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  Great Washington Getaways Home  |  Colville Area Mountain Lakes
Photo: Fishing from boat on Petit Lake, Washington.
Like many small fishing waters in northeast Washington, Petit Lake in Pend Oreille County offers solitude for anglers. Photo by Doug Kuehn
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  Colville National Forest
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US Forest Service Colville Forest Campgrounds

  Salmo-Priest Wilderness
Washington's wildest mountains:
Camping and fishing in the Selkirks
Northeast Washington is the least populated part of the Evergreen State, but it’s densely packed with recreational opportunities. Throughout the year, hunters, berry pickers, mushroom gatherers, wildlife watchers, boaters, equestrians, hikers, mountain bikers and other recreationists flock to the vast public lands and waters of Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.
Photo: Scenic photo of Pierre Lake, Washington.
Pierre Lake. Photo by Bill Baker

The region’s recreational opportunities center on the 1.1-million-acre Colville National Forest, which offers a blend of roaded and wild country in the Selkirk and Kettle mountain ranges. Its lands are home to the rarest mammal in North America, the woodland caribou, and to moose, elk, white-tail and mule deer, black and grizzly bears, wolves, cougars, lynx, wolverines and many  other species. Turkey vultures, bald and golden eagles, goshawks, owls, grouse, turkeys, woodpeckers, and songbirds galore make their homes in the ecologically rich national forest and adjoining public and private ground. Visitors to the region – especially those who are active in the mornings and evenings – are likely to see a diversity of wildlife. And nowhere in Washington is one more likely to hear a gray wolf howl.

Quality camping areas abound

Washington’s northeast corner  may offer more campsites than one could reasonably expect to visit in a lifetime of camping. Dozens of organized public campgrounds, backcountry sites, and dispersed camping spots are easy to find during summer for families seeking a rustic camping experience close to good small-lake angling for trout and warmwater species. The Colville Chamber of Commerce, Republic Chamber of Commerce, and the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance in Newport can help plan a trip, and the Colville National Forest clearly outlines forest rules and provides maps that detail legal places to ride off-highway vehicles.

The region contains a great variety of waterways

The upper Columbia and Pend Oreille rivers and Lake Roosevelt are the largest bodies of water in Northeast Washington, and they all hold many virtues for vacationing families. But for those seeking a more remote camping and fishing experience, several small lakes in the region provide top-notch summertime options with camping on or very near the water. There’s no need for fancy gear and specialized tackle at these lakes. In these places, new and experienced anglers alike can expect good fishing from small boats or from shore.

Pierre and Ellen lakes offer major fishing variety

Photo: Scenic photo of Lake Ellen, Washington.

Lake Ellen. Photo by Bill Baker

On the southwestern edge of “the Wedge,” the triangular area bounded on the north by Canada and on the east and west by the Columbia and Kettle rivers, respectively, 106-acre Pierre Lake features a Forest Service campground and very good summer fishing. The lake is heavily stocked with rainbow trout and has smaller populations of cutthroat trout and kokanee. Along with these coldwater species, Pierre holds good numbers of largemouth bass and crappie and a huge population of brown bullhead catfish. The 16-space campground has a beach and a boat launch, and is easily accessed from Highway 395. Standard trout trolling techniques work well, as does still-fishing with bait or casting lures. For shorebound anglers, bobbers help to suspend baits over deep water, beyond the lake’s weedy shallows and sharply defined drop-offs. Pierre’s largemouth bass can exceed 20 inches, but the average is probably 10 to 13 inches. They readily strike nightcrawlers, plastic worms and Senkos and seem to like lures with a slightly smaller profile than those at nearby Lake Ellen, a 75-acre lake that’s populated primarily by rainbow trout and largemouth bass. Situated just north of the Colville Indian Reservation in the dry, forested Kettle Range foothills, Lake Ellen has two 15-site Forest Service Campgrounds (Lake Ellen, Lake Ellen West) that offer similar amenities to Pierre. Both lakes are ideal candidates for a rustic family camping trip.

Two lakes near Colville offer good prospects

Photo: Westslope cutthroat trout on the banks of lake.
Westslope cutthroat trout are caught in waters throughout the northeast district. Photo by Ace Trump

A few miles north of Colville, the region’s biggest town, Deep Lake, has been a well-known trout fishery for many years. Deep sits in the beautiful Aladdin Valley and is heavily planted with rainbows and kokanee. Trolling with dodgers or flashers followed by small spinners or spoons tipped with corn or maggots works well, as do a variety of traditional lures and baits. Deep Lake is perfect for vacationing families, and fishing typically peaks during the heart of summer.

Deep Lake offers no camping, but nearby Big Meadow Lake features a campground as well as very good fishing for rainbow trout in a picturesque setting. Because common loons have historically nested at Big Meadow, lead is prohibited to prevent poisoning of this sensitive species. (Pierre also falls under these rules, approved by the state Fish & Wildlife Commission). Nontoxic sinkers are available at most major tackle stores.

Opportunities abound at Sullivan Lake

Photo: Scenic photo of Sullivan Lake, Washington.
Year-round open Sullivan Lake in Pend Oreille County has kokanee, burbot, and rainbow, tiger and cutthroat trout. Photo by Doug Kuehn

Further east, near the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, Sullivan Lake sits at the base of Hall Mountain. This large (1,283 acres), popular lake is flanked on both ends by excellent campgrounds, including Noisy Creek on the west and East Sullivan Lake on the east.

Sullivan’s remarkable vistas, super-clear and cool water, hiking trails and remote location near the Selkirk Mountains draw throngs of summertime visitors. Reservations are recommended for both campgrounds. The national forest features plenty of dispersed camp spots nearby for families who can’t find spots at East Sullivan or Noisy Creek but want to access the lake. Both campgrounds have day-use areas with picnic facilities, beaches and boat ramps. During warm summer days, water-sports enthusiasts dominate the boating scene. But in the early morning and especially in the evening, anglers come out to pursue the lake’s abundant small kokanee and nice-sized burbot, as well as the not-so-numerous but often very large brown trout. Tiger, rainbow and cutthroat trout are also caught.

Huckleberry picking, hiking, and wildlife viewing are all popular summertime activities in this scenic area. Peak picking varies from year to year and by elevation, but huckleberries typically can be found from late July through August, with berries persisting into September at the highest hike-in locations.

Further south in Pend Oreille County, east of Usk, Browns Lake is an excellent cutthroat trout lake with a small USFS campground. Browns Lake is a fly fishing-only lake and a popular spot to learn that sport.