Ancient Quincy Lakes
Ancient Lakes hike is flat-out excellent for easy adventure - By KAREN SYKES SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER - It still feels like March on the western side of the Cascades. If you are tired of waiting for summer to come, you can always find it on the other side of the mountains. We have a favorite hike near Quincy and the Columbia River. It's a bunch of lakes set in a coulee left over from the Missoula floods. Called Ancient Lakes, they rub shoulders with Dusty Lake, another popular destination in the area. If you are a lazy backpacker and don't want to work hard for scenery, interesting geology, flowers and opportunities to fish, then this hike is ideal. This is a good beginner's hike or backpack -- there is no elevation gain and it gets pretty right away.
The first time we camped there, we claimed the ideal campsite at the edge of the largest lake, in a grassy, parklike setting rimmed by escarpments on three sides, with endless sky above. Enticing paths go everywhere, leading to small lakes, rock formations, even an old mine. The air is sweet with sage and flowers. At dusk small birds dart in and out of the cliffs where they live, and at night the coyotes sing to the stars. The hiking guidebooks say it's four miles to the lakes, but the miles are short and easy and seem like much less. The trail begins as a four-wheel-drive road and wanders through this oddly beautiful place left over from the geologic upheavals of long ago.
My husband, John, likes to point out that the cliffs of columnar basalt rising above the lakes were once under hundreds of feet of water as the Missoula floods covered much of the state. Where waterfalls once roared, small rivulets trickle down like lace from the cliffs, and though the Quincy Wildlife Area is surrounded by farms, you feel you are miles from anywhere, perhaps even in another day and age, when ancient beasts roamed the land and men believed the world was flat. This year we were not so lucky. When we got to Ancient Lakes, the prime campsite was already taken, as were several others. Though we are not antisocial, we like to camp away from other people. We climbed a rough path up an escarpment, hoping to find a small lake or water source above, but were unsuccessful. We eyed the blue glimmer of Dusty Lake below and descended an unstable path through talus to the edge of the lake and set up camp. There was a party of fishermen camped a polite distance away. If you don't fish, you can just hang out with a good book, soak up the sun or wander through the area with a flower guide. We found several flowers I had never seen before -- orange globe mallow, yellow paintbrush, squaw currant, narrow-leafed phacelia, several varities of daisies, balsamroot, yarrow and bastard toad-flax, a type of sandalwood -- and the cast of characters changes week by week.
From Quincy, drive four miles west on state Route 28, turn left on road U Northwest signed "White Trail Road." Drive one mile, turn right on road 9 Northwest and drive 5.9 miles, past a farm to the recreation area and gated road, at 1,000 feet elevation.
This is really easy. Walk the four-wheel-ride road 1/2 mile to the junction, which is not signed but obvious. If you walk straight another three miles, you will reach Dusty Lake (this is easier than scrambling over the cliffs like we did). For Ancient Lakes, turn left at the junction and hike 3-1/2 miles through sagebrush and flowers to the lakes. The road rises slightly and you'll see a small marshy lake on your right and Ancient Lakes ahead, side by side. The grassy area between the lakes is the ideal camping spot. A path goes around the lake on the left and under the cliffs, climbing above a waterfall to another shelf with more paths (one of the paths leads to an old mine near the edge of the recreation area). If Ancient Lakes is crowded, hike back to the road and continue on to Dusty Lake (three miles from the junction). However, we didn't find Dusty Lake as pretty a place to camp as Ancient Lakes, though it is much larger. Dusty Lake is marshy near the shore and, of course, water must be boiled.
Eight miles round-trip to Ancient Lakes, 100 feet elevation gain. The wildlife refuge is managed by the Quincy Wildlife Recreational Area and the map is USGS: Babcock Ridge.