Frenchman Coulee is one of the most beautiful features left behind by the great Ice-Age floods. Frenchman Coulee is a dual coulee and cataract system. Like its neighbor to the north, Potholes Coulee, Scabland floods created Frenchman Coulee. During the first stages of flooding, the water levels between the flood-filled Quincy Basin and the Columbia River immediately west of Evergreen Ridge approached 700 feet over just a few miles. This incredible difference in water levels caused floodwaters to relentlessly eat away the underlying rock layers. Erosion continued for at least as long as it took for the water level in the Columbia Valley to rise to about 1200 feet, or until the floodwater supply was exhausted.
Sandy land surrounded by steep cliff walls. The Coulee exhibits a waterfall near the North Alcove as well as a small stream that flows into the dry bed of the Coulee. The waterfall has been called Frenchman Waterfall, Frenchman's Coulee Waterfall, and Stolp Falls among other names, though consistent record of the actual name is difficult to find. There is a set of basalt columns commonly frequented by climbers located between the north and middle alcove of the Coulee. Frenchman Coulee terminates near the edge of the Colombia River Gorge and is located directly north of Echo Basin.
Flora and fauna
Desert brush and small species of cactus exist in the canyon. Some reeds and more lush growth can be found along the small stream leading into the canyon and around the falls.
Frenchman Coulee receives very little rain at any time of the year. The summers are typically hot and windy making spring and fall the best time to visit the area. Fog has been known to roll through the Coulee. High Winds are also present at times in the area, sometimes arriving quickly and with little to no warning.
Frenchman Coulee is located one mile off of I-90, take the Silica Road exit (#143). On Silica Road, turn left On Vantage Highway. From there on, you will see the beautiful sites of Frencman Coulee.
To park your vehicle in the area, you'll need a Vehicle Use Permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. These permits are available at most outdoor equipment and hardware stores and cost 10.95USD for the year. A 79USD fine is charged if you are caught parking without one.
Foot is the best option once off the main road, though off-road vehicles have been used in the Coulee. A few campsites are difficult to access without off-road vehicles, though most are accessible with normal cars and trucks. The Coulee is about 3 miles from end to end and is good for a day-hike.
By Frenchman Coulee, there’s the North cataract. On the other side of Vantage highway, there’s a middle cataract which is a small cataract. South of the cataract, there's Echo Cove that stand tall in front of Echo Basin. From up there, there is a beautiful view of Echo Basin. You can also see the depression that the floods left behind at the bottom of the cataract.. South of Echo Basin, there is another cataract that has a pile of sand dunes at the bottom. At the top of that cataract, you can see the diatom which is white powder used for mining. If you keep going down Vantage Highway, you will eventually come to an end where the road and the Columbia River meet each other.
Frenchman Coulee has a waterfall in the eastern section of the Coulee that is accessible by foot. Across the basin of the Coulee is the base of a cliff where people have discarded full automobiles, bikes, tires, and other large bits of refuse all illegally dumped from the cliffs above.
Rock climbing is the primary draw for people to Frenchman Coulee. There are hundreds of routes, sport and traditional, on a variety of rock ranging from 30m basalt column column cracks to sporty 5.12 jug-fests. An excellent guidebook is available for the area. For sport climbing, you'll need a 60m rope and sixteen draws plus some slings and carabiners for anchors. Hiking and camping are also popular in the Coulee as well as general sight-seeing from the road. Due to the fragile ecosystem and environmental hazards in and around Echo Canyon, careful attention should be paid to stay on the established trails, respect raptor nesting closures and use a "leave-no-trace" environmental ethic.
With no facilities, there is nothing to buy in Frenchman Coulee. Vantage, to the west, and Quincy, to the northeast, are your nearest towns. Also, less than 10 miles on I-90, a bit closer than Quincy, is the small town of George (Washington), that has several convenience stores, a gas station, and a small restaurant.
- Cave B Inn & Winery. Is ten minutes by car down Silica Rd. If you are camping at the Feathers hit the bathroom at the restaurant/hotel, get coffee, etc. The food in the restaurant is amazing but comes at a cost.
There are a number of camping location to choose from.
- The free camp sites - There is a designated areas located near the main parking area. There are no designated sites but you can drive in on rough dirt trail. Portable toilets are nearby but there is no running water, no picnic tables and no fires are allowed. The area can become quite busy during long weekends or when there are big concerts held at the nearby amphitheater in George.
- Wanapum State Park - Approximately ten miles from Frenchman Coulee is Wanapum State Park. There are 50 camp sites that are quite nice, situated along the Columbia River (Wanapum Lake) and lined with trees. Tent and RV sites are available and all cost $22 USD / night. Reservations can be made online for an additional $7 fee. The sites are almost completely booked up during the weekends over the summer.
Remember that the wind in this area is notorious for picking up from nothing into gale force winds. Make sure that you tie your tent down and inspect the trees in your vicinity for rot and the potential for them to blow over.
There is no backcountry camping in the area. Camping is restricted to designated locations.
Be aware there are rattlesnakes in the area. While they are not aggressive or too numerous they are there. Rocks do sometimes fall on the road, so be aware. In the bottom of the coulee, on the south side near the cliffs, watch your step as the entire area there has been used as a dumping ground for automobiles, so broken glass, rusted wires, and other things may be lurking in the sand or among the brush. A barbed wire fence also runs north to south across the coulee and is not always easy to spot. It does not obstruct the dirt road at the bottom of the coulee.