Exploring Washington’s Banks Lake – A Complete Guide

Sharing is caring!

Banks Lake, a stunning 27-mile long reservoir in central Washington, offers a multitude of exciting outdoor adventures to satisfy every nature enthusiast. Created by the construction of two rock-faced earthfill dams at the northern and southern ends of the Ice-Age channel of the Columbia River, now known as Grand Coulee, this picturesque lake has become a popular destination for both locals and visitors alike. With its vast 27,000 water surface acres, beautiful landscapes, and rich biodiversity, we are eager to introduce you to the wonders of exploring Banks Lake.

From the breathtaking basalt cliffs lining the Grand Coulee to the diverse bird species in abundance during the spring and fall, Banks Lake’s unique geological features and thriving ecosystem offer a remarkable experience for outdoor explorers of all interests. Recreational activities like fishing, paddling, or simply taking in the breathtaking views are all made unforgettable by the lake’s pristine shoreline, lush forests, and clear waters. As we delve into the various aspects that make Banks Lake an explorer’s paradise, we hope to inspire you to embark on your own adventure and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this spectacular Washington gem.

Location and Geographical Features of Banks Lake, Washington

Banks Lake is a stunning 27-mile long reservoir located in central Washington. This remarkable body of water is part of the Columbia Basin Project and fills the northern portion of the Grand Coulee, a dry coulee near the Columbia River, created by the Missoula Floods during the Pleistocene epoch.

Situated near Coulee City at its southern end, Banks Lake stretches northwest, with its northern end close to the world-famous Grand Coulee Dam. It’s easily accessible through State Route 155, making it a popular destination for both locals and visitors coming from Seattle or other parts of the state.

As we explore the lake, we can’t help but notice the fascinating geological features around us. Banks Lake occupies the northern part of the Grand Coulee, a massive ice-age channel that was carved by the mighty Columbia River and its major tributaries. This remarkable body of water rests within a steep-walled, columnar basalt canyon, bearing testimony to the power of the ancient glacial floods that created it.

One of the popular destinations around Banks Lake is Steamboat Rock State Park. Covering over 5,043 acres and featuring 50,000 feet of freshwater shoreline, the park provides plenty of space for car camping, tent camping, and picnicking along the pristine shores of the lake. Water sports enthusiasts can revel in boating, fishing, and paddling activities on the lake amid the breathtaking views of the basalt cliffs.

Located in the heart of Washington State’s Columbia Basin, Banks Lake serves a dual purpose in the region. While being an extraordinary natural attraction for visitors, it’s also part of the larger Columbia Basin Project, an expansive irrigation system that brings essential water resources to farmland throughout the region.

In summary, Banks Lake, Washington, is an awe-inspiring destination rich in geological history, stunning views, and recreational opportunities. We encourage you to come and explore the wonders of this magnificent area and learn more about the vital role it plays in the Columbia Basin Project.

Exploring Banks Lake

Banks Lake is a stunning 27-mile long reservoir in Washington State, perfect for various outdoor activities. In this section, we will discuss some of our top recommendations for exploring its beautiful waters and surrounding areas.

One of our favorite ways to explore Banks Lake is by getting on the water. The reservoir’s calm waters make it an excellent choice for paddle sports such as kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. If you’re new to paddling, the area around Northrup Point is a great place to start. We enjoyed a short yet scenic trip from Northrup Point through Lover’s Lane, which covered three miles; however, you can easily make this a longer adventure.

While paddling, we marveled at the sight of towering basalt cliffs surrounding the lake, providing a fantastic backdrop for kayaking and paddleboarding. Don’t forget to look out for wildlife, such as birds of prey soaring overhead or fish swimming beneath your watercraft.

In addition to water activities, exploring Banks Lake’s surrounding area offers an array of experiences. Driving around the lake’s perimeter provides a chance to take in the scenic views and catch glimpses of the cliffs, shoreline, and wildlife from the comfort of your vehicle.

The best time to explore Banks Lake is typically in May when the weather is more predictable, and the temperatures are mild. Even though the weather may be pleasant, we recommend always checking the conditions before embarking on a new adventure. Prepare for a safe and enjoyable trip by packing enough water, sunscreen, proper clothing, and lifejackets for any water activities.

By incorporating both on-the-water and on-the-road exploration methods, you will experience the beauty of Banks Lake and its surrounding scenery to the fullest. No matter your chosen activity, we are confident that Banks Lake will leave a lasting impression and create unforgettable memories.

Attractions around Banks Lake

Steamboat Rock State Park

One of the main attractions near Banks Lake is Steamboat Rock State Park, a 5,043-acre camping park with 50,000 feet of freshwater shoreline and a remarkable columnar basaltic rock formation spanning 600 acres. We recommend exploring the park for an exciting day trip or setting up camp at the park’s campground (don’t forget your Discover Pass). The park offers a wide variety of activities, including hiking, picnicking, and appreciating the impressive Steamboat Rock formation.

There are several picturesque trails to choose from, such as the Banks Lake Trail. This easy 1.2-mile out-and-back route takes approximately 30 minutes to complete and offers beautiful views of the lake and the surrounding landscape.

Grand Coulee Dam

Another must-see attraction near Banks Lake is the Grand Coulee Dam. As one of the largest concrete structures in the world, this engineering marvel is a sight to behold. During the summer months, you can enjoy the nightly laser show projected onto the dam, which tells the story of its construction and significance to the region. Be sure to also visit the nearby visitor center, where you can learn more about the dam’s history and operations.

The town of Grand Coulee offers various accommodations, restaurants, and fuel options, making it an ideal base for exploring the dam and Banks Lake area.

Banks Lake Wildlife Area

For nature enthusiasts, we recommend visiting the Banks Lake Wildlife Area. Managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, this area is home to a diverse array of birds and other wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled and binoculars handy as you explore the trails and enjoy the natural beauty of eastern Washington.

In summary, Banks Lake and its surrounding attractions offer an array of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, from hiking and picnicking to discovering impressive natural formations and engineering feats. We hope you enjoy your time exploring the beautiful Banks Lake region!

Water Activities at Banks Lake

Banks Lake is a vast and beautiful body of water in Washington State, offering numerous opportunities for water-based adventures. With its 27,000 water surface acres, visitors can engage in various water activities such as swimming, water sports, and kayaking source.

One enjoyable water activity we highly recommend is kayaking. Banks Lake is the perfect place to paddle and explore its 27 miles of shoreline. There are endless opportunities for kayaking, from Northrup Point through Lover’s Lane, which can be as short as three miles, or you can venture further to cover longer distances source.

Swimming is another popular activity at Banks Lake, with numerous areas to choose from for a refreshing dip. The clear waters and inviting shorelines provide a wonderful environment for spending hours in the water cooling off during the warm summer months.

A thrilling experience at Banks Lake is deep water soloing. This unique climbing activity involves climbing the surrounding rock formations that rise directly from the water. Banks Lake is known to offer some of the only deep water soloing in Washington State source.

For water sports enthusiasts, Banks Lake offers a vast expanse for fun and excitement. From jet skiing to wakeboarding, the lake is the perfect setting for a day of adventure on the water.

Fishing at Banks Lake

Banks Lake in Washington State provides a fantastic fishing experience for both novice and experienced anglers. It is a year-round fishing destination, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife diligently manages this location to ensure a rich variety of fish species. In this section, we’ll discuss the types of fish you can expect to encounter when fishing at Banks Lake.

Banks Lake Fish Types

Banks Lake is home to a diverse set of fish species that anglers can target. Among them are:

  • Smallmouth Bass: These feisty fish are a popular target for many anglers. They can be found along the rocky shorelines and submerged structures within the lake.
  • Largemouth Bass: Although not as abundant as smallmouth bass, largemouth bass are still present in Banks Lake. They tend to prefer areas with more vegetation and cover.
  • Rainbow Trout: This species is stocked annually by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, providing anglers with the opportunity to catch these beautiful and delicious fish.
  • Kokanee: These landlocked salmon provide a unique fishing experience, as they can be found schooling in deeper waters and typically require specialized techniques to catch.
  • Walleye: Banks Lake is known for its incredible walleye fishing opportunities. Anglers enjoy catching these tasty fish, which are oftentimes elusive and require skill to pursue successfully.
  • Lake Whitefish: These cold-water fish are less frequently targeted but still provide a fun and challenging experience for those who wish to pursue them.
  • Yellow Perch: Perch fishing in Banks Lake can be a rewarding experience, as they are typically found in schools and can provide fast-paced action when a group is located.
  • Black Crappie: This popular panfish species can be found around submerged brush piles, docks, and other structures, offering anglers the opportunity to catch them using light tackle and finesse techniques.

In conclusion, Banks Lake offers fantastic opportunities for anglers seeking a wide variety of fish species. From trophy-sized bass to tasty walleye and elusive kokanee, this fishing destination is sure to provide memorable experiences for everyone who casts a line in its waters.

Camping at Banks Lake

Banks Lake in Washington offers a variety of camping options for outdoor enthusiasts. Along the 27-mile long lake with 27,000 water surface acres, visitors can explore several beautiful campsites and dedicated campgrounds. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful beach or campsite nestled in nature, Banks Lake has something for everyone.

One of our favorite campgrounds is Sunbanks Resort Campground. The resort provides a range of accommodations from tent sites to RV hookups, ensuring the perfect stay for every camper. Some sites even boast stunning lake views, making it an ideal spot to relax and unwind.

Steamboat Rock State Park is another excellent choice for camping at Banks Lake. The park spans 3,522 acres and offers 50,000 feet of freshwater shoreline at the north end of the lake. The camping area consists of two campground sections and a large day-use area, all set on sweeping green lawns. Tall basalt rock formations protect the park from winds, creating a comfortable, sheltered environment.

At the Coulee Playland Resort, campers can find a family-oriented atmosphere complete with playgrounds, watersport rentals, and a general store. The resort features both RV sites and tent camping spots.

From April onwards, as the weather warms up, camping at Banks Lake becomes even more enjoyable. Many campgrounds open their doors for the season, and visitors flock to the area for the pleasant temperatures and exciting activities. Hiking, biking, bird watching, and boating are popular pastimes at Banks Lake.

With its diverse range of camping options, beautiful landscapes, and endless recreational opportunities, Banks Lake is a must-visit destination for outdoor enthusiasts. We encourage you to explore this beautiful region and discover why so many people return each year for their camping vacations.

History of Banks Lake

Banks Lake is a reservoir in Washington state, formed as part of the Columbia Basin Project to supply irrigation water to the region. The reservoir was created by the Bureau of Reclamation, which built two rock-faced, earthfill dams at the northern and southern ends of the Grand Coulee, an Ice-Age channel of the Columbia River. The primary purpose of this project was to provide reliable irrigation water to the arid lands in the area, thus improving agriculture and fostering economic growth.

In constructing Banks Lake, the Bureau of Reclamation had a dual purpose in mind: providing water for irrigation and generating power. Our knowledge of the reservoir’s history begins with Electric City, a town established in 1942 at the northern end of the lake. This is where the construction of the massive Grand Coulee Dam took place, a crucial component of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. This dam remains an integral part of the power generation infrastructure for the region, contributing significantly to the local economy.

Banks Lake is a sizable reservoir, with approximately 70 square miles of water surface acres. Its creation significantly changed the landscape of the region, offering valuable water resources to farmers and opening up new recreational opportunities. Today, the reservoir is also a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy activities like camping, fishing, and boating.

As we explore Banks Lake, we can appreciate both its historical significance and the continued role it plays in providing reliable irrigation water and power to the region. The reservoir’s development highlights the human ingenuity and determination behind taming the arid lands of the Columbia Basin and transforming them into the productive agricultural hubs they are today.


In our journey through Banks Lake, we discovered a multitude of exciting outdoor adventures. The 27-mile long reservoir offers numerous recreational opportunities, from kayaking and fishing to hiking and camping.

As we explored the area, we uncovered the fascinating history of the lake, which was formed as part of the Columbia Basin Project. The construction of two rock-faced, earthfill dams at the north and south ends of the Ice-Age channel of the Columbia River, now known as Grand Coulee, helped create this stunning body of water.

One of our favorite spots was the Steamboat Rock State Park, where we enjoyed beautiful views and the well-maintained campground. The park also provided convenient access to launching points for paddling adventures, such as Northrup Point.

In summary, Banks Lake offers a unique and memorable experience for outdoor enthusiasts. We highly recommend this destination for nature lovers who seek breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and an array of recreational activities.