Imagine swimming and tubing all day on miles of open lake, acres and acres of grassy park and picnic areas, catching bass and walleye in the evening to cook on a campfire next to your trailer and a brilliant Milky Way in the night sky. You're not dreaming, it's a weekend camping trip at Potholes State Park in Othello, WA.
The landscape of Eastern Washington is stunning. Everywhere you look there are striking rock formations, valleys, canyons, and dunes. There are very few lakes and rivers, so after hours of driving in a rocky red landscape the sight of blue will leave your eyes a bit confused. The last Ice Age drastically altered the geography of this area, and it is theorized that an ancient flood swept through with such violence that it removed most of the top soil and left behind the signature ripples of hills and sand dunes which make the unique shapes of Potholes Reservoir.
Those potholes create a paradise for birds, fish, and boaters. The Potholes Reservoir was created by the O'Sullivan Dam in 1949 as part of a network of irrigation projects in the area. The lake is 14,000 acres and Potholes State Park fronts on 6,000 feet of shoreline.
The campground is a network of tree-lined loops which are surrounded by over a hundred acres of mowed grass and picnic tables. There are sixty full-hook up sites for trailers and RVs up to fifty feet long. The park has four watercraft launches and sixty feet of floating dock. There is lots of room for boat trailer parking and storage for extra vehicles.
This area gets very dry and hot in the summer, with temperatures over a hundred degrees typical for July and August. It stays warm in the evening, but the dry air is very comfortable to most visitors. Winters are cold and snowy. Some years get frozen deep enough to enjoy ice fishing and skating on the lake.
RV Rentals in Potholes State Park
Transportation in Potholes State Park
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.
Campgrounds and parking in Potholes State Park
Campsites in Potholes State Park
Potholes State Park
This 773 acre campground has 60 full-hook up sites with lots of room for big rigs and big parties. The location is a hotspot for recreational boating in the summer and fishing in the off season. 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. Potholes State Park is about as family friendly as it gets.
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.
Seasonal activities in Potholes State Park
While it may not be the darkest place in the area (the park is only thirty minutes away from big retail stores) it's certainly a place to sleep outside and watch the night sky. If you're 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 and count the shooting stars and satellites with your family. On a moonless night the sky is literally distracting, 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.
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. 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. Their rates are significantly lower than more touristy spots like nearby Lake Chelan and they also have some of the best gas prices in the state. WA has unique boater licensing and safety laws so make sure you're prepared ahead of time.
Off Road Vehicles
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 and 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 don't get hurt. Check with the state and county to make sure you understand ORV tags and restrictions. Alcohol is also restricted in certain areas.
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 worth of birds. As early as February, sandhill cranes and waterfowl visit the lake. Potholes has ample numbers of thrashers, larks, sparrows, and owls through Spring. When summer heat exposes 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.
The fishing opportunities at Potholes Reservoir are worth the trip alone. 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 WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake with 50,000 trout each year and fishing November thru April will often land Rainbow trout over twenty inches. Be sure to check the WFWD for licensing and closure information.
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. You'll have the 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.