Wanapum Dam Visitor’s Center – Is It Worth A Visit?

If there is anything that Washington is known for it’s being green. Both in the landscape and in our approach to the environment.

One of the most obvious ways that our care for the environment is shown is in the boom of alternative energy sources that the state is exploring. One of the ones that have increased hugely in the past several years is the power created by hydroelectric dams.

Hydroelectric dams provide much more than electricity and awesome lakes for boating, however. They also provide an awesome vacation destination!

Well, maybe less of a vacation destination and more of a cool (and educational) family outing if you’re in the area. Still, they are almost all worth a visit so let’s take a look at one of the newer options: Wanapum Dam and its visitor’s center.

Wanapum Dam – Hydroelectric Power In Central Washington

The Wanapum Dam is located on the Columbia River just south of Vantage, Washington. The dam, which began operation in 1963, is named for the Wanapum Indians who lived in the area. In fact, there are over 700 Native American sites in the vicinity of the dam!

Since its creation, the dam has generated nearly 1,200 megawatts of electricity and continues to generate about 4 million megawatt-hours per year (enough to power over 150,000 homes).

Wanapum Dam is located about four miles south of the Interstate 90 bridge near Vantage.

If you’re trying to visit, head along the Grant County side of the river on Highway 243 and turn right on Wanapum Dam Road.

The operators of the dam have been working to improve recreation opportunities in the area in the form of camping and hiking trails as well as improve the dam’s image to the public. Much of this has involved work to improve the wildlife habitat around the dam and, in 2015, opening a visitor’s center to showcase the workings of the dam.

A decommissioned generator water turbine on display at Wanapum Dam

While the dam itself is (obviously) off-limits to outsiders, the visitor’s center (which also functions as the Wanapum Dam’s Hydro Office) will tell you all you could ever want to know about the building and daily functions of the dam.

Wanapum Dam Visitor’s Center – What To Expect

Wanapum dam visitors center front view
Wanapum Dam Visitor’s Center

For feeling like it’s in the middle of nowhere the Wanapum Dam Visitors Center (technically the Grant PUD Visitor’s Center) is quite large and well equipped.

It has almost 2,000 square feet of exhibits that demonstrate how the Columbia River has helped to shape the Grant Valley, how hydroelectrical power is made (you can try to generate your own…), and even a screen where you can learn more about the area.

The visitor’s center also highlights the many recreational opportunities there are in and around the water above the dam which has only been possible since the dam was built.

There is a nice lawn, some picnic tables, and an overlook where you can see the Dam itself and the fish bypass once you’re done inside.

Is It Worth A Visit?

If you are in the area, the Grant PUD Visitor’s Center is absolutely worth a visit! With that being said, it’s small enough that I probably wouldn’t make it my sole destination.

For us, it was a great stop on a road trip that helped us to learn something new while we got out and stretched our legs for a bit.

And the best part? It’s free!

Other Things To Do In The Area

If you’re headed through the area (or are adverse to driving much farther) then you’ll be pleased to note that there are several other cool things to do near the Wanapum Dam once you’ve exhausted the visitor’s center!

The Cove Recreation Area

The Cove is a small but little-known recreation area on the west side of the Columbia River. It provides a great swimming location (for stronger swimmers), a boat launch, and a fishing spot.

It’s a great place to spend a day fishing or relaxing and you’ll likely be all alone, even during the “busy” season.

Wanapum Recreation Area & Campground

Wanapump Recreation area is a massive park based around over 5 miles of shoreline on the Columbia River. Much of the park is grassy and you can spend the day feeling like you’re on the beach.

Once you’re all tuckered out from the sun and water there is a campground that supports tents of campers/RVs up to 20 feet in length.

Conclusion

Learning about hydroelectricity and how it works, in my opinion, is integral as we all look for and learn to rely on alternative sources of energy.

While many people have criticized the damming of the Columbia River, there are undeniable benefits, namely the massive amount of energy that is able to be created. The energy, in turn, funds projects which revitalize ecosystems in the area.

So stop by, educate yourself, and appreciate all that Wanapum Dam is!

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