Northrup Canyon in Shoulder Season
This canyon near Banks Lake and Steamboat Rock State Park offers interesting human history, geology, and natural history. It also offers beautiful rubber necking as you look up at the surrounding cliffs. Consequently, whether you come for the academics or the aesthetics, you should leave well pleased. The area can be quite an oven in the middle of summer. However in spring and late autumn, when the high country is snow-covered, you’ll find the six-mile roundtrip trek to Northrup Lake or the three-mile roundtrip journey up the Old Wagon Road a nice pair of snow-free outings to enjoy.
Attractions: Northrup Canyon is across the highway from Steamboat Rock State Park (about 20 miles northeast of Coulee City) and provides a quiet walk to escape the commotion around Banks Lake and Steamboat State Park . The rock walls of the canyon are colorful, the forest and plant communities are diverse, and the area is home to a large number of bird species.The area has been designated as one of Grant County’s birding trails.
Activity: Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, birding, fishing (at Northrup Lake). Motorized use of the area is prohibited.
Nearest Town: Grand Coulee
Skill Level: 2
Fitness Level: 2
Distance: About six-miles (roundtrip) to Northrup Lake.
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
Recommended Season/Times: Spring and fall are the best seasons for color. Meanwhile early morning, late afternoon, and early evening are the preferred times of day to walk — the colors and shadows are prettier and the canyon comes alive with birdlife. The area is also a good place to walk in winter when our mountains are snow-covered.
Access: From Grand Coulee drive Highway 155 south about 6.75 miles. Or from Coulee City, drive almost 19 miles north on Highway 155. At milepost 18.9 turn east onto a gravel road and follow this 0.6 miles to a gate across the road and a small parking area (elevation: 1,750 feet). Horseback riders have their own parking area and unloading station about 100 yards before the hiker’s parking. There is a vault toilet at the trailhead. A Discover Pass is required for parking.
Map: See our topo map which is formatted for 8.5″x11″ paper in landscape mode. Use ‘Print Preview’ to make sure the map is properly scaled before you print.
Trip Instructions: The hike starts on the other side of the gate blocking the road. Follow the gated road and, in about 150 yards, you’ll see the Old Wagon Road branching off to your right (this is a short hike of its own). The main road veers left and, in another 1.75 miles, reaches the abandoned homestead and cabin. This part of the route is easily done on a mountain bike and is also a good place where hikers wanting a short walk can turn around.
* From the homestead, the canyon takes a dogleg bend to the left and steepens up. The route squeezes down from a road to a narrow, but well-maintained trail. Mountain bikers are advised to leave the bike behind — the trail ahead is a hike-a bike on the ascent and a rocky, very technical descent. Lake elevation: 2,150 feet.
Hazards: The area has its share of rattlesnakes, which you are more likely to encounter in warm weather. If you’re hiking on warm spring days or in summer, consider using trekking poles to sweep the edge of the trail ahead of you.
Geology. The cliffs forming the walls of the canyon are water-eroded basalt. The basalts erupted from great fissures about 16 million years ago (Cenozoic Era). Many different fissure flows contributed to the depth of material found here, but all of these flows took place over a period of about a million years.
History. Three families lived in Northrup Canyon at one time — the Northrup, Dillman, and Scheibner families. The Northrup Family has the longest history here with some member of the family occupying the canyon from 1889 to1994. Linley Dillman, a goat farmer, lived at the entrance to the canyon. Charles Scheibner built a house about one third of the way into the canyon. The Scheibner family house is shown on some maps, as the old man’s cabin. Why it was called that has been lost down through the years. The Scheibner brothers, owned and ran a saw mill near the entrance to the canyon. They had been hired by the army to build Scheibner Grade up the slag rock in the canyon wall. This connected the stage coach road from Almira to Brewster, and military fort in Spokane, Chelan, and Okanogan. This was important, as it was the only short cut into the Grand Coulee. The Northrup’s house is about halfway into the canyon, much of Northrup Canyon was owned by the Northrup’s.
The historical photo above was provided by the Coulee Pioneer Museum while Dennis King supplied the historical information.
Birds. Some winters a few hundred bald eagles roost in the trees along the south side of the canyon each evening. That makes a wintertime early morning visit to the canyon special. Regardless of the season, the canyon is alive with birds early and late in the day. Other common birds found here include Cooper’s hawk, great horned owls, barred owls, woodpeckers, flickers, grouse, quail, swallows, and sparrows.
Fishing. Consider carrying a fishing pole and a little trout tackle into Northrup Lake — some years the lake is very productive.
Land Managers: Northrup Canyon Natural Area and Washington State Parks.
Permits: A Discover Pass is required for parking.
Additional Information: See Best Desert Hikes Washington by Alan Bauer & Dan Nelson (Mountaineers Books). And see this material from the Seattle Audubon Society for more information about the area’s flora and fauna.
Other Nearby Hikes:
* The Old Wagon Road leaves from the same parking area and branches off the route described above after about 150 yards. The road heads up to the rim of the canyon and offers very nice views. Turn around after about 1.5 miles when the road intersects a fence.
* The hike up and around the summit plateau of Steamboat Rock is another highly recommended (but more difficult) walk. Find details of the hike in our hiking guidebook.
Date. First posted April 2008. Updated October 2015.
Leave It Better Than You Found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or may not know all the issues affecting a route.You are still completely responsible for your decisions, your actions, and your safety. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.