Northrup Canyon is perhaps the most pleasant hiking place in the Grand Coulee area, for its scenery, history, and roughly 3,000 acre sanctuary of plant and wildlife habitats. It’s a one-of-a kind lowland oasis rimmed by scenic cliffs of basalt and granite with pine woods, aspen groves, fields and meadows, Northrup creek and its riparian wetlands, and Northrup lake, all of it surrounded by desert and irrigated farmland. An idyllic homestead site with its hay field is located in the middle of the canyon, and an old wagon road—the former road between Almira and Bridgeport used for stage coach and freight wagons -- is there to explore.
Northrup Canyon is part of Steamboat Rock State Park Recreation Area and is located just south of Electric City and the town of Grand Coulee, and a ways north of Coulee City. Northrup Creek runs through the canyon and into Banks Lake, a good bass and boating lake that fills the upper Grand Coulee and stores irrigation water for the farms and orchards of the semi-arid Columbia Basin. The canyon connects with Banks Lake Wildlife Area, which surrounds Banks Lake, and Castle Rock Natural Area Preserve, a flat-top butte with a pristine desert plant community located just north of the canyon's mouth.
The main canyon trail follows an access road to a vacant house with outbuildings and old homestead cabin, and continues on to trout-stocked Northrup Lake. Near the trailhead, look for mock orange, Thompson's paintbrush, desert yellow daisy, and silky lupine growing among the sagebrush--and an old junk pile discarded by crews who worked on the nearby Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930's and 1940's. The road passes through cool quaking aspen groves or ponderosa pine and interior Douglas fir forest with wild rose, snowberry, mint, nettles and chokecherry mixed in with the shrub-steppe plant community of sagebrush, bunchgrass and parsnip-flower buckwheat. Rattlesnakes sometimes sun themselves on the road to the homestead so wear boots and keep your eyes peeled.
On the trail to Northrup Lake during spring, you'll see abundant wildflowers such as blue penstemons, yellow and orange gaillardia, scarlet gilia, white vetches, pink bitterroot flowers, lavender fleabane and milkweed, and around the lake, orange columbine. The lake hosts a chorus of birds such as red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, mourning doves, bullock's oriole, swallows and various waterfowl, while the area's coniferous forests and cliffs provide habitat for white-throated swift, brown creeper, great horned owl, Say's phoebe, lazuli bunting, red-naped sapsucker, mountain chickadee, wild turkey, and Clark's nutcracker.
The best times to hike the canyon are when shadows are long--anytime fall through spring or in the morning and evening during summer.
During winter, the area is well known for bald eagles, which concentrate in a night roosting area in Northrup Canyon. The eagles can usually be seen until dusk in the pine and fir trees along the south wall of the canyon. Other wildlife in the canyon includes mule deer and coyote.
For more information about this recreation area and its activities, visit the excellent related sites listed at the left of the page.