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Camp Queer: Okanogan's Soap Lake

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Photo by Lauren Vasatka
Photo by Lauren Vasatka

View: 3.5/5
Difficulty: 1/5
Car friendliness: 4/5
Travel time: 3-4 hours from Seattle
Time of year: Summer
Coordinates: 48.22731, -119.64680

Nestled in the hills near Okanagan is a little oasis. If traveling north on Route 97, you will take a right onto Soap Lake Road and head up the windy dirt road for about 6.5 miles until you reach the beach. There will first be Little Soap Lake, which will look more like a pond. That is where the frogs live. Keep driving for another thousand feet or so to your destination: Soap Lake. You will hit the beach on the south end of the lake. You can keep driving further north, but the best spot is on the south end, so there is no need to drive any further.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

The experience
The water is so clear, you can see the schools of trout making their rounds and occasionally catching insects on the water's surface. The view is amazing, and the flower-dotted prairie hills that surround the lake make for excellent spots to catch sunrises and sunsets. On the far right of the beach there lie some small rocky cliffs that you can climb to get a better look over the middle of the lake.

The wildlife here love to trill, croak, and call. In the morning, the birds sing, and in the evening, coyotes' voices are heard yipping in the distance. Sounds echo off the lake, amplifying all of nature's songs in every direction.

The beach is very pebbly, so you likely won't be making any sand castles. If you pile the pebbly sand, you can create a makeshift incline to sit on. The sunshine and the warm ground will make for a wonderful place to nap or read by the water. There is no shade until late afternoon, so wear sunscreen and bring a beach umbrella.

Locals sometimes come here midday to swim, and it was heartwarming to watch the children playing in the water.

There is a ton to do on this lake, and the swimming there is fantastic. The water is warm and clean, which is hard to find on our side of the state. If you aren't swimming, Soap Lake is great for relaxing. If you are there in the early morning, it is very calm and provides a great space for some self-reflection.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Helpful hints
I feel like this lake is best experienced in the early summer, before the bugs come out or it gets too hot. We were lucky to have 80-degree weather there in late April, but keep in mind that it can get cold at night.

It's about 10 miles outside of Okanagan, so don't worry too much about a gas station or finding a place to grab more gear if you forget those things.

Don't park on the sand if your car does not have four-wheel drive. When we were there, a woman got a flat on the beach, but other beachgoers eventually managed to swap it for a spare. Don't bet on other people being there to help if you get a flat here, though, so make sure you have a jack, tire iron, and a spare. Even when calling AAA to help you, you're going to be waiting a long time. (You will get cell phone service about two miles back down the road, in case you have an emergency.)

I would also keep in mind that this is not the safest area in the state. The locals tell tales of drug issues and warned us to be careful, because everyone out here is loaded. Coupled with the number of wild coyotes, I would not recommend camping here. Instead make this a day visit — or maybe stay nearby at one of the inns. Go to the lake for a quick swim, some fishing, or to relax on the beach.

If you're going to fish, you would be better off with a fly-fishing pole. The lake does not allow any motorized boats, but a kayak or paddleboard would be perfect.

Last but not least, please keep an eye out for burn bans. This is a great spot to start a fire, but Eastern Washington does get very dry in the summer and is at risk for wildfires. Yes, you will be near a large body of water and very few trees, but the brush will be very dry and can easily ignite if the fire were to spread. Keep the fire pit about 10—15 feet from shore if there is not a burn ban, and you will be fine.