Grand Coulee Dam. It provides more power from water than any other dam in the entire United States and is located in the north-central section of Washington State. “Coulee” means a deep ravine or gorge formed by water, in this case that water is the mighty Columbia River. It is part of the Columbia Basin Project which covers eight counties!
The first place to go when you get to the dam is the visitor center which was built in 1970. It has interesting interactive displays of items associated with the dam, along with the story of how the dam was built. There are also historical artifacts associated with the Native American tribes of the area and a little bit about their story and influence in the building of the dam. You’ll also learn about the 11 towns that were covered by the reservoir.
Next you’ll want to do the free 50-minute tour of the dam. They take security very seriously because any kind of terrorist attack could be devastating. You can’t even take your purse or a fannypack on the tour, and an armed security guard accompanies all tours. But don’t worry, you can take your camera!
You will want to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy when you are finished with the tour and the visitor center because there is a nice little park with picnic tables and restrooms right next to the dam. It’s hypnotizing to sit there and eat and just watch the water fall over the dam and listen to the soothing sounds.
As beautiful as the water is flowing over the dam in the daytime, it gets even better at night. That’s when the laser light show begins. Lasers dance across the white water which acts like a movie screen. The show tells the story of how the dam was built. Music and narration also explodes from speakers located around the dam to add to the experience. You can watch the show from several vantage points around the dam – high up on one of the hills to sitting in the parking lot. Don’t worry about missing the narration and music if you choose to go up on the hillside because it is also available on the radio. The show runs from Memorial Day through the end of September. It lasts just over ½ hour and is free. If you’re able to take the time to stick around town until dark, you’ll be glad you did. It’s so memorable that my daughters remember it from our first visit over 20 years ago!
Besides providing power to such a large area, and for irrigation (over 600,000 acres,) the dam also created Lake Roosevelt, a beautiful 151 mile-long lake that goes all the way up to the Canadian border. In 1948 the area was designated a recreation area and facilities are now operated by the National Park Service. With so much water and shoreline, there is plenty of room for camping, fishing, boating and just plain playing. There are 27 campgrounds and 22 boat launches and 10 beaches for swimming. You can even rent a houseboat and sleep on the lake! Of course there are plenty of motels and other accommodations in the area if camping isn’t your thing.
The Grand Coulee Dam and area may seem out of the way and in the middle of nowhere, but it’s well worth the trip. Even your kids will enjoy the history and all the activities available in the area. Make your plans to visit soon, pack a lunch, and be sure to stay for the light show! You’ll be glad you did.
Grand Coulee Dam is located about 90 miles northwest of Spokane, and about 230 miles northeast of Seattle.