles of shoreline located between striking canyon walls. Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is the ideal spot to call home while visiting area attractions such as Grand Coulee Dam or Steamboat Rock.

Blue Lake is immediately downstream from Park Lake and holds several resorts, some of which have been in business for many years. The resorts provide boat launch facilities for a small fee. Blue Lake is about twice the size of Park Lake, with 532 acres. The lake is known for rainbow trout and brown trout and is very attractive to anglers. An old-fashioned lake vacation is still possible at Blue Lake. One of the resorts proudly reports that they do not provide either television or telephones in their cottages in order to maintain the relaxing family resort atmosphere, but they do provide WiFi. Hunting is popular near Blue Lake during the fall hunting season. Elk and deer frequent the area, along with wild turkey and huge numbers of birds.

Alkali Lake is next in line, but there is little information available about this lake. At 290 acres, the lake is only 14 feet deep at its deepest point. Its nearby neighbor, Lenore Lake, is far more popular. The 1300-acre lake is one of the most popular for sport fishing and offers Lahontan cutthroat trout, the largest subspecies of cutthroat. The Lahontan was at one time on the endangered species list and is still carefully managed. Adapted to alkaline waters, this species of trout is the only type of fish in Lenore Lake. Early season fishing is catch and release, and special gear regulations apply at all times. Three boat ramps are provided by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Gasoline motors are not permitted. A series of natural caves and rock ledges along the cliffs surrounding the lake are popular climbing and hiking destinations. Trail maps can be obtained locally.

The last lake in the series is salty Soap Lake. The name is derived from the Native American term Smokiam, meaning ‘Healing Waters’. Soap Lake has the highest mineral content of all of the lakes in the series and was famous as a health-spa resort location as early as the first decade of the 20th century. The top layer of water-about 81 feet-contains heavily mineralized water with lower levels holding a slurry of muddy minerals. The layers do not mix. Fishing is non-existent here due to the high mineral content. The lake has no outlet, and evaporation serves to keep the lake at high levels of mineral salts. Before the Great Depression, the little resort town of Soap Lake was filled with spa hotels, sanitariums (hospitals) and mineral baths.

Today, several hotels and inns still offer access to the healing water and mud, and at least one private RV resort graces the shoreline. A city-owned campground can accommodate a limited number of visitors, with a free-to-play rough nine-hole golf course supported by donations which is excellent for beginners and children. A little town with a big vision and an eclectic appreciation for the arts, the City of Soap Lake has a community theater and a small art museum. Efforts are underway to build a 60-foot representation of a lava lamp with computerized light show that can be seen from the highway and draw tourists to the little city in revival. Sun Lakes wouldn’t be Sun Lakes without the unusual attractions of Soap Lake.

Sun Lakes is the perfect spot for a central Washington vacation. Campgrounds and resorts are numerous along the many lakes, with hotels, motels and spas located in both Coulee City and the City of Soap Lake. Fishing, swimming, boating, paddling, hiking and horseback riding keep visitors coming back to this most unusual gorge. From Dry Falls to Soap Lake, you’ll find activities and scenic wonders that will delight the senses and challenge your physical limits. Make reservations today, and bring the hiking boots!

*Statistics are not available for all lakes. The statistics listed are for Park Lake only.

Things to do at Sun Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Sun Lakes

  • Brown Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Sun Lakes Photo Gallery

Sun Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 246 acres

Shoreline Length: 6 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,096 feet

Average Depth: 38 feet

Maximum Depth: 85 feet

Water Volume: 13,149 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 317 sq. miles

Spread the word! Share our Sun Lakes article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.