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Columbia Plateau Trail - Amber Lake

Eastern Washington > Spokane Area/Coeur d'Alene
47.3512, -117.7106 Map & Directions
15.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain
200 feet
Highest Point
2,300 feet
Calculated Difficulty About Calculated Difficulty
Waterfowl and birds are plentiful along the northern part of the trail, especially when it goes through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Ron Ellis.
  • Wildflowers/Meadows
  • Wildlife
  • Good for kids
  • Lakes
  • Fall foliage

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Amble through aspens and plateau shrubs- dogwood, sumac, and currant on this gentle day hike through a portion of the 18,000-acre Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Continue reading

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Hiking Columbia Plateau Trail - Amber Lake

South of Cheney, the Columbia Plateau Trail follows a 130-mile abandoned rail corridor between Cheney and Pasco, passing through a section of the 18,000-acre Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge that is otherwise inaccessible to the public. The trail boasts abundant wildlife - birds, waterfowl, deer, elk and moose; and is rich in history and geology. 

To see wildlife, a good place to begin your exploration is the Cheney Lake trailhead. Amble south through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, staying on the trail. This area is known for its migrating trumpeter swans, and more than 200 species of birds have been identified. Spring and fall are the best viewing seasons. Kiosks along the way will let you know about the wildlife and the rich geology of the area.

For a longer day hike, start at the popular angling waters of Amber Lake, amble north through aspens and plateau shrubs—dogwood, sumac and currant. Moose have been sighted near Amber Lake, and the route south from the trailhead travels through some lovely desert country — wildflowers, sagelands, and channeled scablands. The level smooth route makes it easy to make some mileage, but do watch out for bicycles. 

In contrast to much of the rest of its length, the Columbia Plateau Trail here passes through the ponderosa pine belt of Eastern Washington; these spicy-scented evergreens provide cover for mule deer and a large population of elk. Moose frequent the shallow marshes of the refuge’s interior, as do a variety of waterfowl.

At seven miles south of the Amber Lake trailhead, you'll reach the end of the trail — for now. There are long-range plans to develop the entire 130-mile rail corridor into a trail. The other developed portion is at the south end of the railbed near Pasco, a 15-mile section runs along the Snake River before it joins the Columbia River.

Toilet Information

  • Accessible toilet

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Wheelchair Accessibility

The gravel here is somewhat loosely packed.

Hike Description Written by
Aaron Thiesen, WTA Correspondent

Columbia Plateau Trail - Amber Lake

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 47.3512, -117.7106 Open in Google Maps

Before You Go

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

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WTA Pro Tip: Save a copy of our directions before you leave! App-based driving directions aren't always accurate and data connections may be unreliable as you drive to the trailhead.

Getting There

From Vantage, drive east on Interstate 90 to exit 257, signed "Tyler/Cheney." After exiting, turn right and drive 9 miles on State Route 904. Turn right onto Mullinix Road. Drive Mullinix Road 9.3 miles, and turn right onto Pine Springs Road. Drive 1.4 miles on Pine Springs Road and turn left on Houck Avenue. Head downhill, veer right after crossing the railroad grade, and follow the signs 1000 feet to the huge parking lot.

This is the preferred access, although the route also can be accessed from its southern end via the Martin Road trailhead. To reach this alternative, turn onto Pine Springs Road and continue south on Mullinix Road to the point where the road crosses the trail at the well-marked Martin Road trailhead.

More Hike Details


Eastern Washington > Spokane Area/Coeur d'Alene

Washington State Parks

Guidebooks & Maps

Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)

Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Rosalia

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Columbia Plateau Trail - Amber Lake

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