PEND OREILLE COUNTY (Newport)
Pronounced "pawned array," this remote northeastern corner of the state became the last county created in Washington. The origin of the name is controversial, but is possibly a shortened version of the expression "pendant oreille" coined by French-Canadian trappers referring to the "ear hangings" or shell earrings worn by native peoples. History has never confirmed this. Regardless, this is a very singular county with moose, caribou, caves, north-flowing rivers, and wildlife that are rare or non-existent in the rest of the state.
The Pend Oreille River Water Trail
Pend Oreille County's most unique feature is its river of the same name that runs north -- a natural, physical oddity -- flowing out of Idaho's Lake Pend Oreille into Canada. Lumberjacks in the northern forests couldn't float their logs to mills in the south of the county, which led to railroads becoming the chief means of transport. But that leaves more river for us -- namely, 70 miles of river exploration, running with the current from Newport to one mile from the Canadian Border at Boundary Dam, sharing all the unique brand of beauty that only this county can provide.
#All campgrounds featured below on the Pend Oreille River Water Trail are also reachable by car, van, truck, or motorcycle#
NORTH REACH OF THE PEND OREILLE RIVER WATER TRAIL:
(stretches from below the Box Canyon Dam to Boundary Dam)
- Boundary Dam Campground and Boat Launch (Pend Oreille Co.'s MOST UNIQUELY WASHINGTON CG with access to its BEST BOAT-IN CAMPSITES)
Here you can camp at the upper edge of a major Dam with almost total quiet, camp on a small island, or camp near multiple beautiful waterfalls upstream.
Overview: Located 12 miles northeast of Metaline on 17 mile-long, 1793-acre Boundary Dam Reservoir, operated by Seattle City Light at 1995' elevation, open mid-April to Labor Day; GPS 48.985662724 -117.3418.
Facilities: Well-kept and friendly, the campground contains restrooms with flush toilets and running water (sorry, no showers, though there are plans for the future). The staff of the dam has been known to chop firewood for campers (?!). And as the name would imply, they have a pretty swell boat launch. The restored Old Miner's Cabin is within the campground, but is for viewing only and is not for rent.
Recreation: This site is the northern terminus of the Pend Oreille River Water Trail, which covers 70 miles of the Pend Oreille River, beginning in Oldtown, ID, then follows the river north the length of the county all the way up to the Boundary Dam Campground and Boat Launch. Several "unofficial" campsites have also developed, and Seattle City Light plans to expand camping areas in the future. For now, most people prefer to canoe or kayak the 12-mile northern stretch starting beneath the Box Canyon Dam, past the deep canyon walls, through the twisting Z Canyon, and onto the flat water of Boundary Reservoir to view 200' Peewee Falls. Wildlife viewing is remarkable at the Flume Creek Mountain Goat Viewing Area (see below). Hiking is possible in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area.
Campsites (8 sites for RVs up to 36' and 12 tent sites, no hookups or reservations, FREE of charge): The sites themselves are just 0.1 miles behind Boundary Dam and are forested. There are additional primitive boat-in sites near Z Canyon and the "Island" that some take as overnight side trips while camping here.
Trip Notes: This very flat, very open campground has the look of being newly discovered, and about to explode with popularity. Seattle City Light has already installed Paul Bunyon-sized picnic tables, beautiful concrete pads, and have kept the campground spotless. While it may appear more appealing to adults, we also saw kids having fun. Giggly, energy burning, full grin fun. This place is gonna be a star.
Boundary Dam Itself: The Dam is a 42-inch thick arched concrete structure between two rock cliffs. It contains 265,000 horsepower turbines and supplies 45% of the electricity for Seattle City Light in faraway western Washington. An observation platform exist at Vista House observation area. A Vistor's Gallery is built within a massive limestone cavern.
Local Alternatives: The most accessible is Campbell Park/Box Canyon Dam CG (four sites for tents or small RVs, operated by the Pend Oreille PUD, FREE). This is a small but beautiful forested area adjacent to a grassy area around a small swimming pond ideal for younger children. One campsite has a bridge across a small creek, while another has a waterfall within the campsite. This would be an excellent getaway for a young family where the kids would be entertained all day at the swimming pond but always within view.
Local Attractions include the Box Canyon Dam, which represents the only break in the Pend Oreille River Water Trail, a monolithic structure that is owned by the county PUD. Box Canyon Dam requires a portage. The North Pend Oreille Lions Club Excursion Train ride runs 6 weeks a year between Ione and Metaline Falls. It provides views of the Box Canyon Dam, plus rock cliffs and tunnels not seen from the highway. Flume Creek Mountain Goat Viewing Area provides an opportunity to observe mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, woodland caribou, and white-tailed and mule deer. Even further north, Crawford S.P. features Gardner Cave, a 1055' limestone cave discovered by a local bootlegger in 1899, where guided tours are given up to four times daily. The bootlegger has since moved on.
Boundary Dam Campground pitches campers above a major hydroelectric dam with boating access to waterfalls and camping islands.
For more photos of Boundary Dam CG and Boat Launch click HERE
MIDDLE REACH OF THE PEND OREILLE RIVER WATER TRAIL:
(stretches from just north of the bridge at Usk to the Box Canyon Dam)
- Panhandle Campground (Pend Oreille Co.'s BEST BIKE-IN CG)
This beautiful eastern shore campground combines features from both the River and the the Kalispell Indian Reservation, where traditions survive and the public is welcome.
Overview: Located 30 miles north of Newport near Usk on 20 acres on the east bank of Pend Oreille River adjacent to LeClerc Creek Wildlife Area, operated by the USFS at 2100' elevation, open Mid-May to mid-September; GPS 48.5099, -117.2715.
Facilities include ADA-friendly vault toilets, running water, picnic tables, fire pits, tent pads, a swimming area, boat launch, and camp host in summer months.
Recreation: Fishing is notable for smallmouth bass. ORVs are prohibited in the campground and on the trail. A walking trail between Usk and Cusick follows the Pend River on the western side with great river viewing. The many abandoned pilings in the river have been reclaimed by local ospreys for nests and photographic opportunities for birders.
Campsites (13 sites for tents or RVs up to 45', no hookups, reservable): Grass and gravel sites are large and open, but are wooded and afford good privacy. These are the best riverfront sites on the Pend Oreille River.
Trip Notes: The good news: this is a great campground for viewing a great river. The bad news: while it sits right on the River on one side, it is just off the busy Le Clerc Road on the other. I would be uncomfortable having very small children here, as a quick escape from parents could end in disaster. What is good for the big folks isn't so great for the tiny ones. Edgewater Campground (below) might be a better choice for them.
Local Alternative: Edgewater C.G. (20 sites for tents and RVs up to 70', operated by the USFS, reservable, open seasonally) is closer to activities in Ione (across the beautiful Red Bridge) but further from Kalispell tribal activities. The campsites above the River are nicely spaced with an architectural flare, but those away from the River are bordering on shabby due to the condition of the forest here. All campsites are on a single road that parallels the River. The only river access is at the end of the spur in the Day Use Area.
Local Attractions include the Manresa Grotto, a system of caves still used by the Kalispell Tribe for sacred ceremonies. The Kalispell Tribal Center is home to their yearly powwow in August, with fields of buffaloes always grazing as if unaware of adoring tourists.
Panhandle Campground sits on the Middle Reach of the Pend Oreille River
For more photos of Panhandle CG click HERE
SOUTH REACH OF THE PEND OREILLE RIVER WATER TRAIL:
(stretches from the Oldtown/Newport Bridge to just north of Usk)
- Pioneer Park (Pend Oreille Co.'s MOST APPEALING CG TO THE SENSES)
This little park sprung into existence in 2006 as a southern kayak/canoe put-in to the Pend Oreille River Water Trail. It combines perfect forest campsites with a short but remarkable river walk, fusing the best of both.This pretty place may be just the bit of perfect camping you're looking for, even if boating is not on your agenda.
Overview: This newby is located 3 miles west of Newport on 5 acres on the eastern shore of the Pend Oreille River, operated by the US Forest Service at 2000' elevation, open mid-May to mid-September; GPS 48.2129, -117.0542.
Facilities include vault toilets, running water, picnic tables, fire pits, a picnic shelter, boat launch, boardwalk trail to the River, and a dog swimming beach (dogs are not allowed elsewhere on the River). There are camp hosts in the summer.
Recreation: Fishing is good for largemouth and smallmouth bass. The 0.3-mile Pioneer Park Heritage Trail #321 unfolds the history of the Kalispell Tribe through twelve artistic, interpretive displays, plus dramatic views of the Pend Oreille River. Water-skiing and boating (35 mph limit) are popular, as the River is a short walk from the campground. This is near the southern boundary of the Pend Oreille River Water Trail, where kayakers and canoers can float and paddle as far north as Box Canyon without requiring portage. This is the most popular put-in along the Water Trail.
Campsites (16 sites for tents and RVs up to 40', no hookups, reservable): Sites are arranged in a single loop forested with western white pine and western cedars, with deciduous trees closer to the River (no riverfront sites). Privacy is good here, with spacious sites equipped with gravel tent pads divided by good vegetation, including wild roses and thimbleberry.
Trip Notes: Oh. So this is what a modern campground looks like. Enough room to turn your vehicle around at the boat launch. Separate dog and people swimming beaches so others don't have to tolerate your overly eager Labrador retriever. Large, spacious campsites that don't look directly across from each other. Interpretive trails signs about things that matter (and not another description of the northwest huckleberry). Vintage-looking rockery added so that the Park doesn't have that all too familiar cookie-cutter look. It engages the senses, and should be many people's go-to campground.
The stone steps at Pioneer Park on the South Reach of the Pend Oreille River
For more photos of Pioneer Park click HERE
Colville National Forest
The Colville National Forest is living proof that not all of Eastern Washington is flat. In fact, this 1.1 million acre forest includes the Okanogan, Kettle River, and Selkirk Mountain ranges, which are considered foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
- East Sullivan Campground (includes Pend Oreille Co.'s BEST CG FOR FAMILIES and BEST GROUP CG):
Sullivan Lake is a reservoir created by Sullivan Dam, built in 1911. A second dam north of the Lake on Sullivan Creek created Mill Pond, and included a hydroelectric plant (now abandoned) and interrupted a habitat for native fish species, as well as covering a remarkable stretch of whitewater rapids that could provide remarkable recreational opportunities. In 2013, after a long court battle, approval was granted to remove Mill Pond Dam and restore Sullivan Creek for improved outdoor recreation. Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy this very fun set of campgrounds.
Overview: Located 7.2 miles south of Metaline Falls on the north end of 1291-acre Sullivan Lake, operated by the USFS at 2592' elevation, open mid-May through October; GPS 48.8391, -117.2795.
Facilities include ADA-friendly vault toilets, running water, picnic tables, fire rings, tent pads, swimming area, boat launch, an Air Strip, and camp hosts. The Group Camp is open from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend.
Recreation: Swimming and boating are the biggest recreational draws. Hikers and horses alike enjoy the 4.2-mile Lakeshore Trail with access to Salmo-Priest Wilderness (a designated National Scenic Trail) and a 0.6-mile Interpretive Trail. Gold panners have had luck on nearby Sullivan Creek, where an area is set aside for panning and prospecting.
Campsites (38 tent/RV sites for RVs up to 28', one group camp for up to 40, no hookups, reservable): Sites do not have a direct view of the Lake, but can see it through the trees. The campground has three loops (Fir, Cedar, and Pine) with sites tucked into a stand of mixed conifers including cedar and Douglas fir. Fir Loop is the largest and closest to the boat ramp. Pine Loop is close to the swimming beach and has numerous double wide campsites but shorter parking aprons. Cedar Loop has all the campground's pull-throughs which are designated double sites. The Group Camp is a tight loop of campsites very near the Sullivan Lake boat launch, with good all around access to the Lake.
Trip Notes: So we walk into a grocery store in Metaline Falls, a bit road weary and unable to find maps for sale, and ask for directions to Sullivan Lake. Suddenly, half a dozen customers come up to us and proceed to tell us all about the campgrounds at the same time. Sullivan Lake is obviously the favorite local campground of this magnificent little community. That can be good and bad. It can certainly be one of the liveliest, funnest campgrounds around, but also the busiest. East Sullivan clearly has the best campsites of the 3 Sullivan Lake campgrounds (see below).
Local Alternatives: A better choice for some RVers would be Noisy Creek CG, 2 miles south of East Sullivan CG, also run by USFS (19 sites inc 10 ADA sites, no hookups, one Group Camp for up to 40, reservable, open weekend before Memorial Day weekend through mid-Sept.). Facilities feature a swimming area and boat ramp. Campsites are in two loops, Eagle and Bighorn, on the terraced slopes of south Sullivan Lake. None face the Lake, but a few face "noisy" Harvey Creek. A second alternative is West Sullivan CG near East Sullivan CG, also run by USFS, Elevation 2592' (10 tent/RV sites, no hookups, reservable, open mid-May through mid-October). Facilities include a floating swimming platform. There is still evidence of its Civilian Conservation Corps beginnings in structures such as the bathhouse. Campsites consist of two overlapping sections in a stand of mixed conifers, including cedar, tamarack, and some birch. They do not, however, compare to the perfect campsites at East Sullivan.
East Sullivan Campground is separated from Sullivan Lake only by lush vegetation
For more photos of the Sullivan Lake CGs click HERE
- Big Meadow Lake Campground (Pend Oreille Co.'s BEST FREE and BEST RUSTIC CG)
This is the campground that named itself. Originally named Heather Lake, as flood control from Aladdin Mountain, this very unique reservoir was simply referred to by locals as "the big meadow lake," and the rest is history.
Overview: Located in a lovely meadow area just 6.6 miles west of Ione with 17 acres on 82.6-acre man made Big Meadow Lake, operated by the USFS at 3400’ elevation, open the 4th Saturday in April through October; GPS 48.7293, -117.5636.
Facilities include vault toilets, fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, the Hess Cabin Day Shelter, a boat ramp and fishing dock.
Recreation features fishing for burbot, lake trout, and sockeye salmon; Terry Trail (interpretive), Meadow Creek Trail #125 (1.5 miles and ADA-friendly), Lakeside Trail #126 (1.5 miles) and Homestead Trail (0.5 miles). A special feature is the Wildlife Observatory reclaimed from a dismantled fire lookout and reassembled on this site; from here may be viewed cougars, ducks, geese, elk, moose, and osprey.
Campsites (17 tent/RV sites for RVs of any size, one shelter, no hookups or drinking water, FREE with NW Forest Pass): Sites wrap around the south side of the Lake tucked in among aspen, tamarack, white fir, larch, and mixed conifers. Some sites are private, other have lake views, and are sufficiently dispersed to provide privacy and even isolation if desired.
Trip Notes: Visiting Big Meadow Lake is a lot like visiting your grandparents' small farm as a kid. Everything is in order, but not so manicured and mechanized to be mistaken for a commercial farm. It has character. There is no barn with a hayloft, but there is a lookout tower rescued from an old fire watch. There are no cows to feed, but moose wander through at will to feed in the marshes below the dam. And there are no electric fences to trick your little brother into touching, but decades old grape stake fences pop up everywhere, their original purpose long forgotten. This is the place to relax, feeling like your grandparents are making sure you are well fed and have an extra blanket.
Local attractions: None whatsoever. But then again, you won't be looking for any.
Big Meadow Lake is criss-crossed with decades old grape stake fences, their purpose long forgotten
For more photos of Big Meadow Lake CG click HERE
- Bead Lake Hike-In Campsites (Pend Oreille Co.'s BEST HIKE-IN CAMPSITES)
This is not only the largest lake in Pend Oreille County, but is also one of Washington's most beautiful lakes. Its extremely deep blue crystalline waters lie in a mountainous region of the County surrounded by well timbered hills. Hikers report over and over that they set out to hike only 1 or 2 miles, but end up finishing the entire 11.4-mile out-and-back trail, being so captivated by alpine beauty the entire way.
Overview: This surprisingly beautiful Bead Lake #127 Trail and campsites are located 10.4 miles northeast of Newport on 720-acre Bead Lake, operated by the USFS at 3050' elevation, accessible from April until October; GPS 48.29829, -117.11283.
Facilities: These are primitive campsites with only fire rings. There is a vault toilet at the trailhead.
Recreation includes hiking or boating or whatever else campers cook up along the way. Some choose to mountain bike the trail. Of note for fishermen: the Lake is not stocked by the WDFW, but contains self-reproducing populations of kokanee, lake trout, burbot, plus numerous northern pikeminnows, making for a unique fishing experience.
Trailhead: This easy to find trailhead is located at the Bead Lake Boat Launch and parking area at the south end of the Lake (no camping here). To get here, travel east through Newport on Hwy 2. Once you have crossed the bridge over the Pend Oreille River, take an immediate left onto LeClerc Creek Road (County Road 9305). After 2.8 miles, turn right onto Bead Lake Road (County Road 3029). After 6 miles, turn right onto Bead Lake Loop Road and follow it for 0.2 miles to the turnoff for the boat launch.
Campsites (4 primitive sites, no hookups or reservations, FREE with NW Forest Pass): Note that much of the west side of the Lake is taken up by private residences. You will be hiking or boating on the east side. Campsites are located along the Bead Lake #127 Trail at 1.0 (this is called the Mineral Bay boat-in site). Another, called the "enchantment" campsite," is located at 1.5 miles at the end of the anchor-shaped lake’s southeast arm in a thick cedar grove. A third site is located at mile 4. Additional campsites are located at 4.6 miles, on spur trail 127.1, which dead ends in another 1.1 miles. These sites are not directly boating-accessible.
Bead Lake is not only the largest lake in Pend Oreille County, but also one of the most beautiful in Washington
For more photos of Bead Lake Hike-In Campsites click HERE
Southern County/Lakes Area
Pend Oreille Co. may not be the land of 10,000 lakes, but it does have nearly 60 named lakes, many of which lie in the accessible region between Spokane and Newport. Most of the homes in this area belong to people of a very outdoors state of mind, so campers are always in good company.
- Newport/Little Diamond Lake KOA (Pend Oreille Co.'s BEST EQUIPPED/BEST CG FOR RVs)
The irony of this campground is that there really is no Little Diamond Lake. There is the very well-known Diamond Lake, which follows Highway 2 for several miles between Spokane and Newport. The lake in question is a pretty little thing with the unfortunate name of Mallard Marsh. But this is no swamp. In this case we have to agree with the promoters -- the lake is a little diamond.
Overview: This beautiful KOA is located 7 miles southwest of Newport with access to 30-acre Little Diamond Lake on 360 acres at 2,428' elevation, open April 15 to October 3; GPS 48.1428, -117.2221.
Facilities: Typical of KOAs, this Kampground is well-equipped with bathrooms/showers, Wi-fi, a swimming pool, hot tub, spa, lodge, baseball diamond, barbecue circle, playground, picnic shelter, recreation room, pool tables, pet area, boat ramp, walking trails, a golf driving range, a Disc Golf course, Kamp Store, and RV dump.
Recreation: Fishing is good bass, Kamloops trout, and rainbow trout. Human-powered boating is popular, with rentals for paddleboats, canoes and mini-kayaks. Golfers will enjoy the driving range and disc golf.
Campsites (112 sites for tents and RVs of any size with hookups for water & electric 30/50-amp, reservable): Sites are average in size, wooded and shady. There is some privacy due to the careful inclusion of trees and foliage. Tent sites on the periphery have the most space. There are also open, grassy spaces that divide the campsites up into smaller groups, reducing any feeling of congestion.
Trip Notes: I love many of the KOAs, and most of the USFS campgrounds. This seems to combine both. It has great amenities, well-manicured lawns, and wide appeal. The addition of the golf driving range and disc golf course makes the park much larger than most; plus this KOA, much to its credit, has left the foliage, trees on the periphery, and the Lake very much in their natural state. Its not so much a compromise as it is a very well thought out fusion of the best of two worlds.
Local Alternative: The closest comparable campground in the area is Old American Kampground in Newport. This is a K/M membership park that will allow access to non-members as space allows. This lies right on the Pend Oreille River within easy walking distance to all services.
This little diamond of a lake (now called Little Diamond Lake) has been renamed from its unfortunate and inaccurate former name of Mallard Marsh
For more photos of the Newport/Little Diamond Lake KOA click HERE