Can you see yourself swimming and tubing all day long on miles of open lake, lounging on acres of grassy park and picnic areas, catching bass and walleye in the evening to cook on a campfire next to your trailer, and gazing at the Milky Way shining brilliantly in the night sky? You're not dreaming, it's a weekend camping trip to Potholes State Park, less than 20 miles north of the small town of Othello, WA.
This small state park is situated in the stunning landscapes of eastern Washington. Everywhere you look there are striking rock formations, valleys, canyons, and dunes. There are very few lakes and rivers in this area, and after hours of driving in a rocky red landscape the bright blue water of the Potholes Reservoir will leave your eyes a bit confused. The last Ice Age drastically altered the geography of this area. It is theorized that an ancient flood swept through and created the unique shape of the Potholes Reservoir, as well as the nearby Pothole Lakes, both of which create a paradise for birds, fish, and boaters.
The Potholes Reservoir itself was created by the O'Sullivan Dam in 1949 as part of a network of irrigation projects in the area. Potholes State Park is situated along a 6,000 foot stretch of shoreline on the western edge of the 14,000-acre reservoir.
The Tri-Cities KOA Campground has a number of amenities and is centrally located to several popular events and attractions. The Potholes State Park Campground is a network of tree-lined loops which are surrounded by over 100 acres of mowed grass and picnic tables, which are perfect for picnics.
This area gets very dry and hot in the summer, with temperatures frequently reaching over a hundred degrees during the months of July and August. It stays warm in the evening, but the dry air is very comfortable to most RV visitors. Winters are cold and snowy. Some years the lake forms thick enough ice for visitors to enjoy ice fishing and skating.
The roads are wide and there are many places to turn around. All of the campsites are back-in, but very thoughtfully designed for good visibility and maneuverability while getting parked. There are extra spaces all around the park for extra cars and watercraft trailers. Othello is nearby to the south, with large retail and grocery stores for supplies. No matter how you get here, it's bound to be windy. Be ready to handle slower driving and strong side winds on the Interstate. There are plenty of passing lanes to make room for slower vehicles.
The Snake, Yakima, and Columbia rivers meet in Pasco, WA. Boaters and anglers from all over travel to Pasco each year to explore the convergence of these mighty rivers. Here you’ll find the Pasco/Tri-Cities KOA, centrally located to some of the state and region's most popular events and attractions, including Sacajawea State Park as well as the Yakima and Walla Walla winery valleys. There are also 10 golf courses sprinkled around the region for beginners to professionals to enjoy. When at the campground, guests can relax in the campground’s pool and hot tub sauna. Campers also have access to Wi-Fi connection, cable TV, and a full kitchen while at the campground.
The campground at Potholes State Park has 60 full-hookup sites with lots of room for big rigs and big parties, as well as 61 additional basic campsites. It is situated on the shores of Potholes Reservoir, approximately 20 miles from the nearest town, Royal City, WA. The use of generators is allowed, but only between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM. There are several bathhouses scattered throughout the campground that provide campers with showers and flushable toilets. The maximum vehicle length is 50 feet.
The park is a favorite for families with children. There is a large playground, giant grassy fields for games, miles of shoreline, and zero thru-traffic. Pets are also welcome to experience the wonders of this natural environment, but they must be on a leash and under physical control at all times. Potholes State Park is about as family-friendly and pet-friendly as it gets.
The location is a hotspot for recreational boating in the summer and fishing in the off season. There are multiple boat launches, a fish cleaning station, and, most importantly, plenty of summer shade from trees all over the park.
Visitors often wish they had remembered sunscreen, water shoes, and bug spray. Luckily, all of those things are at the small convenience store just outside of the park entrance. WA State Parks require an annual Discover Pass for access, and they can be purchased at the gate if you forget.
With all of the motorized activity on the lake during the summer, you'll probably want to bring the kayaks in the fall, after the water-skiers are back in class. Fall is still very warm and pleasant during the day, but temperatures can fall steeply at dusk. You'll have a peaceful paddle through jumping fish and a huge variety of birds looking for dinner. It's extra fun to head to one of the islands on the north end of the lake with a packed meal.
There is a good chance that you'll have a whole island to yourself because there are hundreds of them. Do watch out for boaters when crossing the deeper parts of the lake, there's a lot of alcohol consumption on the boats, so play it safe. Strong winds can come up in the afternoon and persist for hours. Don't venture too far away from camp unless you know you can muscle back against the breeze.
The fishing opportunities alone are worth the trip to Potholes Reservoir. The same bumpy landscape you see around the shoreline extends throughout the lake, providing sensational habitat for all kinds of freshwater fish. The average lake depth of ten to twenty feet also means that everyone will catch something, whether they are on a lawn chair at the shore or trolling around in a skiff. The lake offers anglers their fill of yellow perch, crappie, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, and walleye.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also stocks the lake with 50,000 trout each year in the spring. Fishing Pothole Reservoir in the winter months, typically from November through April, gives anglers the chance to catch rainbow trout that can reach over 20 inches. Be sure to check with the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife for licensing and closure information.
Birding at Potholes State Park is an experience not to be missed. There isn't a lot of water in this part of the country, and to migrating birds that means a bit of a traffic jam as they all crowd into the few lakes and rivers of Eastern Washington. To bird watchers, it means excellent opportunities to observe a field guide’s worth of birds.
As early as February, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, and all sorts of waterfowl begin visiting the lake. In the spring, you may be able to catch the courting display of western and Clark's grebes. Potholes State Park has ample numbers of thrashers, larks, sparrows, and owls throughout the season. When summer heat exposes the mud flats, sandpipers, stilts, plovers, and curlews are busy looking for food. The unique topography of the Potholes Reservoir, with hundreds of small islands, creates ideal conditions for viewing many kinds of birds.
Geocaching is an activity that was made possible by the advent of GPS technology and made more popular by the rise of cellular phones. Participants who take part in this exciting hobby search for caches, which are usually small containers left by other participants. The caches always have a logbook where you can record your find, and they often contain small trinkets that finders can take with them as long, as they replace the trinkets with similarly valued items.
RVers sometimes enjoy finding trackable tokens as well, helping them move further along in their journey. There are several traditional caches to be found at Pothole State Park, as well as a few earthcaches. Earthcaches are found the same way that traditional geocaches are found, but instead of a container and logbook, participants are lead to a “virtual” cache that allows them to explore and learn about science and geology, rather than a physical cache.
The Moses Lake Mudflats and Sand Dunes provides access to the pothole landscape on the north edge of the reservoir. There are about 3,000 acres of trails carving through the landscape. For the adventurous, the trails go right down to the lake where there are hundreds of small islands separated by shallow sections of water. There is so much to explore that many people camp on this end of the lake and burn rubber all week.
There are several places in Moses Lake that rent quads and dune buggies, but you'll be surprised how many people can't resist taking the family car into the sand dunes. Have fun, but follow safety rules so you don't get hurt. Check with the state and county to make sure you are clear about ORV tags and restrictions. Alcohol is restricted in certain areas of this state park.
Eastern Washington knows how to have a good time. The residents here live for summer fun on the water, and you can be assured that hot weekends and holidays will bring a line of trailers to the boat ramp and the buzz of large outboard motors from ski boats on the water. If you want peaceful fishing and kayaking definitely avoid Potholes Reservoir when it's hot enough for swimming.
If you want to live it up with the locals and rent jet skis, pontoon boats, and even fully equipped ski boats from one of the local marinas in Othello or Moses Lake, this is the place for you. The rates at the local marinas tend to be significantly lower than more touristy spots like nearby Lake Chelan and they frequently have some of the best gas prices in the state. WA has unique boater licensing and safety laws so do your research and make sure you're prepared ahead of time.
While it may not be the darkest place in the area, it is a lovely place to sleep outside and watch the night sky. If you are used to the light pollution of the city, the stars here will be jaw-dropping. The combination of low-humidity, isolation, and warm summer nights make this the perfect place to roll the sleeping bags out on the grass and count the shooting stars and satellites with your family. On a moonless night the stars in the sky are distractingly vivid, and it's not uncommon to see cars pulled to the side of the highway just to stop and take it in. The state park sprays for mosquitoes periodically, but come prepared with repellent coils or spray just in case.
You will want to ensure that your camera is packed in your campervan when you take a trip to Potholes State Park. The landscape in the area ranges from dry sand dunes to verdant cattail wetlands. Many different species of animals make their homes in this oasis. Along with a glorious variety of avian species, you are likely to find a number of interesting insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
Mule and white-tailed deer are both seen in this area, although mule deer are more common than their white-tailed cousins. Other commonly seen animals include rabbits, sagebrush lizards, tiger salamanders, squirrels, and raccoons. It is also a perfect environment for beavers to build their dens, and it is estimated that this area has over 100 beaver colonies to photograph scattered throughout the park.