About Summer Falls
Summer Falls surprised us with its gushing flow, afternoon rainbows, and that chilled out vibe with a large picnic area full of families taking it easy.
It had a drop of a reported 70-100ft over the Trail Lake Coulee, which is an outflow for the Banks Lake Reservoir by Coulee City.
By the way, coulees are loosely referring to former water channels, but they seem to be used in the context of cliffs and valleys left in the wake of glacial floods that resulted in the Scablands of Central and Eastern Washington as well as Southern Idaho.
Speaking of Scablands, while Dry Falls may get the attention and infrastructure despite not being a legitimate waterfall in the Scablands of Central Washington, it’s Summer Falls that actually yields more of a waterfalling experience.
Of course, as I say this, apparently this waterfall was considered to be manmade because the drainage of Banks Lake are actually man-made canals that get mostly diverted for hydroelectricity production at the Summer Falls Power Plant.
The remainder of its flow goes over the actual Summer Falls, which seemed to have a pretty healthy flow when we saw it in mid-June 2021.
In fact, Summer Falls got its name from irrigation practices where the waters would be released in the Summer when the irrigated lands further upstream needed the water the most.
With the power plant taking over the canals, the waterfall’s flow is now at the mercy of the needs of that plant.
When I look at the photo in Gregory Plumb’s book about Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest, it showed Summer Falls with massive volume.
So even though we thought we saw the falls with healthy flow, its volume was actually severely reduced as a result of the Summer Falls Power Plant.
It went online in the mid 1980s, and so I have to presume that Plumb’s photo was taken prior to this taking place.
As far as experiencing Summer Falls, it was literally a short jaunt across a nice grassy picnic “hill” from the unpaved parking area (see directions below) to the barricade walls keeping us away from the Summer Falls’ turbulent waters.
I noticed a memorial here of three teenagers who drowned here, which also acted as a reminder of why it’s not a good idea to swim here thanks to the undertow and whirlpools resulting from the turbulence and currents of the falls.
Summer Falls resides in the Summer Falls Day Use Area near Coulee City in Grant County, Washington. It is administered by the US Bureau of Reclamation (it’s no longer administered by the Washington State Parks). For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Since we stayed in Ephrata when we visited Summer Falls, I’ll start by describing the driving directions from there.
From Ephrata, we’d drive for about 14.6 miles northeast on the WA-28 to the Pine Ridge Road.
Turning left onto the Pine Ridge Road, we’d then drive another 6 miles north to the easy-to-miss turnoff for the Summer Falls Day Use Area on the right.
This turnoff is easy to miss because there’s no signage that’s easily visible from Pine Ridge Road, but I did notice the sign for the Summer Falls Day Use Area once we got onto its unpaved access road.
Anyways, once we were on that dusty unpaved access road, we drove the remaining 1.3 miles to the large parking area in front of the Summer Falls Day Use Area.
Had we come from Coulee City, then we’d drive about 9.3 miles south on the Pine Ridge Road to the easy-to-miss turnoff on the left for the Summer Falls Day Use Area.
Note that about 1.2 miles before that Summer Falls Day Use Area turnoff was the Summer Falls Power Plant turnoff, which is well-signposted.
Apparently, it’s normally open to the public for visitation, but it was closed during our June 2021 visit due to COVID-19.
In any case, that power plant access road has no connection to the day use area so that’s something to keep in mind if the desire is to experience the waterfall.
For some context, Ephrata was 29 miles (a little over 30 minutes drive) southwest of Coulee City, 94 miles (over 90 minutes drive) north of Kennewick, about 123 miles (under 2 hours drive) west of Spokane, and 171 miles (over 2.5 hours) east of Seattle.
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